There is a rhythm in life that we sometimes hear face-to-face—but often it is like a melody playing somewhere and we can’t make it out. Our secret fidelity to what is most important allows us to hear it.
Summer is a time of dreams. Dreams, summertime, and koans have a lot in common. It is a time of permeability, to feel your way. Things that come out of the depths are what will get us through, but we can also have a strange resistance to them! The imagination is the bridge to the new. John shares Yangshan’s dream koan of being asked to teach from the third seat.
Audio: Dreams appear nightly reminding us not to chase shadows, and lose sight of our lives. They are the lives we are telling and showing.
Tonight I want to talk about another aspect of the koan about who’s hearing, who am I, what am I. There’s a spectrum I’ve been talking about so far for all of one previous talk. And I wanted to get at it slightly at an angle by going in through dreams, and the idea of is there a difference between what we’re doing and dreams anyway, which is certainly relevant to who we think we are.
So I’ll take any comments or questions. So how’s it going? How are your demons doing? How are your elephants? What are you noticing in your meditation?
From the 2018 October sesshin. 10-16-18.
Jon Joseph gives a talk on the twilight world – Sambhogakaya and the three bodies at the 2017 Summer sesshin.
Steven Grant gives a talk during Summer retreat: July 1, 2015.
Buddhism is based in reality. When we lose what we thought we had, our panic asks, “What will happen to little me?” and any answer to that question is likely to be overwhelming and shadowed. It is human to panic out of habit, without asking ourselves what is really going on and what our true, deep reaction is. But the gods in disguise show that sudden change can happen in a positive direction. The path out of suffering is closely related to accuracy, to noticing what really is, as opposed to what we first thought.
Jung’s journey is interesting, harrowing, ridiculous, pompous, incomprehensible, amusing, sad, frightening, wise—the whole range of the human is there. Jung’s point of meeting with Buddhism is that, at a time when darkness seemed and was near, he offered the example of a trust in the deepest possibility of transformation, and in the involuntary processes that we contain, and in the depths of what it is to be human.
Escape arts disassemble the walls or, as in dreams, allow us to step right through them. We can also think of escape arts as practices that appear in moments of natural clarity. They are often similar to the moves you make if you are interested in Zen and koans, but the world teaches escape arts to us; they just appear in a situation without any conscious feeling that you are entering spiritual territory.
“You must in the destructive element immerse…” You have to go through it otherwise you can’t have real resolution. Not fleeing the difficulty of things, and orienting yourself to the infinite. “A person on a raft flows on the stream by throwing themselves away.” The importance of the smallest things in the this-is-it dream.
In forty years, the earth itself, beyond our control, and human violence, also beyond our control, will have changed all our assumptions. Even so, what do I want the teachings to be?
Distraction can have a long arc, and until the end of the story, you can’t say what’s a distraction and what’s a calling.
It’s easy to forget to be curious, and to grab an off-the-shelf knowledge, something like “This is awful.” Not reaching for off-the-shelf understandings, though, is an important skill.
Dreams help us to find our way – Danxia on pilgrimage dreamed of a great light. And a diviner asked him a question that changed his life. His practice became a path.
What is the gift of the universe? We receive unexpected help when we are “living down a level,” living things before we construct them. Not constantly consulting your “me,” you open to the invitations and gifts that appear; trusting in the Dao.
Meditation offers a path out of the burning house, without abandoning the promise and good-heartedness of being human. Practice is the last best hope of living up to that good-heartedness, the only thing that never hurts and usually helps. And even at the beginning of the meditation path, on a good day it’s exciting. It actually makes you happy.
Here is a curation of sesshin dharma talks on a single page, for easy finding and listening. A sesshin is always more than the sum of its parts or its recorded talks. There are morning rituals, greetings, incense passed magically through the screen, the changing light, rich silences, moments of humor, tech gremlins, tears, synchronicities, dogs barking, dreams, and awakenings that we share. It is the timeless play of the universe, with each other. As recorded in the PZI Digital Temple, June 22-27, 2021.
PZI Sesshin Dedication, generally read (or sung) at the end of sesshin to send participants on their way, in joy.
What is the journey for? What is it to have this life? We’re in it—it’s so marvelous, so overwhelming and so incomprehensible. You’ll find, I think, that you can’t stand back from it and answer that question. So the “good day” is just how it is. It’s like the gift of the universe, and you’re in the universe, having received the gift. Transcript of John Tarrant’s dharma talk in Winter Sesshin 2020.
“In even the simplest life, pain and disappointment accumulate—and at some moment everyone longs to walk through a gate and leave the past behind, perhaps for an earlier time when the colors were bright and the heart carried no weight. The quest for a fresh start is so fundamental that it defines the shape of the stories we tell each other.” Article by John Tarrant published in Lion’s Roar magazine on July 1, 2007.
Conversation is itself a kind of meditation, a way we can accompany each other through life. We can share errors, painful mistakes, dreams, losses, discoveries, or just the ordinary glowing things. That’s a good day. Article by John Tarrant published in Lion’s Roar magazine February 18, 2014.
Turning your thoughts upside down is almost always progress, especially with conflicts that seem old and full of certainty. Article by John Tarrant published in Lion’s Roar magazine June 9, 2009.
Jon Joseph Roshi, Director of San Mateo Zen, considers the 8th Ox-herding picture along with a verse from 12th century poet Kuon Shihyuan. What happens if Ox and Self disappear? PZI Zen Online. As recorded May 3, 2021.
Australia’s ancient forests were burning in September 2020. In the face of unfathomable loss John Tarrant writes, “It’s too early to despair, it’s always too early to despair. The world itself is a mystery school and teaches us what it needs. It gives us impossible tasks and impossible journeys, and all we can say is that we love the world without knowing outcomes, because it is the only world we have, and because we never do know outcomes.” Article for Lion’s Roar magazine, published September 14, 2020.
Everybody, every time, has its own difficulty and crisis. This is ours. We can trust our own lives that brought us here, and perhaps we have something to do here. And we don’t know what that is but we’ll find it as we keep walking. The thing about the meditation path is, I don’t have to think a lot about what’s mine to do. You just give yourself to the meditation, and it’s produced for you. It’s given to you. The path opens by itself, you know. Transcript of PZI Zen Online Sunday Talk with John Tarrant, recorded March 29 2020.
I was thinking about history and beauty and what an old old thing human suffering is, and how intrinsic it is. And we keep making things better and then they keep getting worse, and we’re making them better and they get worse. I guess I just wanted to say that it’s really good to have a practice at any time. Meditate—it will help. You will come from a position of peace rather than just fighting yourself. Being yourself, the true person, no rank. Transcript of PZI Zen Online Sunday Dharma Talk with John Tarrant Roshi, recorded June 7, 2020.
PZI Zen Online Transcript: It’s a very strong thing to be human, you can be subjected to all sorts of great forces. And sometimes you can win through, and sometimes you die. But we’re all of us doing that, all the time. So I was thinking about friendship and how good it is to love each other and how good it is to have friends and to make peace in our hearts to meet each other. Sunday talk with John Tarrant, recorded June 14 2020.
Zenosaurus: Dreams play an essential part in the current of life—while I’m not paying attention, my dreams turn the lumps, details, and meetings of the day into art, giving them depth and a warm amber light.