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.
“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 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.
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.
It’s important not to discount the idea that in a crisis, you might be having the time of your life. Article by John Tarrant, published in Lion’s Roar magazine on March 23, 2018.
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.
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.
Practice. The notion of practice, as something you embody, and you walk through, and you are—rather than something you add, like something added to gasoline. There’s also a sense of moving in the dark, in some way that’s positive. So that in a practice, “not knowing” is on your side.
Zenosaurus Curriculum 13: The link between the koan and the transformation of your life is real, but since the process isn’t linear you might not notice it at first. The link might seem to be in a black box—invisible.
Zenosaurus Curriculum 16: There is a very old idea that the human body is itself a map of the cosmos, the fragment that contains the whole.
Zenosaurus Curriculum 17: A variant of this discovery is that falling on the ground, while terrible, is also wonderful—the taste of dirt, blood, coffee, oranges, tears, sweat—the taste of life itself.
Zenosaurus: My Kaiser doc with solemn demeanor sent me to be scanned for cancer on the bone. I could tell the docs thought it was a likely outcome, and while I didn’t believe they were right, my mind did play the scenarios all by itself, without instruction from me.
Zenosaurus Curriculum 14: The dark, charged moments endure in us and they bless us. “This,” they announce, “is your life—here it is.” What you have always longed for has arrived.
Zenosaurus Curriculum 12: When you really hear, your understanding comes in a way that’s different from the usual.
Zenosaurus Curriculum 8: Most problems come from “knowing” things that might not be true. If we stop insisting on certainty we might feel anxiety at first, but then an exhilarating freedom might arrive.
Zenosaurus Curriculum 1: When the Buddha was growing up, his father kept four sights from him. The forbidden sights were a sick person, an old person, a corpse, and a pilgrim dedicated to the meditation path.
So, there’s a spaciousness inside all situations, is what I’m saying. We’re walking through them, and underneath our feet there’s space and light around us—and we’re walking through space and light. And knowing that then is the source, I think, of empathy and love—but we accompany each other. And we don’t have to take ourselves or each other so seriously. We don’t have to advocate for the direness of the human condition, which is something we find a lot of. [laughs]
I think this is a time when things are kind of changing and incredibly uncertain, and that fidelity to what’s really true to us is important and valuable. And we don’t have to pretend that when difficulties are here, they’re not here. But also, we don’t have to pretend that they cancel the illumination, because nothing does, really. Even if we’re dying, the brightness of life is still there. And after we’re dead, we’ll worry about that later, [laughs] when the time comes in the bardos.
There was a teacher called Luopu, a Chinese teacher, and he said this interesting thing. He said, “You have to directly realize the source outside of the teachings.” That’s the whole thing about it. That’s Bodhidharma’s thing, the direct realization outside of scriptures. The scriptures are nice and the teachings are nice, but really, the direct understanding—the direct meeting with life—the direct meeting with awakening is the thing.
Rilke said, “Life is always right.” Whatever I think about that saying, this is the life I have, and I can’t have another life. And really, fundamentally I don’t want another one, because this one is so rich and compelling, no matter what’s going down right now.
You can trust that the thing that you are doing is going to work. It’s underground. There’s a growth happening in the dark. You don’t even have to see it. But, after a while, you start to notice it. It’s kind of a cool thing, actually. You think, “God, even me! Even I have some part in this.”
So, rather than thinking a predicament is something we’ve got to get rid of, it’s just life—and it has its own dynamism. Maybe we have to walk through it, not run the other way. It’s all right to weep about it, or be frustrated and angry. You can’t be someone else, you are who you are. The gateway is yours, not someone else’s. From recording at Summer Sesshin, July 11 2013, Santa Sabina.
Value a sort of play and see if you can break the koan—the koan will be amused. And see it and let it into your heart, and see what comes, or follow it around, or have it follow you. And finally you’ll realize, “Oh, I’m here. I’m free.”
Whatever your condition is, you can see the “I have joy.” Out of that emptiness, out of what seems unpromising—the dark material, the valley spirit, the enigma, out of the mystery, out of what I don’t understand—it just appears. The joy just appears.