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.
Zenosaurus Curriculum 7: The mind goes “label, label, label” until it doesn’t, and a different possibility appears. If you really show up in your own life, you don’t have rank.
PZI Zen Online: Zen has no insiders, no outsiders. The true person has no rank, no color, no designations. John reads from Garrett Cadogan’s essay, “Walking While Black.” Koans and vows as expressions of reality. The bodhisattva path. The space and light of the universe is already in everything and everyone, beyond categories. As recorded June 7th, 2020.
John opens the evening with the koan “The True Person of No Rank.” It goes something like this: “There is a true person of no rank who is always coming and going from the portals of your face.” Who is that person of no rank? Linji was a great teacher and the ancestor of most of the koan lines of Zen and this is a koan of his. It has been used since ancient times as a meditation both for beginners and advanced students. Probably the best way to work with it is to play with it. Don’t rank how you are doing. Just let it keep you company, like an animal would. You forget about it, but every time you look, there it is! And after a while it doesn’t go away. October 17, 2013.
As recorded Monday, November 1st, 2021, as part of a series of conversations with important Zen (Chan) voices: translators, writers, scholars, and practitioners.
John revisits the awakenings and koans of the great teachers, among them Yunmen and Linji. The love, and attention, and faithfulness at the heart of the stories and teachings of the Chan ancestors is their gift to us. And everything we bring to it is an addition into this great heritage, and is part of the layering. Transcript from a video talk in Fall Sesshin 2019.
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.
So…tonight I want to talk a little bit about the course of the inner work — the dharma work — in terms of this book, the Book of Serenity. And you know, it pretty much is the second case is the one we’re going to mention, about Bodhidharma meets The Emperor Wu.
The Heart Sutra in the context of its relationship to koans and what koans are. I want to pursue that line a little bit. And the first thing to say about – probably the first attitude people have to koans is that they are a sort of tool, a gadget of some kind, and you use them and you concentrate on them, and you use them – a can opener for the mind
Joy and peace don’t stop the mosquitoes from biting. All these things have their source in meditation. So you want to open your heart. You want to –whatever it is – during meditation. That’s what he’s saying. Right. It comes from within.
John Tarrant tells a story about meeting whatever arises, in preparation for PZI’s first in-person retreat since Covid, and for other unexpected encounters. Meeting your true self: Turning toward the fire gives you your life. And, “Meeting the old familiar face from long ago,” from the first of Dongshan’s Five Ranks. The only now we have is ours, as intense and real as it might be. So, have your life! Being lost is better than being right. Recorded June 12, 2022. 9-minute video.
Knock on any door—someone will answer. Letting koans teach you koans is the way. Anything that arises is part of the work. It’s not following instructions. John Tarrant’s Sunday Talk as recorded March 27, 2022.
It helps to be on the side of lostness when the world goes to hell in a handbasket (Ukraine). All we have to do is be here and be lost—no usual schemes or regrets. Let the universe teach you. Accomplishing is not the deepest thing. Being lost is a promising beginning. Getting lost is good for finding personal practices.
A curation of Winter 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. As recorded in the PZI Digital Temple, February 1-6, 2022.
John Tarrant talks about living in an underworld time, in a descent as a culture and as a world, and as a planet. Accepting the descent, and accepting the quality of being lost when it appears, is profoundly important. And there’s a great, strange, and interesting mystery in that.
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.
Politics belongs in the general realm of imperfection, self-deception, desperate hope, and congenial affection we call civilization. That’s where the bodhisattva, who is interested in the fate of others, hangs out. Also, if you indulge in politics, certain personal implications accompany you; you don’t get away without being transformed by the material you are working with.
“I like finding features of popular culture that point the way out of the mind’s prison. It is as if a trail of breadcrumbs had been left where least expected.”
Once you really have a good connection with spirit, it will always be available to you if you turn towards it in a dark time. I’m not saying spirit is a false promise. It’s a true promise, but it doesn’t do our living for us. That living is the part we have to do for ourselves. And when we do that, then the soul comes in.
The desire for a more beautiful life is ancient and enduring. In medieval times it meant dressing in bright silks and having long and colorful processions; the desire was poured into objects, too, into paintings and cathedrals with stained glass windows. Inside the desire for a more beautiful life is the desire for a more beautiful character.
“Mostly, if a method for achieving happiness is not successful, people think something like, She should have loved me more. Or, I wasn’t trying hard enough. Or, I wasn’t holding my mouth right. Whether the needle on the blame meter points to yourself or to others, that particular machine will always seem to be malfunctioning. You try to do the method better, rather than looking at whether the method works. So let’s look at the method.”
Love is an enlightenment story available to everyone, and that story includes being attacked by demons as well as being showered with roses. If we widen our gaze, in love, we discover what we like about ourselves and how we want to live our lives.
Day two of 2018 Winter Sesshin. John Tarrant introduces the great koan “No,” a gift from the ancestors. The gift is what happens when we hang out with the koan. “No” as the purest gate. When we step through, we find out we’re here! It’s not personal, you’re harmonizing with the universe. Transcript from a recording on January 17, 2018.
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.
Even a time of torpor, or a time when plans come apart, or we thought the culture was going in one way and it’s going in another—we rely on the spaciousness, we rely on not what we’ve planned and schemed, but we rely on what’s been opened up in our hearts. Transcript from the PZI Zen Online recording from Sunday, June 21, 2020.
Allison Atwill & Tess Beasley are guest hosts in John Tarrant’s Free & Easy Wandering Series. They each tell a story of being at a threshold—knocking on doors not knowing who would answer, and how the gifts of the universe appeared. PZI Zen Online, as recorded May 30, 2021. Vows with Jordan McConnell. Music for meditation from Michael Wilding archived separately.
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.