‘Zen Picture’ – Toad

chunky-toadThis portly toad, bursting beyond the confines of the scroll’s edges, belongs to a category of Japanese painting known as Zenga, or “Zen picture.” For Zen monks, painting provided a medium to express their own Zen experience and pleasure. The inscription is by Jiun, one of the foremost Buddhist clerics of the time. It can be translated as, “In heaven and among human beings, get back [to the original state],” a Zen admonition to adherents to free themselves from the distraction and ties of the mundane world and to live as purely and naturally as the toad does.

Thanks go to Mark R for passing on the link to this image. Turns out Jiun was quite the monk….

‘Sit’ Like a Frog…

Spring flowers down in the woodland – near the River Kent. Cumbria

Some years ago I had the occasion to visit San Francisco Zen Center. The founder of the center, Suzuki Roshi, has a shine dedicated to him and it is customary to make bows in such a place, to remember and honour the monk so enshrined. Like so many people in the early days of Zen in the west,  I was influenced by his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Always and am forever grateful for that encounter.

Only afterwards did I discover why there were SO many frogs (toys, small models etc.) enshrined with him! In a lecture, published in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, and partly published below, he talks about ‘sitting like a frog’. That is, being completely there, being a frog, attentive, present. Ready to move and respond to circumstances, ‘Ah! a fly’! ‘Catch it’! ‘Ah! the phone rings, answer it’. We call that ‘reflexive action’. Note the word reflexive. One can react, jump out of one’s skin, so to speak, i.e. react. Or one can respond out of awareness and presence. This is a condition one aspires to, all day long – aware and present.

In this way we should understand our way. And in this way we should understand our life and we should practice our way in this…with this understanding. And we should solve our problem in this way. Just to work on the problem…if you are always working on the problem, that is enough. When you are polishing the tile, that is our practice. The purpose of practice is not to make a tile a jewel. So as long as you are sitting, that is practice in its true sense. So it is not a matter of whether it is possible to attain Buddhahood, or if it is possible to make a tile a jewel. But just to work, just to live in this world with this understanding is the most important point, and that is our practice. That is true zazen. So we say, ‘When you eat, you eat’. You should eat it, you know. Sometimes we don’t eat it. Even though we are eating, our mind is somewhere else. You do not taste what you have in your mouth. So I say, ‘Oh, I am sorry but soon you will see the bright sunrise every morning and a beautiful sunset in the evening, every evening, but right now perhaps you…under your situation, it may be impossible to see the beautiful sunset or bright sunrise, or beautiful flower in your garden, and it is impossible to take care of your garden, but soon you will see the beauty of the flowers and you will cut some flowers for your room.’ When you start to do this kind of thing you are alright. Don’t worry a bit. It means when you become you, yourself, and when you see things as they are, and when you become at one with your surrounding, in its true sense, there is a true self. There you have true practice; you have the practice of a frog. He is a good example of our practice. So when a frog becomes a frog, Zen becomes Zen. When you understand a frog through and through, you attain enlightenment. You are Buddha. And you are a good wife or good daughter. That is zazen.

San Francisco Zen Center Blog – 1967 talk
This is for the person, many miles away across the seas who was honoured to have a frog sit beside them for 20 mins. Just sitting. May you continue on, in good health. The frog has spoken!

Into Unknowing

By Mark Rowan

slip slidin’

you know
the nearer your

the more
you’re slip
slidin’ away

And what we call the future, what we slide into by default or by intention is something of an imaginative blurr. Let us at the very least be aware of ourself and our extended ‘self’, the immediate world around us as we run, walk and slip slide into that space of unknowing.

Are you not always on the move, even when sitting still? Still does not equal stasis.

Hat tip to Simon & Garfunkel.

The More Loving One

“The More Loving One” ……is a poem both profoundly personal and profoundly universal, radiating a reminder that no matter the heartbreak, no matter the entropic undoing of everything we love and are, we are survivors. It is at once a childish fantasy chalked on the blackboard of consciousness — we do not, after all, survive ourselves — and a blazing manifesto for being, for the measure of maturity, for the only adequate attitude with which to go on living with the incremental loss that is life itself. Copied from the The Marginalian (formerly Brain Pickings:

by W.H. Auden
Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

Yes, let me be the more loving one.

Tigers and Dragons?

Credit for this gem goes to Mr Jeremy Shafer, instructions here…

The highest mountains are the abode of the lions;
In the deepest waters the dragons dwell.

This quote is used in Lions Gate Buddhist Priory website banner.

I once told Rev. Master Jiyu I’d spent some time sitting on top of a Tor on Dartmoor, in the South West of England, while over visiting my parents. She responded in a low voice, You like high places don’t you Mugo. I smiled in recognition.

In one of our scripturesit’s written: If you become thus utterly free you will be as the water wherein the dragon dwells or as the mountain whereon the tiger roams.

The Dragon, our fundamental nature is represented, and known within our ‘depths’. The Tiger, our embodied nature as enlightened beings (Buddha Nature) roams freely and is given expression through our daily actions.  Informed by our personal moral and ethical intent, obviously.

Tiger is fierce
moving gracefully aware
appropriate to circumstances

The Dragon fierce
rises up within faith
unites with the Tiger.


In a different scripture: O sincere trainees, do not doubt the true dragon, do not spend so much time in rubbing only a part of the elephant. Not doubting, engendering faith. While embodying the ‘dragon’ reflexive action, is our lived life.

NOTE:This quote is also pointing to the importance of not dwell mentally and emotionally, overly long, anywhere. And especially not dwelling in uncomfortable ‘places’. Or comfortable places either!