Satya is the practice guide for Touching Earth Sangha. While studying Asian religion at Oberlin College, Satya began a daily sitting practice in 1990. After graduating and moving west, he practiced at the Berkley Zen Center and Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, before taking off to Asia on pilgrimage. After visiting various teachers in Japan, he sat a three month silent training period in Korea under the guidance of Zen Master Seung Sahn. He then continued to India, visiting the important sites from the Buddha’s life, and traversing the Himalayas on foot from Dharamsala to Leh, Ladakh. Returning to the states, Satya continued his practice with Kobun Chino Otogawa Roshi, who ordained him as a Zen priest in 1995. He then returned to Japan for monastic training at Bukkokuji Temple under the guidance of Zen Master Harada Tangen Roshi. Spending most of the next five years with Tangen Roshi, Satya then practiced briefly at Zhenru Temple on Yunju Mountain in China before returning to the states in 2000.

Committed to remaining homeless and not working for money, Satya lived mostly with forest activists for the next few years, often sitting in tree platforms in remote forests up and down the west coast. Eventually settling in Portland, he took up the study of Tai Chi and Indian raga music, while leading a Sunday sitting group and helping Food-Not-Bombs bring free vegetarian feasts to public parks. Having lived homeless for the last ten years, he often moves from place to place staying wherever he is invited.

 

Essays

(A new article that combines and summarizes many of the points of the following  essays will soon be published in Turning Wheel, the journal of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.)

Touching Earth

Under the bodhitree, in the forest by the Niranjara River, the world-honored one touched the earth and received great awakening.  Without touching the earth, there is no great awakening.  Because of touching the earth, the earth trembled, all beings trembled, and the morning star opened its eye and sent forth its light unhindered throughout heaven and earth.  We should investigate this touching of the earth.

Before touching the earth, the world-honored one was visited by alluring visions of desire and seduction, and by visions of demonic terrors and violence.  By exposing himself to this rain and wind, and upright and aware; sailing through the storms without losing course, he was able to find a clear field out beyond ideas; an empty meadow for a meeting with the most distinguished guest.  Mara, with grandmotherly kindness, provided a turning word, an axis point for revolution:

“What right do you have to wake up to freedom when all other beings are drowning in suffering?”   Following the imperative, the world-honored one touched the earth, suddenly extinguishing the flame of Siddhartha Gautama and opening the gates of the garden for the ten thousand grasstips to come forward and illuminate awakening.

To understand the earth-touching of the awakened one, we must investigate our own touching.  Is it the self that lowers the hand, or the earth that draws it in?  We might understand how to touch the earth and receive the earth’s confirmation, but we must also understand that the earth touches us, and we confirm the earth’s awakening.

Do we make touching the earth into a ritual or display?  Or is it reaching for refreshing water, or having a cup of tea?  Is it reaching for a pillow in the middle of the night?  Could it be embracing the beloved, or embracing the gift of Sujata?

Touching is not just with the hand, it is with the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, body and mind, it is with the breath and posture, it is with a flower and with a smile, with a pebble striking bamboo, and with the call of a crow.  It is with the white clouds passing freely through the vast sky.

When we touch the earth, do we feel the trembling?  We feel the trembling of thunder, or of a rushing river; maybe of butterfly wings or aspen leaves.  Can we feel the trembling of a hollow tree, a moss covered boulder or withered log under the snow?  How about falls, fences, tiles and pebbles?

Are we in touch with the weight and inertia of a car when we get in and drive?  Do we touch the heat and roar of the engine, or the breath of the exhaust?  Would we choose to drive so easily?

Are we in touch with the plastic package hiding the food we reach for in the market?  Do we know its “before and after, complete in this moment”?  Do we touch the chemical laboratories, the oil fields, the war zones?  Are these considerations brought in from the outside or are they here with us in the intimacy of this moment?  Are they flowers in the sky, or are they touching the earth?

How can we touch the earth while on the internet, while talking on a cell phone, while flying in an airplane?  It’ s not that it can’t be done, it’s just that there is a great distance between heaven and earth.  It’s not that touching the earth can be defiled, it’s just that is comes with practice and realization.  The awakened one ascended the ladder to heaven in order to save free beings trapped there but he soon returned to earth on the single road.

When we return to earth, to our original home, the empty dawn gives birth to the one bright pearl; its brilliance spills forth into the eyes of all beings.  At the moment of touching the earth, there is no hand, no person, no touching, and no earth.  At this moment, earth and the awakened one both drop away like golden leaves in autumn.  On the bare ground, spring comes, and the grass grows of itself.

 

DOGEN, HOMELESS KODO, AND A SUSTAINABLE WORLD

May/June 2009

Students of the Way, do not worry about food and clothing…  The Buddha said to use abandoned rags for clothing and beg for food.  In what age will these two things ever be exhausted?  ….As long as your dew-like human life lasts, think exclusively of the Buddha-Way and do not be concerned with other things…

This challenging quote of Zen Master Dogen comes from his “Shobogenzo Zuimonki” – a collection of informal talks about the lifestyles and attitudes most conducive to awakened practice.  Although many of Dogen’s more philosophical essays are popularly studied in contemporary Zen centers, the Zuimonki gets much less attention.  There may be many reasons, but it’s undeniable that the suggestion of changing one’s lifestyle, especially concerning money and associated habits, arouses deeply uncomfortable and defensive responses.  More so, perhaps, than even the most mind-bending philosophy or rigorous formal practice.  In Zuimonki Dogen directly challenges the lifestyle of “gain” and the concern with financial security that is so dominant in our present society.  He continues:

To think of accumulating even a little bit of wealth is a great obstacle.  Without thinking of how to gain or store up things, you will naturally receive as much as you need to stay alive for awhile… heaven and earth bestow it on us…   these things will naturally be there, but only if you abandon everything and practice the Way… If we run out of food and have nothing to eat, only then should we look for a means (to gain something).  We should not think of these things in advance.

Again and again throughout the Zuimonki, Dogen praises a life of simplicity, even poverty, as the most conducive lifestyle for whole-hearted practice.  He vigorously criticizes the mainstream Buddhist establishment of his day as far too concerned with comfort, prestige, and material security.

Most people today mistakenly think that constructing Buddha images and building stupas helps the Buddhadharma flourish.  Even though we might erect huge temples adorned with polished jewels and gold, we cannot attain the Way by these works… To learn even a single phrase of the Dharma-gate or to practice zazen if only for a single period, while living in a thatched hut or under a tree, shows  the true flourishing of the Buddhadharma.

If we remain pure and poor, but practice the Way enduring hardship, beg for food, or eat wild nuts or fruit… a single person hearing about us and coming to practice will be one possessing true bodhi-mind.  I think this is the way the buddhadharma can truly flourish.

Some might dismiss Dogen’s attitude as unrealistic, or as a romantic idealization from another age.  One modern-day Zen practitioner and teacher, Sawaki Kodo Roshi, took Dogen’s advice to heart, and lived as simply as he could, without concern with establishing a home or temple:

People call me “Homeless” Kodo, but I don’t take it as an insult.  They call me that because I have never had a temple or a house.  Everyone is homeless.  It is a mistake if you think that you have a fixed home.

The connection between a life of simplicity and the opening of awakened awareness begins to become apparent.  Sawaki continues to clarify this theme in many of his quotes:

To study the Buddha Way is to study loss.  Shakyamuni Buddha is a good example.  He left his kingdom… and became a mendicant with bare feet and a shabby robe.  All the Buddhas and ancestors suffer loss intentionally.  It is a very big mistake if a Buddhist priest wants to rise in the world… to climb up to a place from which sooner or later you have to fall.  “No falling” is the life of a monk or nun, one who has left home.

This willingness to not raise oneself up above others, to endure loss and to surrender in order to be free of self-centered desire is, of course, a central tenet of Buddhism and many other religions.  To turn away from self-focused accumulation, from competition and striving, is to discover a new world in which to live and act.  Sawaki says-  “The world in which people give and receive things without saying, ‘Give it to me!’ is the truly beautiful world.  It differs from the world of scrambling for things.  It is vast and boundless.”  This world is the birthplace of connection and belonging, and the end of isolation and loneliness.  Sawaki understands this boundless world of open sharing to extend beyond the realm of human interaction:

Heaven and Earth give themselves.  Air, water, plants, animals, and humans give themselves to each other.  It is in this giving-themselves-to-each-other that we actually live.  Whether you appreciate it or not, it is true…  Samadhi is to work constantly for all beings at every moment, living as the whole universe.

In “Genjo Koan” Dogen says famously,  “To carry yourself forward and experience the myriad things is delusion.  That myriad things come forth and experience themselves is awakening.”  This is the ultimate principle of non-striving.  To empty oneself of personal concern and instead be filled by the whole of the vast space of experience is to reach the source of compassion and universal responsibility.  Dogen and Sawaki make clear that a life of simplicity, even poverty, is an essential training to reveal this awareness, as well as the natural expression of an awakened mind.  Can one who has abandoned self-centered striving still accumulate riches and use resources lavishly?  Theoretically perhaps, but in actuality what would be the motive?  As we become aware of the suffering for the many caused by the accumulation of the few, this possibility virtually disappears.

In his book of Buddhist ethics, The Mind of Clover, Robert Aitken likens the accumulation and luxury that we take for granted in the industrialized world to a continuous act of stealing:

Stealing is a pervasive element of our lives, and is the nature of our economic system… the natural world is exploited for short term benefit to a “fortunate” minority, while other people, animals, plants, and the earth organism itself suffer.

Aitken then discusses an example from the Sahel in Africa, where a corporation pays its farm workers so little that they can hardly eat, then ships the produce to wealthy Europeans, all on land that once belonged to the workers for their own food.  But he could as well have discussed the brutal violence in the Congo and the fueling of that conflict by the demand of wealthy nations for the coltan in cell-phones and wireless computers.  Or, of course, the continuing devastation in Iraq and Afghanistan and its connection to the insatiable “need” do drive cars.  Aitken warns:  “As  time goes on, oil and minerals will become scarcer, and the kind of brutality evident in my example from the Sahel may become more commonplace, at home as well as abroad.”  His solution is inspired by a quote from Gandhi:

We are not always aware of our real needs, and most of us improperly multiply our wants, and thus unconsciously make thieves of ourselves… One who follows the observance of Non-stealing will bring about a progressive reduction of his own wants.

Aitken concludes:  “It is in the social movement to reduce needs that there is hope for political change.”  At the end of his chapter he makes a final assessment and call to action:

Today the delusion of greed, hatred, and ignorance fuel industrial and political systems that threaten the very structure of life.  Air, water, and food are depleted and poisoned, and the machine of death and destruction accelerates.  The dojo has always been a retreat and a training center, but now the emphasis must be upon training ourselves as a danaparamita community to become a new growth within the shell of the old society.

This, then, is the great task, and opportunity, of responsible meditation practice communities in contemporary society: to become examples and leaders in the movement toward simplicity.  Many other segments of our society might be focused on technical or political maneuvering in order to lessen the damage from a consumption- driven world, but those of us focusing on the fulfillment of the present moment need to show the way toward doing and needing less.  If we are serious about awakening to emptiness- the emptiness of our personal stories and habits swirling around achieving,attaining, controlling- we find that we can be completely filled with the boundless world of the present just as it is.  Sharing this revelation is the greatest expression of generosity we can make.

If we take this practice of presence seriously, it should be evident in our day to day lifestyle choices.  Many practice communities are taking small steps toward lessening their consumption of energy and resources, but not noticeably more than others in the same middle-class liberal environments with which they generally associate.  Where are the pioneers that hear the call of Dogen and Sawaki and dare to explore the wilderness of radical simplicity?  If those focused on receiving the contentment and joy of the present moment are unable to let go of the usual conveniences and securities of modern industrial life, who will?  Can we feel the tremendous weight of a car when we approach it, understanding the excessive energy it must consume to move us, or can we only think of our future destination and our haste.  Do we see the plastic package concealing the food we’re purchasing- the vast distances and polluting industry needed to make it – or just the convenience of our habitual eating choices.  Why do we practice meditation if not to free ourselves from the habits and fears that usually dictate our choices, and, cutting through the veneer of comfort and security, courageously take each step toward the wholesome, the beautiful, and the compassionate.

One group setting out on this path is a small community in Portland, Oregon that this author is a part of called “Touching Earth Sangha.”  Living together practicing a full-time monastic schedule, we make no income other than donations, and charge no money for others to join for retreats or residency.  Renting for as long as savings allow, or else squatting, house-sitting, or entering the mountains for wilderness retreats, we gather most of our food from donations and dumpsters, or urban wild crafting and gardening.  We use no cars- only bikes and bike carts for long distance errands.  In the winter we keep warm with sweaters from the free-box.  By doing our laundry by hand, using an insulating “hay-box” for cooking, and turning off the fridge we use almost no energy.  Any food purchased is local, organic, vegan and unpackaged, and we complete the nutrient cycle by composting our humanure.  We’ve begun sewing our own robes, and soon we’d like to carve our own bowls.  And we’ve begun to experiment with mendicancy.  None of this is particularly new or innovative – it was mostly standard in traditional practice communities for centuries, and still can be found in some temples in Asia.  It is an organic lifestyle rising directly from the awareness of what is really called for in the present moment.  Far from pursuing the theoretical constructs of modern movements like “permaculture”, we simply step back from entanglements in worlds of activity that feel unwholesome or excessive.  There is no pure or impure here, only making our best effort.

Perhaps there are a growing number of such small practice communities turning toward a simpler way, each with its own emphasis and style.  A new application of “sila”, or ethical guidelines, might emerge for our present world, and a renewed sense of the unity of sila, samadhi, and prajna.  With increased communication, we might help and inspire each other to foster the growing of a new movement “within the shell of the old society.”  A movement that truly appreciates the reality of “giving-ourselves-to-each-other” – the vast and boundless world right here before us.

Please feel encouraged to make contact and participate in the process!

The Last Transmission: Sila in the Modern World

October/November 2009

The practice and realization of the Buddhadharma is sometimes divided into three categories: sila, samadhi, and prajna. Prajna, often understood as the final fruit of practice, is primordial wisdom that lies before knowledge. It’s the revelation of unbounded, selfless reality as the ground and basis of consciousness. Samadhi, the quality of practice necessary for prajna, is concentration, meditative focus, or absorption. It concerns the direct experience of non-conceptual reality in the present moment. Sila, often seen as the necessary ground, or preparation, for the other two qualities, denotes ethical behavior in one’ s lifestyle. It can refer to a mode of living ordered and strengthened by a code of conduct or precepts, or more generally as living in resonance with harmlessness and compassionate action. Sila can be seen as opening the way for the emergence of samadhi and prajna by removing the distracting and imprisoning mind states associated with selfish behavior. But it can also be seen as the final expression of the spiritual path –the actual manifestation of prajna embodied in observable human life. The unburdened sage returning to the marketplace with gift-bestowing hands. Perhaps it is most helpful to view these three categories as mutually supporting and interacting aspects of our constantly unfolding path, all three present throughout each stage of our practice lives.

On observing the transmission of the Buddha Way to the “west”, there seems to be a crucial imbalance in these three branches. There is clearly a widespread and accurate knowledge of the various meditative practices associated with the development of samadhi. There is, perhaps, more access to those forms, and more widespread practice of them, than ever before in history. There is also an impressive array of deeply researched and carefully prepared translations into English, and other western languages, of a wide body of Buddhist philosophical texts dealing with the vision of prajna. Here, too, there might be a wider appreciation of the significance of this insight then ever before – at least intellectually. Sila, however, seems dramatically less developed and appreciated. Although some groupings of basic lay precepts are widely known and discussed, a clearly articulated vision of an ethically directed lifestyle of radical simplicity, such as that lived and taught by the Buddha, has yet to take root in the west.

In the school of Buddhism with, perhaps, the greatest emphasis on sila, the Theravada, this concern is expressed mainly through strict observance of a large number of codified precepts for monks and nuns. The much fewer precepts taken by laypeople are sufficiently general and universally accepted so as to make them very open to interpretation and relatively unspecific in regulating day to day life. The rules for the ordained, on the other hand, are so specific and so particularly applicable to the life of ancient India where they were born, that many westerners interested in the Theravada focus much more on “vipassana” meditation in isolation than on the context of monastic life.

In the Mahayana there is traditionally less emphasis on strict observance of all the monastic precepts. However, amongst serious meditation practitioners in these schools in Asia, there is a clear understanding that the appropriate practice lifestyle is one of austere simplicity, frugality, and harmony with the natural environment. As with the Theravada, yogins of the Mahayana, whether monk, nun, or layperson, whether of the Chinese-based or Tibetan-based cultures, generally favor simple dwellings, few possessions, and a natural setting removed from social busy-ness for their practice. Whether or not they can fully meet these criteria, this ideal is clearly articulated. From Han Shan in his mountain wilderness, to Milarapa in his cave; from layman Pang sinking his possessions in a lake, to the legend of Zen Master Daito living homeless under a bridge; this vision runs deep and broad. More recently we have numerous accounts of Tibetan yogins and Chinese hermits. Clearly sila can manifest as the spirit of doing without, of appreciating and relying on the simple and abundant gifts of nature, without necessarily holding fast to the word of particular precepts. But although this tradition is known in the west though story, it’s practice, in any wide sense, has yet to emerge.
What may be the role of the renunciate tradition in our modern practice? Is it only a scenic backdrop, or is something more essential at stake? We must seriously consider whether practice can fully blossom when we spend much of our waking hours working in a system focused on the accumulation of money, or prestige, or increasing desires, and then spend one or two hours in meditation practice letting go of that. If our purchasing and traveling habits based on comfort and convenience go unquestioned, how can we expect to unravel the effects of this behavior in short bursts of retreat? If we examine the perennially instructive legend of the Buddha’s life, we learn that his “great renunciation” was the key turning point, and came clearly before his practice of samadhi and his awakening to prajna. Can it be that this surrendering of the daily reinforced concerns of the ego is what releases the energy necessary for mediation to fill us completely, and for wisdom to be revealed in its essential clarity?

Sila can also be understood as the beneficial, compassionate life that emerges out of, and reflects, the awakening of wisdom in the mature practitioner. For centuries, the masters of the Asian meditative paths have exemplified the possibilities of how little we need materially to be joyful and fully receptive to life’s natural richness. Their austerity was understood, I believe, as an expression of harmlessness toward all beings — by not taking more than truly necessary, they left enough for all others. At the same time, by not occupying themselves with a mind of acquisitiveness, they could be fully awake to compassion and beneficial action.

Today, with the growing crisis of climate change and habitat destruction threatening the ability of our planet to sustain and nourish life, the need for exemplars of simple living is stronger than ever before in human history. The cause of environmental degradation, and the starvation, drought, disease, warfare, and extinctions that are its growing expressions, is clearly greed, over-consumption, and wasteful habit. Where are the models of a radical shift in lifestyle toward simplicity?

For thousands of years in many cultures throughout the world, contemplatives chose to live in voluntary simplicity, and were honored by their communities as exemplars of the highest ideals of the culture –generosity, frugality, selflessness, non-harm, and compassion. This goes far beyond the Buddhist world. From Christian friars to wandering sufis, from Indian sadhus to Taoist hermits, those who chose voluntary poverty, using just what they needed in harmony with nature, were (and sometimes still are) held in the highest esteem — and served as reminders to the culture that there are more important values than material comfort and acquisitiveness.
Today in the west, and other industrialized cultures, the only visible people living in radical simplicity are the homeless, who generally are not voluntarily following a calling, but are suffering from alcoholism, drug addiction, mental illness, or personal tragedy. And the only response of the public is pity, or disgust. What impact on society might be felt if a movement of contemplatives chose to reawaken the spirit of the renunciant lifestyle? To express simplicity as a calling, and a joy. Perhaps living with just what’s needed could become, again, an honored value, and recognized as the essential path to freedom, to contentment, to true wealth.
For the practitioner, then, there seem to be two main reasons to adopt a simplified lifestyle. The first: to clear away obstructions and distractions so that more energy is available for presence practice, allowing prajna to be revealed without the veil of other motives and preoccupations. The second: to live in a way that helps heal the disease of overconsumption and greed now wrecking havoc over the earth, and to be an example to the wider community to take steps in this direction. But these two aspects naturally emerge from one heart-movement: without concern for “inner” or “outer,” we take the step forward that naturally appears when we surrender to the present moment. When alive, awake presence is the source of contentment, other desires fall away. Naturally, personal freedom and benefit for others arise together.
What would a radically simple practice lifestyle look like in today’s world? Certainly, there needs to be a variety of expressions, as each person has their own unique situation and level of challenge that they’re ready for and interested in. However, certain communities or movements might agree on new sets of precepts that respond to today’s challenges — both in the outer and inner environments. Some updated precepts have been circulating, and although these seem sound and helpful for “laypeople” (those who want to continue more or less conventional engagement with the dominant social system while practicing), they are, perhaps, too timid for those who want to be examples of the radical change called for in the present global crisis. The practitioners that want to pioneer these possibilities are those who are often called monks or nuns — those willing to let go of conventional engagement with the dominant system in order to form a new lifestyle paradigm in the shadow of the old. Maybe we need new names for these folks, since monk or nun usually implies celibacy and attachment to a monastery, which are, although useful, perhaps not necessary for this role in the present environment. (Bikkhu, the original name for a Buddhist monk, means alms collector or “beggar.” Fakir, meaning one living in poverty, is a name given to sufis. Aranyaka was a renunciate yogin [Buddhist or not] living in the forest in ancient India).
The guidelines, or precepts, for these pioneers of simplicity might include not having an income, or bank account. Pehaps refraining from buying things altogether, unless necessary food or clothing items (when these aren’t found or given). Maybe not driving a car; at least not owning one. For those comfortable with the next level of challenge there could be further precepts (“dhutaguna” of old tradition) such as not even riding in cars. How about not owning a cell phone, or not even using one? And computers?
When we understand that our culture’s obsession with buying things, and with speedy motorized travel, is the main cause of incredible destruction and suffering in the world (polluting waste, resource depletion, species extinction, warfare), then the direction for change is clear. If we can see the inner harm, too, of a life led in these habits (mental pollution, inner resource depletion) then our resolve for change becomes stronger. A secret can open here that reveals these two aspects to be one and the same. Can we still believe that behavior that’s harmful to the “outer world” could possibly still bring us personal happiness or benefit? Or that something presently harmful might bring about benefit some time in the future. Do we still believe in these inner/outer, or present/future divides? The job of the renunciate sage is to bring these apparent dualities back together — to reveal original wholeness
Ultimately, or course, it is not so important to join or establish a particular order of renunciates — the call for a move towards simplicity goes out to all. Contemplatives, however, have a pronounced opportunity, perhaps responsibility, to inspire and encourage this movement from the jealous god realm of our culture back to the human. This re-awakened vision of sila would help activate the final transmission of Asian wisdom to the west, and fulfill the promise of contemplative religions to help create a saner, more joyous world.

Retreat Poems

Winter 2009 Solstice

Patched-Robe shack beside the cypress
dives into the dark
night of the solstice
amidst flourishing clouds.
Creaking wood floor with tin patches
brilliantly  expounds the Dharma,
while the crackling fire of the cook stove
sings of the place beyond hot and cold.
The bubbling rice gruel
is sufficient, so the practitioners come.
Bundles of blankets, with steaming
breath, they engage in the practice
beyond mistakes.
Late at night, walking out
onto the frozen mud path,
their steps follow a circle
that includes all mountains and rivers
in ten directions.
Revolving through the dark,
we arrive directly at the bodhi tree
beneath a crescent moon
and morning star.

Fall 2009 Equinox

On the Autumnal Equinox
We remember the balance
between light and dark-
the foot before and the foot behind in
in walking meditation.
From sunrise to sunset,
A lonely group of four,
or three, or even just two
sitting under the cyprus in the yard;
eating wild greens
celebrating the flourishing of the Dharma.
Avalokitesvara
with a thousand hands and eyes
actualizes the cooking, the dishes,
like tuning over in our sleeping bags
under a bright half moon.
Even without any teachers of Zen
mysteriously practice is accomplished-
spider webs appear throughout the branches
before the coming rains.

April 2009

Full Moon

Bird calls at dawn
open retreat
as the plum petals fall
and cherry blossoms emerge.
Inside our grass hut
We engage the practice
that even all the buddhas
cannot measure. Boundless spring
wind brings a ruby-throated hummingbird
to have a wordless dialogue
with the stone tiles, birch trees,
and spreading weeds.
Letting go of hundreds of years
the sun sets over the small hut.
Above the thick grey clouds
the full moon silently illuminates
the vast sky; its heart emptied
it knows the 10,000 things as its own.
At midnight, moonlight
enters the window

March 2009

Spring Equinox/New Moon

Spring wind gathers the clouds
and opens the five petals of the plum blossom.
The scent of Daphne, the first bee,
new leaves sprouting from the branch-
all come forward to illuminate the self
as we actualize the practice beyond
stillness and activity.
Leaping clear of abundance and lack,
there is the bell, the distant train whistle,
the candle raised
and blown out.
Honoring the late master Sheng-Yen
we examine the reliable mind:
without picking and choosing
our meal bowls are filled
with nothing but plum blossoms.
No need to finish-
retreat vanishes of itself
as the new moon arrives.

February 2009

New Moon

Dark and empty
out if it comes
the ten thousand things:
Shakyamuni’s six years in the forest,
Bodhidharma’s nine years in the cave,
and three days of a seed touching earth,
germinating amidst wind and rain
and gathering clouds.
Gulls squawk, music blares
but even the storm of the mind
can’t deter a person of suchness.
Root hairs and shoots sprout of themselves.
In the dusk sky –
thin bright crescent.

Full Moon

Satya’s response to the question “what is the translation of the mantra we have been chanting today?” (Heart Sutra mantra):
One bright pearl
One bright pearl
Everything is just one bright pearl
What can you say?
Svaha!

Winter 2008 Solstice

On a cold snowy night
seven thieves break in
to an empty house.
Finding nothing to steal,
and nothing to run from,
they just sit
as the snow piles high.
Someone fidgets restlessly,
someone breaks into laughter,
outside the dog is barking.
Ice crystals hiss through bamboo,
snowflakes dance in the streetlight.
Behind dark clouds the sun
shines on the horizon.

Spring 2008 Equinox

Five brave travelers embark on the Way
that even the Buddha
doesn’t understand.
But it’s so easy –
at the sound of the mok-tok*,
wrap yourself in a blanket.
Sitting outside in the cold
for hours, like Huike –
Suddenly, on the Cherry branch,
buds burst into bloom.
Spring has arrived.
Surprise!
Snow falls from the sky.

*Korean wood-block to signal temple events.

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