Essays

Photo by Peter Cunningham courtesy of Stephanie Young Merzel

Meeting Maezumi Roshi

· Essays, Teachings · ,

by John Daido Loori, Roshi

As I spent time at Dai Bosatsu, I began to suspect that the key to the profound qualities I was seeing in Zen art was Zen practice, and that zazen— Zen meditation—was its foundation. I had heard that as a young man Soen Roshi used to sit zazen high up on a tree to train himself not to fall asleep. It was said that once, when Soen was sitting at Dai Bosatsu Mountain in Japan (for which the monastery is named), he fell out of a tree and his head was pierced by a sharp piece of bamboo. Yet this incident didn’t stop him from sitting.

During an intensive meditation retreat at Dai Bosatsu, I witnessed Soen Roshi’s amazing capacity to sit perfectly motionless in zazen for long periods. I saw him sit through the day, into the night and then on through the next day. Curious, I got up in the middle of the second night to see if he had finally gone off to rest, but there he was, still sit- ting in the empty zendo. Peter Mattheissen, in his book Nine-headed Dragon River, wrote that when he was assigned to clean the zendo for work practice, he sometimes had to dust around Soen sitting in meditation.

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Raquette River Field Journal

· Creative Expression, Essays · ,

The insentient speak in a language that we are unable to understand but some- how are able to feel. It’s way of teaching us is not rational but rather visceral. Listen to the voice of rock and water. What does it say? Is it one voice or is it many? A chorus of voices, perhaps. Can you hear its song? It sings its ancient story—a timeless story of life unfixed, impermanent, in a constant state of becoming.

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Light

· Essays, Teachings · ,

by John Daido Loori, Roshi

Pearly, shadowless images are becoming warmer as they begin to fill with color. Reds and oranges are seeping into the day, transforming this land and my feelings. Though still below the horizon, the sun has begun to illuminate the morning sky. The light filters through the forest of white pine and sycamore, and the surface of the pond glows, sepia tones shifting beneath my canoe. The water is still, broken only by the occasional movement of a fish or an insect touching the surface.

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To Know Living Things

· Earth Initiative, Essays · ,

From the journals of Thomas Merton

Yesterday I was sitting in the woodshed reading and a little Carolina wren suddenly hopped on to my shoulder and then on to the corner of the book I was read- ing and paused a second to take a look at me before flying away.

Same wren just came back and is singing and investigating busily in the blocks of the wall over there.

Here is what I think.

Man can know all about God’s creation by examining its phenomena, by dissecting and experimenting and this is all good. But it is misleading, because with this kind of knowledge you do not really know the beings you know. You only know about them. That is to say you create for yourself a knowledge based on your observations. What you observe is really as much the product of your knowledge as its cause. You take the thing not as it is, but as you want to investigate it. Your investigation is valid, but artificial.

There is something you cannot know about a wren by cutting it up in a laboratory and which you can only know if it remains fully and completely a wren, itself, and hops on your shoulder if it feels like it.

A tame animal is already invested with a certain falsity by its tameness. By becoming what we want it to be, it takes a disguise which we have decided to impose upon it.

Even a wild animal, merely “observed,” is not seen as it really is, but rather in the light of our investigation (color changed by fluorescent lighting).

But people who watch birds and animals are already wise in their way.

I want not only to observe but to know living things, and this implies a dimension of primordial familiarity which is simple and primitive and religious and poor.

This is the reality I need, the vestige of God in His creatures.

And the light of God in my own soul.

And God in man’s history and culture (but so mysteriously hidden there and so strangely involved in the Passion which He must suffer to redeem us from evil).

The wren either hops on your shoulder or doesn’t.

What he does—this he is. Hoc est [That it is].

And our ideas of Nature etc.? All very well, but non est hoc; non est hoc [it is not this, it is not this]. Neti, Neti [Neither this nor that].

Do no violence to things, to manipulate them with my ideas—to track them, to strip them, to pick something out of them my mind wants to nibble at….


Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was an American Trappist monk, social activist and writer.

From When the Trees Say Nothing by Thomas Merton; edited by Kathleen Deignan. Copyright © 2003 by Ave Maria Press, P.O. Box 428, Notre Dame, IN 46556. Used by permission of the publisher.

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Photo by Chris Webster

Meeting Machig Labdron

· Essays, Teachings · ,

by Jody Hojin Kimmel, Sensei

Right now you have the opportunity.
Look for the essence of mind—this is meaningful.
When you look at mind, there is nothing to be seen.
In this very not-seeing, you see the definitive meaning.

—Machig Labdron

A few years ago I was leafing through a magazine and came eye-to-eye with a young Tibetan woman, an infant swaddled to her back.

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Photo by Philiciatoh

The Night Journey of Nicodemus

· Essays · ,

by Philip Zaleski

The words are magisterial, even harsh: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3).

Astonishing idea, to be born again! This cryptic teaching, given by Jesus in Jerusalem at the beginning of his ministry, bewilders Nicodemus, a pious Jew and member of the Sanhedrin, who has come to the celebrated Rabbi for guidance.

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Oceans

· Creative Expression, Essays · ,

by Juan Ramón Jiménez, translated by Robert Bly

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Photo by Xabier Alonso

Liberation: Uncoiling in Space

· Essays · ,

by Francesca Fremantle

What is liberation? How is it accomplished? Who is liberated, and from what? The state of liberation is the ultimate goal. It has been given many names and has been described in many different ways, although it is essentially inexpressible. It is our true, innate nature, our inalienable birthright, yet we do not recognize it. We seem to be imprisoned in a condition of unknowing.

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Adolescent Buddhism

· Essays ·

by Rachel Yuho Rider
Originally published in Mountain Record journal: “Spirituality and Education” (2001)

During my childhood, religion was not a major part of my family life, nor was it a part of the life of anyone around me. My life revolved around my fam­ily and friends; the people who loved me. I saw no need for religion and didn’t under­stand the importance of its presence until I came into adolescence. 

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Cars and Trucks, too

· Essays ·

by Sybil Seisui Rosen
originally published in Mountain Record journal: Teachings of the Insentient (1998)

“Is everything in the world in the middle of my heart?” my nephew Austin asks me, out of the blue. He is four; I am dumbstruck. “Y-yes, absolutely,” I stammer. “Cars and trucks too?” he goes on. “Uh-huh,” I reply. 

I don’t think he’s looking for answers be­cause he already has them. He just wants to see if l have them too, though I’m sure my experi­ence of them is less direct than his at present. 

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