Nothing Worth Worrying About

I stumbled upon a book in the monastery library the other day, looking for the map I seem to remember. While there I checked the ‘new arrivals’ shelf and I’m so glad I did. It is called The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kodo with Kosho Uchiyama and Shohaku Okumura commenting on selected sayings and teachings of the Great Master Sawaki Kodo. He was himself, he spoke in a straightforward manner and I love what he has to say. Wise person and he didn’t wrap up the teaching in technical words which then needed explanation. Here is a taste from the start of the chapter, Opinions Gone to Seed.

Kodo Sawaki: Some opinions have passed their prime and lost relevance. For instance, when grownups lecture children, they often simply repeat ready-made opinions. The merely say, “Good is good; bad is bad.” When greens go to seed, they become hard and fibrous. They aren’t edible anymore. We should always see things with fresh eyes!
Often people say, “This is valuable!” But what’s really valuable? Nothing. When you die, you have to leave everything behind. Even the national treasures in Kyoto and Nara will sooner or later perish. It not a problem even if they all burn down.

Soon after Rev. Master Jiyu arrived in Japan in 1962 to study with Koho Zenji at Sojiji she had an understanding sometimes referred to as a first kensho. Koho Zenji sent her to visit Sawaki Kodo who was in Tokyo at the time to have the understanding confirmed. Which he did. He has a special place in my heart and I’m so glad to have run into this book full of his often irreverent words which point deeply and directly to the heart of practice.

Mistaken Certainty

Update 28th May: The original map published last evening has been replaced with this one. So anybody who rushed to download yesterdays map with a view to following the marked trail….please delete and use this one. Can’t be too careful about following the official footpaths, although it is not always so easy to know where they are. I speak from experience!
wellhope walk
It all makes perfect sense, now! Here is a map of the ‘Well Hope’ walk which I, along with a trusty walking companion, did yesterday. More than three hours walking but we were not rushing.

About a month or more ago I attempted this walk alone. Although armed with this map I lost my way, ending up in the next valley over from the one I’d intended to walk down. It was a bit of a shock to round a hill to find I wasn’t looking at our familiar valley with the monastery reasuringly nestled on the opposite hillside, as in the photograph below. To be honest I have been reluctant to try the walk again and reticent to mention this fact. So I was glad of the company and especially glad to  be helped with the correct usage of the words reticent and reluctant! What little gems they are too. And what are good Dharma Friends for if not to pass on the gems of their knowledge and understanding.

Throssel Hole Abbey is picked out in sunshine. Look for Myrtle Bank on the OS map.
Throssel Hole Abbey is picked out in sunshine. Look for Myrtle Bank on the OS map.

Certainty is a dangerous beast to be sure. In terms of my failed attempt at the Well Hope walk I was convinced I was on the correct path! Truth was I wasn’t on a path at all! I remember thinking, I’m not lost I just don’t know where I am in relationship to everywhere else! That’s mistaken certainty, with an extra helping of delusion thrown in.

Oh and I’ve thought myself to be reticent about doing  things when in fact I was reluctant! Now thinking about it certainty, knowing you are right, isn’t the issue. It’s ignorance isn’t it? Only when proved to be wrong, wrong valley and wrong word use, does the habit of certainty even come up as an issue. If you are right, then you are RIGHT and why would one question that.

So I think of Buddhist practice, meditation, being about shining light on ignorance. That’s the ‘not knowing’ form of ignorance and also the ‘ignore-ance’ form. Humbling thought. Yes, and sometimes, depending on ones personality and make up, it is important to retain the thought ‘I could be right‘, self-doubt being the default for many people.

The Koan Arrives Naturally.

Be not afraid - slow or (seeming to) stand still.
Be not afraid – slow or (seeming to) stand still.

I took off the calendar nailed to the wall to choose a quote. I chose the one on the cover. All good ones however keeping moving is a good reminder. It is all too easy to stay in comfort over long. Even uncomfortable comfort! In other words it is natural enough to remain in the known and avoid stepping out into the unknown. Or unknowing.

The quote for May which I am looking at right now is by Lao Tzu. We all know it. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Now I have to find the nail the calendar hangs on! ‘Discomfort’ can be minor and the ‘journey’ can simply be scrambling around on the floor frantically looking for a nail! Found it.

Thanks for the lend of the flat here in Leeds. Now to navigate across town to the retreat venue. All merit goes to Pat an elderly woman struggling with life.

We’re Almost Home – Guest Post

The following comes from the pen of Rev. Caitlin who is part of the community at Great Ocean Dharma Refuge in Pembrokeshire Wales. This article was written for the Portobello Buddhist Priory Newsletter and is published with kind permission.

The We’re almost home—some thoughts on perseverance

Seventeen years into the life of the Priory, and fifty newsletters down the road, what a gladness that we are still here together and practising the Buddha’s Way. In this light I thought it might be fitting to offer a few thoughts on commitment and perseverance. Of course this is something we all know about. We practise and learn it as we go to our cushions, to the Priory or Zendo over and over again; as we make the effort to turn to and act from our True Heart’s wish and not be seduced by greed, hate and delusion – over and over again; as we say the Kesa verse and take the Bodhisattva vow to train for the good of all beings over and over again. The fact that the Portobello Priory is still there and flourishing is a testament to the bright perseverance of all of us.

And yet, as we all know, at times it seems hard to keep going brightly. Whilst the shared Buddha Nature of ourselves, all beings and things is sometimes sensed and known more clearly, at other times we may feel a sense of separation from the Eternal, a feeling of being far from Home. Sometimes people speak of the ‘power of now’; but how to ‘reconnect’ with our True Heart when however we try the completeness of the present moment seems elusive, and acceptance of the here and now seems far away? For myself, I sometimes think that whatever state or circumstance we find ourselves in, it is always possible to practise and find the ‘power of bow’ and the ‘power of vow’!

In turning towards and bowing to that which seems difficult and insurmountable, we are remembering and accepting the First Noble Truth that the Buddha taught – that suffering and dissatisfaction are an inherent facet of existence – and that although there is a cause and we can do something about it, there is no reason to blame ourselves or others when it arises. In bowing, we are also turning to the perfection inherent in all existence – to the Buddha, to our True Heart’s wish – Buddha calling to Buddha, Buddha bowing to Buddha, and Buddha hearing and responding. Sometimes it helps to physically bow, to ‘walk the talk’ with the body; letting go, offering up, asking for help, standing up straight and expressing willingness in a continuous movement, until the body overrides our complaining little brain, and the Heart’s wish and direction is refreshed and restored in its rightful place.

Even as we seem to fail and flounder, we can recommit ourselves to training and affirm our Heart’s wish and intention. We can recognise that whatever the apparent difficulty, it is habits of mind that cause, continue and compound the keenest suffering, and that this is something we can do something about. We can dare to make vows in front of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and trust that in doing so, and in our repeated, imperfect efforts to fulfill our sincere intentions, we will be aided and supported, for this is truly the case.

A number of years ago, at a time when I was feeling particularly lost, a venerable Master of our Order looked at me kindly and said, “You know – we’re almost home”. Here we are, born with a rare and precious human body, in a benign and tolerant country, and we’ve found the Dharma in the lineage of the magnificent Master Houn Jiyu. May we not underestimate or squander the merit and good fortune that has brought us to this point – we’ve come a long way already. May we all keep going and go all the way on the Path of endless training.

Many thanks to Reverend Caitlin, you are a gem among gems. Mugo

Ever Still?


Just because
something is simple
doesn’t mean it is easy.
Or pain free.
Formal meditation is as this.

Rising from the place
of sitting still,
are we still?
Is there a place
called ‘home’?

Now! Here!
In the middle
of the busy street
beneath our feet.
Tender repose.

So there is joy
even now
softly with
feathered touch.

Sitting here in Ambleside in a coffee shop, the music is loud, the street is close, the cars pass by. I’m not looking for peace or repose or joy. It is as it is and that’s just fine. Any time of the day. This is for a good friend working on a decision. It has been too long since I managed to make a post. So sorry.