Friday, 10 February 2017

What is Zen practice? What is the highest teaching of Buddhism?

Zen practice is about developing the whole person, it's not about learning a meditation technique to reduce stress and anxiety, nor is it about learning Buddhist doctrine or bowing, or posting clich├ęs with colourful backgrounds on Facebook.

It’s also not yoga, vipassana or mindfulness meditation. These can all be helpful and can guide the body and mind to a certain stillness and flow, but Zen is not about generating a particular state experience. It’s more about becoming who we are truly are, with all our darkness and light, and responding to the world from this place. To do this well, we need two do two things. First we need to clearly know who and what we are, secondly we need to truly and deeply hear the world, it’s cries and what it is asking of us. An ancient Zen master when asked what the highest teaching of Buddhism is, replied “an appropriate response”. I can think of no clearer answer.

What does Zen practice actually look like, then? …. Well, it’s slow, handcrafted and it looks rather like you. The time required for this work is measured in decades, the effort is measured in sweat and a thousand mistakes.

How is this done? … It starts by walking into a Zen Centre and bringing the whole world with you*, connecting with an authentic Zen teacher and learning the tools of this work, that our ancestors kindly passed down to us, zazen and koans. Then we step into our life just as it is, not the way we want it to be. This is the gateway - this is Zen practice.

Notes:
* Zen Master Yunmen said to the assembly, “Within heaven and earth, in the midst of the cosmos, there is one treasure, hidden in the body. Holding a lantern, it goes toward the Buddha hall.
It brings the great triple gate and puts it on the lantern.”

Guy Gaudry

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Smouldering - a koan process


Recently a friend who feels very close, although we are separated by the width of a continent, sent me a short note about his work with a koan.

"When I went through this koan originally, I 'passed' it but had no friggin idea what the hell it meant. For me, a sign of danger for the koan tradition.”

Good point. It could be a point of danger - if we don’t continue our koan work. I have found that, especially at the beginning of koan work, people can step into a koan almost unconsciously. Basically, our body (our somatic intelligence) responds before the mind can make sense of what just happened. It takes time for our cognitive processes to catch up and offer an explanation that our intellect can make sense of. 

The thing is we grow in biological time, not at the speed of thought. We may have an intuitive leap of understanding or our unconsciousness may suddenly, and often somatically, release something that we were previously blind to. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean we grow and are able to hold this new insight. Growth takes time and continuous practice. This is the embedding and integrating phase of koan work.  

A volcano may spew something from the depths into the air and make it visible. That doesn’t mean its work is finished, it may never be. Koans are like this.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

The "Human" narrative


A few days ago I was in a leadership workshop and we were discussing the narratives that influence our lives.

Narratives are stories about the way that life is and have been handed down to us by our parents, schools, friends and culture. Often, but not always, these narratives are very useful and show us how to survive and function well in a particular culture, time and place.

The reason we were discussing narratives in a leadership workshop is that seeing and understanding how they operate in our lives can be extremely liberating and can prevent a lot of unnecessary suffering for us and those around us. Seeing though our narratives also makes a space for us to discover other ways of being in the world that are closer to our own heart and thus more authentic.

By themselves narratives are neither good or bad, they are just stories, helpful in certain situations and places, unhelpful at other times. They can, however, be dangerous, disastrous even, when they blind us to the actually reality of a situation.

The was a lot a talk during the workshop about being “human” - the fact that we live and function in the space of language. As a long-time practitioner of Zen meditation and koans, I know there is also a place outside of language and thought where we also reside, where everything and all “beings” reside. It’s a very intimate place of “not knowing”. So an another narrative that came to mind for me during the workshop was one that I have been thinking about for quite a while and touches me deeply. It’s the narrative that we are “human” beings versus “sentient" beings.

The consequence of blindly believing the narrative that we are “human” beings rather than “sentient" beings leads to much suffering for those who share the planet Earth with us. When we see our selves as separate and distinct “human” beings we more easily ignore or create suffering for other sentient beings, beings that care for their young and form social communities just like we do.

Beings that are sentient, suffer, experience joy and share the same basic instinct for survival that we do. The darkest implication of the believing this narrative is that we feel free to kill and experiment on other beings. We also use and destroy our environment as if its just another disposable consumer product. This is clearly a narrative that not only has serious implications for the survival of our species but also for the survival of all life.

This is just a very brief introduction to the implications of being unconscious about holding a “human” versus “sentient" being narrative. The interesting thing is that when we become conscious of this narrative and explore its implications - we change and often we become motivated to show and help others live in a more authentic and wholesome way. This is leadership.

Here are two people who saw the implications of an overly human centric narrative and consequently lived lives that touched the world so deeply that we still feel their presence today. They are Martin Luther King Jr. and Leonardo Da Vinci. This is how they responded to this narrative that was passed down to them.

One day the absurdity of the almost universal human belief in the slavery of other animals will be palpable. We shall have then discovered our souls and become worthier of sharing this planet with them.” Martin Luther King Jr.

I have learned from an early age to abjured the use of meat, and the time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men.” Leonardo Da Vinci

When we touch the true essence of life, we change. If we develop ourselves as leaders, we can help the world change as well. It's a beautiful calling.


Saturday, 22 August 2015

A felt sense


In the early evening, just before dusk arrives and when colours are no longer washed out by the brightness of the sun, the trees and grasses reveal a deeper presence. A dog sitting on a porch looks up and smiles. In that very moment, before any thought has risen, eternity is revealed, and with no need of language, you understand it.

Zhaozhou, the ancient and great Zen master, was asked by monks who were lost in argument and thought, whether or not a dog has Buddha Nature. Zhaozhou replied, “no”. This is a “no” that stops any ideas or thoughts we have about things and creates an opening, like a wormhole does in space, to a direct experience of something seemingly far removed from us - eternity, awakening.

Another Zen koan, “save a ghost”, can also take us to a new place. One of the really interesting things about this koan is that it DOESN’T say “SAVE YOURSELF”, it says “SAVE A GHOST”. Zhaozhou’s “No” may be helpful to us when we start devising plans and schemes to save ourselves from seemingly frightening and anxious ghosts. What happens if we drop our ideas of saving “I” and wormhole our way over to the ghost galaxy?  Well, something really surprising and life giving!

For most of us, the thought of actually doing this with a real ghost (a particular fear, anxiety, our sadness in our life) is truly terrifying. A Zen meditation practice, slowly and surely, gives us the strength and curiosity to save ghosts and bravely step into the places that scare us. There are other ways as well.

There may come a time when we have no choice but to be with a ghost, circumstances may drop us smack in the middle of one. Many Zen students have told me stories of times in their life when they founds themselves suddenly in a very dark place, and to their surprise, there was a strange peace and heightened awareness of the richness of life there.  American philosopher and psychotherapist Eugene Gendlin also noticed something similar in patients who could notice a place in themselves outside of thought and language, a “felt sense” place as he called it. Gendlin noticed and wrote extensively of the healing power of this place in psychotherapy.

Noticing a “felt sense”, saving a ghost, feeling eternity in a particular moment, entering Zhaozhou’s “No” wormhole, or having all your doubts extinguished when you see peach blossoms on a spring day, are all different expressions, in varying levels of intensity, of this true place that Zen practice is.

August 22 2015

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Like water for chocolate


Senjo lived a long time ago and is the heroine of a famous Zen koan – Wuzu asked a monk, “The woman Senjo and her spirit separated. Which is the true Senjo?”

Senjo showed up at my studio recently, she said she was feeling lost and disconnected and so on a whim decided to call me. I was really excited to hear from her and invited her over to my studio for a visit. After pouring her a glass of wine I passed her a large coffee table art book. As Senjo started flipping through the pages her heart started beating wildly, like water for chocolate. On each page was a beautiful art image, an image that, to her surprise, was her own art work. Maybe it was the wine, but she started to feel a warm glow and an excitement building deep inside her.

I took Senjo's hand and we walked into the Art Gallery next door. It was full of people mingling, wine and hors d’oeuvres were being served. Large beautiful paintings were hanging on the wall and the room was full of excitement at their unveiling. Music, Leonard Cohen's "Dance Me to the End of Love" was playing in background. Senjo and I walked around around the room, hand in hand, looking at the beautiful artwork, all the pieces had Senjo's signature on them.

Senjo set her glass of wine down on a nearby table and with Leonard's music pouring all over us, she leaned into me and put her lips to mine.

That's all I remember.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Ten Thousand Feet Down


“In the sea of Ise,
10,000 feet down, lies a single stone.
I want to pick it up that stone,
without getting my hands wet.”


I taught this koan at a recent one-day retreat.

For me, with no pun intended, this is a deep koan, it’s a koan that only shines when the world and self have disappeared and a single stone glows with the light of the whole universe. So I was concerned that his might not be a good koan for a one-day retreat, but just as any ocean regardless of its depth, has a beach somewhere with shallow and sandy places where people can play in its waters, I thought the same might be true for this koan.

To my surprise, the koan captivated everyone. Everyone was coming into dokusan* with their own story of the koan. Some were focused on the 10,000-foot depth, so deep that they could never reach that far down, another person was not worried about getting wet but something much more important - how could he breathe down there?  Others noticed the things in their life that seemed unobtainable, like the stone, and felt a sense of hopelessness with no idea of how to reach it. A few people wondered why all the interest in the stone? It wasn't gold or an iPhone. They then noticed things they chase in life that are worthless - and wondered why? It occurred to someone that if they grabbed the thing they really wanted in life, things would get really messy, really wet.

These koan presentations were all insightful, genuine and sincere. I was moved and opened by each of them.  Yet - yet - I kept wanting someone to just reach out and grab the stone. Really, really, wanting them to pickup the stone. I had a strong urge to reach out and grab the stone myself but didn't want to steal thunder that wasn’t mine. My urge for them to pickup the stone got stronger and stronger through out the day. I kept thinking - don't worry about getting wet, what's there to get wet anyway, just grab the stone! Then halfway through a dokusan, as someone was sharing the koan with me, and I was looking into their eyes, something in me melted. I sunk to the bottom of the ocean and my whole perspective changed - they are picking up the stone - just the way they know how - I am the one worried about getting wet. A subtle shift that changed everything for me and I just felt love for whoever was sitting in front of me.

Zen is such wonderful work, even in the depths of stubbornness and focused drive, a koan can show the simple truth of love and tenderness. Waves of kindness, like waves of gravity, unseen but felt, reach even the thickest of us.

Later, I received an email from someone thanking me for the retreat, they wrote:

"Guy, thanks for everything you do. Feels like love.”

I know!

*Dokusan, is a Japanese Zen word for a private interview with a Zen teacher.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Big love


There is a beautiful path in Springbank park, it's a tree-lined walkway along the river that is often dotted with mom's and baby carriages, joggers, bikers and other such people. All in all, it is a very scenic and tranquil place. It does however feel too fairy-tale like, in a Thomas Kinkade painting kind of way, for my taste.

This morning, not feeling scenic and tranquil and not looking to feel that way either, I ended up up there - I was in the neighbourhood.  As I was waking down the pathway I noticed two young women standing talking together, when they saw me they both made a beeline towards me. It was all rather sudden and then they were in front of me wanting to talk.

My first thought was that they were Jehovah Witnesses, turns out they were Mormon missionaries, one from the States and the other from the Philippines. They wanted to know if I knew of the Book of Mormon. I told them I hadn't read it, but I was a big fan of the TV series "Big Love". A banal reply, but looking at the both of them together - it came from an honest place in me. They laughed said they only had one mom and that they get that all the time. Classy response.

The girls had a job to do - and so the questions started. Did I have relationship with Jesus Christ? What was the purpose of my life? Would I be interested in learning more about the Book of Mormon, etc., etc., etc.? Usually I would have been polite and moved on, but my energy was different and when I looked into their eyes I saw something I have seen many times in dokusan, a certain kind of warmth, so I stayed.

They asked if I had questions, and so I did find myself in dokusan. I was happy to be there. I immediately liked them and was touched by their dedication to their practice, I sensed something real about them and found myself wanting to get a sense of who they were, to see if we could connect for a moment.

I asked what their relationship with Jesus is like? How does it feel, how does it interact with their life? One woman said for her that when she feels incomplete or has messed things up, it comforts her to know that because Jesus died for our sins, she will be OK. With Jesus in her heart she knows everything is OK. I said, I get that, even when things get messed up, things are still OK and we’re still OK. I got the sense she feels she messes things up a fair bit - that's a pretty real response.

Then, they told me, in detail, where we come from. That God created the world so our spirits could come here, learn and evolve, and after a while die and go back to God where they are judged. I asked if they know this to be personally true, do they have an actual experience of this? One woman looked at me for a while and said, no she doesn't actually know this to be true. The other woman said it’s faith for her, its OK not to know for sure, not knowing for sure was just part of it. I told her I liked that, not knowing is most intimate.

Our conversation moved to shades of grey. One woman said she did not like all the talk about shades of grey in life. It seemed deeply important to her that truth was black or white, you were either for God or not. I could tell this touched something deep in her. I asked a bit more and she said she knows darkness, and it’s not shades of grey - it is black! I know, I said, you are either turning towards the light or towards the darkness, towards awakening or away from that. She seemed very happy that I was with her and gave me a slightly startled look and asked - what do you do?

I told her that I teach Zen, she didn't really know what that was, and so I mentioned something about stepping into awakening and living out of that. That didn’t help either, so I added that meditation was involved. "Oh!" she said. I need to do that. Then they said, happily, we are going to send everyone over to you. I asked for their cards and told them I would put them on our bulletin board. Big smiles, warmth, real connection. Just like dokusan.

So bodhisattvas* hang out in the pretty and scenic places too, they look a little different but are bodhisattvas none the less.

I have been carrying the following koan with me recently.

BCR Case 89: Yunyan’s Hands and Eyes

Yunyan asked Daowu, “How does the Bodhisattva Guanyin use all those hands and eyes?”

Bodhisattva* - a Buddhist archetype of compassion.

Monday, 3 November 2014

A certain kind of beauty.



Waiting to start dokusan.

Autumn,
moving to its end.

A familiar sadness today
but it's not so bad,
not like it used to be.
I am free to move in it
and look at things.
There is a certain beauty
in this place.


*Dokusan, is a Japanese Zen word for a private interview with a Zen teacher.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Roshi - a poem by Leonard Cohen


Roshi ~ by Leonard Cohen, from the Book of Longing

I never really understood
what he said
but every now and then
I find myself
barking with the dog
or bending with the irises
or helping out
in other little ways


Teaching, a discovery: I have noticed that all I need to do is to bend with the irises, that’s all people need, it doesn't matter what I say.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Vivid, clear and handmade


Dreams, art and koans are like the prebiotic molecules found in the icy particles from interstellar space, they come from an unimaginably remote place and yet contain the seeds of life.

Here is a collage, a multimedia piece, of the three mixed together.

On a grey and overcast day, as the evening light is fading, in a run down part of the city, a woman (our heroine) is walking with two unsettled men, immigrants from a strange country. She is trying to find help for them as they are having a hard time adjusting to this country. They come to a bridge that crosses over train tracks. Under the bridge are a bunch of homeless men huddled around a barrel with a fire inside it.

She walks over to a man, who looks likes the leader and asks, "my two immigrant friends are having trouble getting adjusted, can they stay here?". "OK", he says. She notices the homeless men are all smoking and that there are empty cigarettes packs scattered all around, so she offers to go and get them more cigarettes. She asks what brand they smoke, he says "Metaphors". She picks up an empty cigarette package and confirms that it's the "Metaphors" brand and walks away. One of the homeless men offers cigarettes to the immigrants, "here - these will help".

When new things become conscious in our lives, often, we don't know what to make of them. Meeting an unconscious shadow figure, walking in dreams, or a first, deep, step into emptiness, puts us in a foreign place and we become immigrants in a strange land. Like the the homeless people who gather under a bridge for temporary shelter, our first step is to look a for similar type of refuge, something equally bare and transient. In this place a way forward is found, sometimes in the form of an unusual question or metaphor. A metaphor gives us something known to help with the unknown. If you hold the metaphor closely, it will change into something real and literal - your own individual life.

Here's an example.

Zen Master Yuean, thirteen hundred years ago asked, “Xizhong made a hundred carts. If you take off both wheels and removed the axle, what would be made vividly clear about the cart”. Master Yuean, besides asking a remarkable question, a question that points directly to the heart of Zen, used his virtuosity and offered an apt metaphor - handmade carts. The homeless men living under the bridge show us a way to work with Yuean's question. They know that smoking a metaphor cigarette, inhaling it directly into your body, helps.

Master Yuean spoke of a famed cart builder called Xizhong, someone who built hundreds of carts. If we hold Xizhong deep inside us, if we become Xizhong for while, we start to notice what it is like to build carts. We also notice the hundreds and hundreds of carts we build, and like Xizhong, we are pretty good at building them. A woman was very concerned about the safety of her child and went to great lengths to make sure all her child's activities were carefully monitored, so much so that her daughter wasn't able to enjoy her childhood. After a while she noticed the source of these worries and concerns weren't coming from pressing external threats, but from a master cart builder - herself. Holding the koan and taking the metaphor directly into her life allowed her to see something unknown.

Life seems a little more transparent now and Master Yuean's true question comes to the fore. What happens when the things we build, the ideas we believe about ourselves and the world fall away? What becomes vividly clear? The concerned mother, now aware of the carts she builds, decides to see what happens if she takes them apart and removes the wheels and axles. She is going to give up trying to micromanage every detail of her daughter's life and maybe even her own life. The only way to see what is vividly clear when the cart is disassembled is to disassemble the cart. When ideas about ourselves and our life drop away, carts do what carts do best and children are free to be children.

Our heroine returns to the bridge with more cigarettes and hands them to the homeless man she spoke with earlier. This time she looks closely at him and notices that he is looking deeply into her eyes. She isn't scared and doesn't turn away, instead she holds his gaze. He asks - what is vividly clear right now?

Monday, 7 April 2014

A poisonous snake on the path


A student asked Zen master Qinglin, what happens if one takes up the path of Zen, what then?
“Be careful, there is a poisonous snake on the path. I advise the student not to run into it.”
“What about when the student runs into it?” Qinglin replied “He must mourn his life.”


I like this answer because it's unexpected and because it conjures up a unsettling image. An image can excite us, scare us, or bring up uneasiness and melancholy. People looking at a Francis Bacon painting often experience an uncomfortable and intense response. A meaning can't be discerned and so the painting, and the artist, becomes dark,unsettling. Yet,his paintings draw us in and we know they are good, great even.

Most of us take up a meditation practice with the hope of quieting our minds and getting rid of stress in our life, so it can be unsettling when the opposite seems to occur and long forgotten ghosts come back to life and we feel anything but peaceful and quiet. Qinglin seems to be saying that yes, there are indeed, a poisonous snakes on this path, he might also be hinting that this is not a bad thing. Our Zen ancestors called these recurrent and unsettled feelings great doubt and they considered them extremely valuable.

Something interesting happens when we are willing sit with our uneasiness. It creates the possibility for something else to arise, for meanings to change, morph and finally disappear. Who we think we are might die, what we thought was right and proper might shift.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Manjushri's Three by Three


If you decide to start on a journey to awakening and take up a practice like Zen, you could, at some point in time, find yourself in a wild and dangerous place. This is a might be a good thing, part of the journey, and maybe something that you are unconsciously looking for.

An integral part of any worthwhile trip abroad is a chance encounter with something unexpected. Similar to the mysterious force that started us on our trip, there is also a subterranean being, our own Gollum of Middle Earth, waiting to share something "precious" with us. Gollum spoke in riddles, and when we first encounter such a being, nothing may make much sense, still, we sense something internal has moved.

The story below, a koan about just such an adventure and strange meeting, is what happened when the Chan (Zen) monk, Wuzho, left the city and headed into the mountains looking for Manjurshi, the Buddhist embodiment of wisdom.

When he was young, the Chan monk Wuzho, which means No Attachment, made a pilgrimage to Mount Wutai, where Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, is said to live. Wuzho came to a wild and dangerous area, and Manjushri imagined a temple into existence to take Wuzho in for the night. Manjushri took the form of the head of the temple and welcomed Wuzho, asking, “Where are you from?”“From the South,” replied Wuzho.“How is Buddhism being maintained in the South?” “In this Corrupt Age of the Dharma, monks are honoring the precepts a little.”“How many are there?”“Three hundred here, five hundred there. How is Buddhism being maintained here?”“Ordinary people and saints live together. Dragons and snakes mix.”“How many are there? Manjushri said, “In front three by three, in back three by three.” Later, as they were drinking tea, Manjushri held up a perfect crystal bowl and asked, “Do you have this in the South?” Wuzho replied, “No.” “Then what do you use to drink tea?” Wuzho didn’t have an answer, and he decided to leave. A young attendant accompanied him to the gate, and Wuzho asked him, “What temple is this?” The boy pointed to the mountain behind Wuzho, who turned to look. The mountain was a beautiful, deep indigo in the twilight. When Wuzho turned back, the temple and the boy had vanished, and he was standing alone in an empty valley.

There is a dream like quality about Wuzho’s meeting with Manjushri and one way to become intimate with this koan is to step into the world of dreams. Here are some dream fragments, from modern day versions of Chan monks - people like you and I.

If you look closely at the following dream fragments, maybe some of your own will take on new meanings.

When he was young, the Chan monk Wuzho came to a wild and dangerous area.

Adventures start an early age. In a small town, after dark and when parents are fast asleep, a group of teenage boys sneak out and head to the forest. With just a small flashlight they enter the woods and follow a trail that leads to a bridge. There is no plan on what to do when they get there, the plan is just to get there. The trail is narrow and windy and the trees are dark and tall. They follow their leader through the darkness. His flashlight swings and tree branches are suddenly lit, then the trail suddenly lights up and rocks become visible - then disappear. They race along in the darkness, tasting the unknown and wild, singing dirty songs and letting out shrieks of excitement.

Ordinary people and saints live together. Dragons and snakes mix.

The wholeness of life, both the bright parts and the dark parts, is often revealed in dreams. A man looks at a blueprint of his house and sees a secret room he didn’t know was there.

Manjushri said, “In front three by three, in back three by three

Some things, like the coloured squares in a Rubiks Cube, can’t be easily aligned. A woman dreams she is walking down a high-school hallway. She stops and opens a locker, there are pink flowers inside.

Manjushri asked “what do you use to drink tea?” Wuzho didn’t have an answer…

Answers are not always apparent. A woman's husband keeps asking her why she is unhappy, but she can’t answer.

The mountain was a beautiful, deep indigo in the twilight. When Wuzho turned back, the temple and the boy had vanished, and he was standing alone in an empty valley

In the midst of beauty and solitude, emptiness* is revealed. It’s a dark, cold, winter night. The landscape is nothing but white rolling contours and outlines of trees and houses. A man, bundled up in heavy winter clothes, is walking his dog along a sidewalk carved through the snow. They come to an open field, the dog bounces off like a deer, the man lost in thought, follows the dog. After a while the man stops walking and stands still, before him is a huge expanse of snow and black sky. It’s very quiet, and very cold. At the edge of the field, a single, barren, Black Walnut tree stands. All conversations, ideas, and worries stop for the man.

*A Buddhist word for the essence of reality.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

A person of great strength


Songyuan Chongyue’s Turning Words
Why can’t the person of great strength lift up his leg?


There are so many great things happening in the world. Todd Hido is creating photographic images of incredible artistic depth, Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conversation Society is risking everything to save ocean wildlife, Ingrid Newkirk of P.E.T.A. makes it her life work to protect those who are defenceless against humans, students work long hours after school so they can pay their way through university. Great strength is everywhere we look.

Yet, when Songyuan Chongyue asks, "why can’t the person of great strength can't lift up his leg”, something deep inside us locks up. Most of us who look closely will see some place in our life where we are frozen, unable to even lift a leg. A person full of insight and knowledge gets up to speak before a group and freezes, a slim person is convinced she is too fat and won't eat, a woman steps into a deep awakening but is unsure of it and defers to others.

So maybe Songyuan Chongyue's question is valid, but I am guessing that he didn't ask it to make a point. His are turning words, words to change things, words to change us, words to change our life. The beauty and magic of working with a koan is that by just holding the koan things change. A while ago I felt completely stuck, all my abilities, education, training, experience, were of no use at all. Songyuan Chongyue's turning words came to mind, so I called them up whenever I felt stuck. I didn't do anything with the words - I just carried them with me. Whenever I felt stuck and frustrated I wore Songyuan Chongyue's words like a life jacket. After a while I noticed the life jacket disappeared, the koan had disappeared, the question had disappeared, the problem was gone. My legs worked just fine.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

In the jumbled mountains, in the deep places….



For whom do you bathe and make yourself beautiful?
The voice of the cuckoo is calling you home.
Countless flowers have fallen, and that voice is not stilled
In the jumbled mountains, in the deep places, its call continues.
As you go In the piles of mountains, in the deep places, its call continues.
In the jumbled mountains, in the deep places....
~Dongshan

On a recent morning I was walking my dog Mu, she was trotting along and looked so beautiful. As usual she walked with such purpose and earnestness that my heart filled with love and the universe was perfect. The cuckoo’s beautiful voice was loud and clear and there was no question as to whom I make make myself beautiful for.

A few days later I was at the Animal Emergency Clinic and Mu was in intensive care, she looked awful and lifeless. I was scrambled and lost, going from moment to moment, I couldn’t hear much of anything. Mu looked up at me and tried to bark, squeaks came out. I didn’t know what she was trying to say – I desperately wanted to understand.

Now, all I know, is what the voice of the cuckoo sounds like when I am lost in my own jumbled mountains, in my own dark places.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Pirates, Stone Buddha’s and Strawberries

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On a small island somewhere in the middle of a tropical ocean, a man found a huge treasure of gold coins, jewelry and precious gems. He packed as many gold coins as he could in his small boat and headed out to sea to take the treasure home. The water around the island was shallow, full of reefs and tossed by large waves. On his way out to sea he got caught on the reefs, capsized his boat, and lost his treasure. He went back to the island and found there was still lots and lots of treasure to be had. So he reloaded his small boat and headed out to sea once again. This time he ran into pirates, some of them he fought off, others stole his treasure. But this was not a problem, because every time he went back to shore he found lots more treasure. He started to relax and discovered this was a game he couldn’t lose. He started to enjoy traveling out to the sea and dealing with reefs, pirates, and large waves. He was having a blast.

A koan: “How is my hand like Buddha’s hand?”

Response 1. Playing guitar in the moonlight.

Response 2. A woman, who before hearing this koan, saw an exhibit of “Stone Buddhas”, dug up from a cave in China, was struck by how foreign and removed from her life the Buddhas seemed. After holding this koan, Buddha’s hand was now her life today, what she did, and who she talked to during the day. It included feeling isolated and sad. It was all very fleshy now.

Response 3. A woman became aware of how much she loved her body. She loved that her hands could plant flowers, pull weeds and that her body could eat strawberries.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Welcome!




Welcome, it's nice to have you here.

This is a blog about the actual experience of Zen practice. There will be no cliches, no namaste, no mindfulness, no "we are all one", no "power of now". Or, as the the Zen masters of old would say, no fox spit or venom!

There will be lots of Zen inspired art and real life examples of the beauty and depth that arises when we walk the Zen path. The dark parts will be shared too.

Sometimes Zen sparks lead to a brilliant fire, other times to a more modest shift in the way we look at things. Either way, they are transformational.

The thing about Zen sparks is that they light up everything, teaching, work, love, art, business, and trees.

Guy Gaudry, is a Zen master in the koan line of Linji and teaches at the London Zen Centre.