PZI Teacher Archives

A True Person of No Rank, No Color, No Gender: Seeing Through All Distinctions


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.

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When we’re just sitting like this we’re really not doing anything, and we’re trusting the universe to work it out for us. So we’re not pushing things around, that’s kinda cool. So much of life is waiting for something to happen anyway, so doing nothing is good. [laughs] Life is a between—its own bardo. Between being born and the end of life, is all life. 

[rings bell]

So, hi everyone. So I’m glad to be here with you all! The times do not get less interesting. And I think it’s one of those things—the great meditation tradition, the koan tradition, was made for times of intense change. The universe was changing and is changing, and we can feel that. The world is changing in ways that are unpredictable and frightening and exciting, and full of sorrow and every possible emotion—anger, pity, sympathy, you know—all those things. And inside that there’s that possibility of seeing through everything, seeing that in some way we’re all part of this great mysterious cosmos. 

And also then, there’s the question of how to help, how not to be too crazy oneself. [laughs] One of my friends who is an incredibly sane sort of person, somewhat militantly sane, [laughs] said that she’s having dreams and she can feel her dreams are fresh. And when she dreams she feels like there’s a little bit of craziness at the edge of her mind. Yes, that’s what it’s like! [laughs] A little bit of craziness is not very much at all, compared to how it can feel sometimes. 

So—I had a dream last night, and in my sleep I wonder—in a way I start a conversation with you in my sleep or the night before, and sometimes a couple of nights before—and it’s just the way. My mind is not always terribly clear about sleep versus waking. [laughs] At one stage I decided this was a good thing, to call this good rather than bad. You see that’s pretty much the way in meditation, how to work with one’s mind—“See, this is the right thing that’s happening now, this is the right life I’m having.” 

So anyway, in my dream I was in my car, my dream car was some nice car. And I was up in this sort of beautiful difficult place. And when I came down, the road had changed, it had gotten very very rocky, and it’s a cliff to fall off of, and things like that. [laughs] And I had to get out and play close attention, and I realized I could do it in my dream—it was a time to pay close attention and be calm. And I thought that was my dream’s verdict, about what we’re up to right now. I think meditation is always a good thing at such a time. And also, we can’t work out what it’s all about and what it all means, we’ve got to be in it. 

There’s a koan that says: [recites]

“When cold and heat visit us how do we meet them?” [How do we greet them?]
And the teacher said, “Why don’t you go where there’s no cold and heat?”
“Well, where’s that?”
“When it’s cold the cold kills you, when it’s hot the hot kills you.” 

“Life has you completely,” in other words. So we’re not at war with life. We’re not at war with our circumstances. And that seems like a good thing, meditation does that. So I’m going to read a couple of poems: [reads]

Tracking Arctic Terns in sky

 All the birds have vanished into the deep sky
The last cloud drifts away
Inexhaustibly the mountain and I—
We sit together and gaze at each other
Until only the mountain remains.

That was written during a time of troubles by [Tang Dynasty poet] Li Bai. 

We sit together as we gaze at each other, the mountain and I—until only the mountain remains.

And so there’s this time of both being absorbed in the intensity and the hopes and the fears of the time, and having a kind of light inside. Anna Swir, a great Polish poet said, [recites]

Always inside I carry light.
Always inside I carry silence.
Always I carry light and silence.

And that’s that inner core of things. And here’s one of her very early poems, “Thoughts of a 14-Year-Old Nurse.” This is in Poland during the Second World War: [reads]

If all the bullets in the world
hit me,
then they couldn’t hit anyone else.

And let me die as many times
as there are people in the world,
So they wouldn’t have to die,
even the Germans.

And let nobody know
that I died for them,
so that they wouldn’t be sad.

Touching. You see, it’s Guanyin appearing, the bodhisattva path appearing, this 14-year-old nurse in the battlefields. And here’s another thing about how you can do things that [you think] you’re incapable of doing—this is Anna Swir again, the same period: [reads]

We were afraid, as we built the barricade
under fire.
The tavern-keeper, the jeweler’s mistress, the barber,
all of us cowards.

The servant girl fell to the ground
as she lugged a paving stone, we were terribly afraid,
all of us cowards—
the janitor, the market-woman, the pensioner.

The pharmacist fell to the ground,
as he dragged the door of a toilet,
and we were even more afraid,
the smuggler-woman, the dressmaker, the streetcar driver,
all of us cowards.

A kid from reform school fell
as he dragged a sandbag,
you see we were really afraid.

Though no one forced us,
we did build the barricade
under fire.

Nonetheless we did. Being who we are, nonetheless we did that. One of the most famous great poets of such times is Chinese poet Du Fu. [He wrote] probably one of the most famous Chinese poems actually, and it was written in 757. China was a great empire, controlling many places, smaller countries—great at inventing new things all the time, technological advances, great literature. And then there was—the culture just broke, and very quickly everything unraveled. And the poet Du Fu fled with his family to safety when the rebellion broke out. And then the emperor sent out a call to the loyalists, and Du Fu and his family decided to go, to support the emperor. But he [Du Fu] was captured by the rebels and taken into Chung An, which was the capital, the city of everlasting peace—which was somewhat beat up by that stage. And he said: [reads] 

The View This Spring

The nation has perished,
mountains and rivers endure.
Spring comes to the ruined city overgrown with grass and trees.

Feeling the time, the flowers shed tears,
the separations in the bird cries
pierce the heart.

The war beacons have burned for three months now,
And I’d give ten pieces of gold for a letter from home.
I’ve torn my white hair
til there’s almost none to hold my hat on.

There we are, natural. Even the natural world feels in sympathy with the time. And then DuFu was released and he wrote the other kind of poems about “We sit together, the mountain and I, until only the mountain remains.”

And so there’s always that thing, that the great thing is always to have a feeling of trust in your own light, in your own life. No matter what the circumstances are, what you think is demanded of you, and no matter whether you think you can do it or not—that’s the great thing. Somewhere in your heart there’s a light and there is a spaciousness and a peace. In meditation you just have to touch this a tiny bit. And the old Chinese masters knew this, you just have to touch it once. So if you can just feel it, like, today—then you’ll be okay.

And those who are around you and those you love, will know that about you. And you won’t have a clue what you’re doing because that’s the nature of life. But they’ll ask you,”What should I do?” and you’ll say, “I don’t know,” and you’ll feel better. [laughs] Because somebody is telling the truth, and you can feel the light inside things is moving along. The universe is doing what it is, and in a certain way we too are a song of the universe, we too.

So last week we talked about the bodhisattva vows. The Four Boundless Vows they’re called, because they don’t make any sense in a linear sense. “I vow to wake all the beings of the world.” But then, maybe you’re not separate from all the beings of the world. So just waking yourself will be enough. “I vow to set endless heartache to rest.” Maybe just experiencing the light and touching a light and tasting the light occasionally—that’s good. If you can do that, that’s good work. [laughs] Good enough. 

And then, “I vow to walk through every wisdom gate.” There’s always a new one, because as soon as you work out how to do it, the situation changes. So that’s where we’re at now, right? We thought we were getting used to COVID and now something has changed, everything has changed. I don’t know if we’re used to COVID, what somebody called “the most boring apocalypse,” [laughs] which is true in a certain way. 

But also there is sorrow and people dying and people we know [who are] dying. We might die. And that’s all still true, and there is a way in which we just live along in life with all sorts of sufferings and injustices, and then suddenly there’s a thought, “Maybe I don’t have to pretend about that, I don’t have to think that all this is normal.” Maybe that’s a relief, things are possible. 

And so in the bodhisattva path, you just keep walking and you try to not lose your head, I guess. In a certain sense you’re always in touch with that light, if you can be. And if you’re not in touch with that light, if you’re in touch with who’s not in touch with the light, it might change things for you. You might become—in a certain sense if you’re just even reaching and you know you’re reaching. If you’re trying to get home and you notice “the trying,” suddenly there’s a home in that, there’s a light in that. One of the fundamental discoveries of the meditation path is that you already have it, everything you want. 

I think I’m going to read this piece by a guy called Garnette Cadogan, a Jamaican guy who came to the US. As a kid in Kingston [city in Jamaica] he developed this practice—his stepfather used to beat him up and didn’t want him around—so at the time he was about 12 or 13 he would head off as soon as he could, out of the house, and walk. And he got very fascinated with walking and walked all over Jamaica. And he said: [reads]

The 1980s were often terrifying—you could get killed if political people thought you came from the wrong neighborhood. Wearing orange showed affiliation with one political party, and green with the other, and if you were neutral or traveling far from home, you choose your colors carefully. The wrong color in the wrong neighborhood could mean your last day.

And he learned how to dance with everything. And when he passed the sort-of-crazy gangsters and thieves hanging out by the storm drain, and he started talking loudly and bizarrely to himself in his school uniform, and everybody would laugh at him—and he’d just pass through untouched, invisible in a way. So he’s incredibly good at the theater of all this.  

So then he won a scholarship and came to New Orleans, which he thought of as the most northernmost Caribbean city of the world. [laughs] So he came to New Orleans, and the people at the university describe to him how dangerous New Orleans is, and he looks at the death rate and says, “No, it’s not.” [laughs] He says, “You’ve got to be kidding.” He was not impressed—the American criminals had nothing on Kingston. 

But then he noticed that it was a completely different situation, where people were afraid of him. And that made them dangerous to him, he said white people would cross the street. And he was doing a really Jamaican friendly thing where he’d want to talk to everybody. There was an old guy in a wheelchair who was stranded in the middle of the street, he went over to help him, and the guy threatened to shoot him if he didn’t leave him alone. [laughs, reads]

I wasn’t prepared for this. Nobody was wary of me because of my skin color in Jamaica.   Now I wasn’t sure who was afraid of me.  

And the cops always stopped him, and so he had to… [reads]

…put on an identity, be polite, thicken my Jamaican accent. Quickly mention my college. Accidentally pull out my college ID when asked for my driver’s license. Try and look as harmless and respectable as possible.  

So he went into the theater of this. And then, [reads]

One night, returning to the house that eight years after my arrival I thought I’d earned the right to call my home, I waved—feeling good, happy—to a cop driving by. Moments later, I was against his car in handcuffs. I asked him—sheepishly, of course—why he had detained me. He said. “No one waves to the cops.” When I told friends of his response, it was my behavior, not his, that they saw as absurd.

Then he goes to New York. Katrina happens, and he ends up in New York. And he was romantic, he was a reader, he wanted to lose himself in Walt Whitman. [reads]

Lose myself in Whitman’s “Manhattan crowds, with their turbulent musical chorus,” that Jane Jacobs praised as “the ballet of the good city sidewalk” in her old neighborhood, the East Village. 

And he just felt the energy of it. And then he had a new girlfriend, and they were walking around endlessly taking in the pleasures, it was so wonderful. And then one night in the East Village he was late for a dinner date and he was running, and some guy in front of him turned around and just punched him in the chest so hard he couldn’t breathe. He said, “What’d you do that for?” And it was just because the guy thought he was going to attack him. A white guy.  And he thought that was kind of an aberration, but then later on he realized that whenever he was alone he tried to take a white friend with him, because if he was alone he’d get hassled by the police. And he said: [reads]

Don’t run, especially at night; no sudden movements, no hoodies, no objects—especially shiny ones—in hand; no waiting for friends on street corners, lest I be mistaken for a drug dealer; no standing near a corner on the cell phone (same reason).

[laughs, reads]

Then I began to break some of those rules as I became more comfortable in New York. After a sumptuous Italian dinner and drinks with friends, I was jogging to the subway at Columbus Circle—I was running late to meet another set of friends at a concert downtown. I heard someone shouting and I looked up to see a police officer approaching with his gun on me, “Against the car!” In no time, half a dozen cops were upon me, chucking me against the car and tightly handcuffing me. “Why were you running? Where are you going? Where are you coming from? I said, “Why were you running!?” Since I couldn’t answer everyone at once, I decided to respond first to the one who looked most likely to hit me. 

And he tries to explain, “Well you know, I just left some friends—they’re still there, you can check. I have messages on my cell phone on where I’m going, I could show them to you.”  And being very calm. And then, [reads]

The cops ignored my explanations and my suggestions and continued to snarl at me. All except one of them, a captain. He put his hand on my back, and said to no one in particular, “If he was running for a long time he would have been sweating.” He then instructed that the cuffs be removed. He told me that a black man had stabbed someone earlier, two or three blocks away, and they were searching for him. I noted that I had no blood on me and had told his fellow officers where I’d been and how to check my alibi. The police captain said I could go. None of the cops who detained me thought an apology was necessary. Like the thug who punched me in the East Village, they seemed to think it was my own fault for running.

Humiliated, I tried not to make eye contact with the onlookers on the sidewalk, and I was reluctant to pass them to be on my way. The captain, maybe noticing my shame, offered to give me a ride to the subway station. When he dropped me off and I thanked him for his help, he said, “It’s because you were polite that we let you go.”

I realized that what I least liked about walking in New York City wasn’t merely having to learn new rules of navigation and socialization—every city has its own. It was the arbitrariness of the circumstances that required them, an arbitrariness that made me feel like a child again. 

When we first learn to walk, the world around us threatens to crash into us. So it was like that.  It’s not lost on me that my woman friends are those who best understand my situation. They have developed their own vigilance in an environment where they’re constantly treated as targets.

And then he talks about— [reads]

I’m still trying to arrive in a city that isn’t quite mine. One definition of home is that it’s somewhere we can most be ourselves. And when are we more ourselves, but when walking—that natural state in which we repeat one of the first actions learned? Walking.

So, I thought it a touching thing—someone full of goodwill trying to get by in America. And I don’t really have any conclusions I want to draw from that, it’s just [that] everyone has to come to their own accommodations where they live, and the city they live in, and that is that. But in a way, just to be able to speak iand to speak it the way he does with a kind of grace and thoughtfulness, somehow feels a little bit freeing for everyone, so that’s kind of a nice thing.  So I suppose I am trying to explain it a little bit that way. And again, you can feel how wonderful it is to walk, and he likes to walk through the city you know, and that’s a wonderful thing, to walk. And to just be natural in the world. 

Here’s Li Bai again, [reads]

Moonlight spreads before my bed,
I wonder if it’s hoarfrost on the ground.
I raise my head to watch the moon,
and lowering it, I think of home.

So those moments of a sort of peace and beauty arrive in the middle of everything. And I want to meditate in a minute, but the last thing I want to say, is that someone who studies with me is working on a koan that is from this whole period in China when civil wars happened. And it’s called “The true person has no rank.” [recites]

The true woman, the true man has no rank.

And there’s a whole thing in Zen that there are no insiders or outsiders, and no foreigners or no “this” or “that.” You know, everybody has an intrinsic light in them that’s beyond any categories we can put on it. 

And one of the great founders of modern Zen, 1500 years ago or more, he was a woodcutter. And he was gathering wood to support his mother and he heard someone chanting a sutra, “Abiding nowhere the heart mind comes forth.” Abiding nowhere, out of nothingness, out of emptiness, it comes forth. And in this, the marvellous realization that “Oh, he’s not standing on anything, and that’s wonderful.” Nothing is predictable, or nothing depends on anything else, and “Oh!” Or another way of saying it is that everything depends on everything. 

And he asks the person, “Wow, how can I find out more about this?” And the person said that  far in the North there was a great teacher who could explain all this to him. And so he worked really hard and saved up money and put it aside for his mother to be looked after, and he walked 1,000 miles or so to the North, and he came to the temple and had an interview with the main teacher. 

And the teacher said—big temple, big establishment system—the teacher said, “Well, how can you, you’re a Southern barbarian, you don’t even look like us, how could you understand the teachings?” That was [Hongren] the fifth ancestor. And the sixth ancestor [Huineng] said, “Well, there’s no North and South and no barbarians and there’s no foreigners and non-foreigners in the Dharma.” And the fifth ancestor smiled and said, “Very good, you can stay.” [laughs] So he hadn’t realized that was an interview process he was going through. And so he stayed and became the great founder of the koan tradition.

And so one of my students who is a person of color was working with the koan, “The true person has no rank.” And she’s just meditating away and trying to carry it through the day, and she noticed it changed into “The true person has no color.” So that was very moving and touching. The true person has no color, no rank, no status, no gender, no—like that. So I thought, “Oh good, the koans are helping us.” The koans do this by themselves without us asking them to do anything. 

So, I think now what I want to do is meditate, okay? And maybe with “The true person that has no rank.” But knowing that fundamentally any time you work with a koan—because it doesn’t have to make sense, you know—you’re letting the universe in to help you. You’re letting the universe, in a way, become you and produce you. You’re letting the universe take responsibility for your thoughts and feelings, and so you’re on the bodhisattva path. You vow to wake the beings of the world. “I vow to set endless heartache to rest.” Like that. “I vow to walk to walk through every wisdom gate, I vow to live the great Buddha way.” Okay, quick, don’t get ready! [rings bell] 

Du Fu said, “The spaces, the separation in the bird calls, pierce the heart.” [rings bell]

The spaciousness in the bell opens the heart. [rings bell]

The true woman, the true man, has no status, no color—it’s beyond that.

Just letting the meditation come to you without judging how you’re doing or how anything is doing. Without predicting the future. We’re just here right now. The true person has no rank.  We’re just on the bodhisattva path. Doing as close to nothing as we can. [laughs]  

The true person has no rank. The full koan is even stranger, even deeper. It goes, [recites]

There is a true person with no rank coming and going from the faces of everyone.

A true person with no rank coming and going from your face—through your eyes, ears, nose, mouth, tongue, skin. But you know we can shorten that to “The true person has no rank. Who is that true person?”

PZI Musician Jordan McConnell: [plays guitar, sings] The Four Boundless Vows…

John: We gaze at each other, “We sit together, the mountain and I, until only the mountain remains.” So there’s no “wake the beings of the world.” We do what we do, set endless heartache to rest. The less we’re in the way the better. One of the ways we get in the way is by finding fault with our minds and what they’re producing and what we’re doing, criticizing how we’re doing. And if we just drop that, the mind will—like a lake—settle by itself and become clear.  [rings bell]

So I’d like to read another poem by the woman who was the 14-year old nurse. Kind of like, “What did she do with her life?” Which I find moving. Anna Swir is her name. 

(Some people have asked me for the names, and I’ll post them before we end on the chat. Garnette Cadogan, in the magazine called Freeman’s was the great Jamaican guy.)

This is Anna Swir again, [reads]

Happy as something unimportant
And free as a thing unimportant
As something no one prizes
And which does not prize itself
As something mocked by all and by which mocks their mockery
As laughter without serious reason
As a yell able to out-yell itself
Happy as no matter what
Happy as a dog’s tail.

That’s that moment of  “Oh, I don’t have a project to defend who I am. I don’t have a project to be me.” Always a nice moment. That’s a theme about meditation. The great line of old-time masters, “I felt the fresh breeze that rises when a great burden is put down.” The burden of explaining myself to myself and justifying myself to myself and forming opinions about it all.  I’m sure that’s never happened to you, but if it does meditation might help. [laughs] 

The true person has no rank.

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. Not news to you. 

And I think of a friend of mine, a guy who’s dead now, his name was R. As a child he was in a concentration camp, and he was rounded up in California because his parents were Japanese. He spent the years of the war in a concentration camp, and came back and he became an Architect and a sculptor and I have one of his sculptures. I was just thinking fondly of him, that’s all. Wanted to bring his name in today, and people who suffered and then became in some way wise. Thinking of him.

And then my daughter just sent me this story—my daughter is in Edinburgh right now. She has this funny condition where she got frostbite a few years ago when she was spending too much time up in a sailing ship on the North Sea. She got frostbite on her fingertips. And it’s fine now, except that when her weather gets a little cold her fingertips remember, and her circulation gets cut off and she has a lot of pain for a little bit, which is the cost of doing adventurous things. 

And she told this to a friend of hers who is Polish, who is her flatmate, who said, “Oh, my grandmother has exactly that.” “And how did your grandmother get it?” “She was in Siberia in a labor camp during the Second World War, as was my grandfather.” There’re these traditions of hard hard times, and then somehow things get a little bit freer and the wisdom tradition [notices that] there’s a light inside all of that. And things like that. 

I guess I just wanted to say that it’s really good to have a practice at any time. If you want to accomplish something, if you want to take Stacy Abrams’ advice and register people to vote and get out the vote, it’s probably pretty good advice in my view. [laughs] Meditate. [laughs] It will help. You will come from a position of peace rather than just fighting yourself. Being yourself. The true person. No rank.  

So I guess I wanted to bring a couple of other voices in. [PZI Sensei] Michelle Riddle is on here but I can’t see her right now. Do you have anything to say Michelle? Ah, there she is.

MR:  Hi. I do. I’m trying to find the words. [laughs]

John: The true woman has no words. [laughs] But wait! She has them now.

MR: Yeah. It doesn’t matter who John asks to speak. We sit together until only the mountain remains and nobody takes away [from] anybody’s experience. I don’t know how to say it, but everything’s different but everything’s the same. And so it’s for you—whatever is being spoken, it’s for all of us.

John:  Thanks. Find out who else I got. [PZI Roshi] Sarah Bender do you have anything to say? Got it. [laughs]  

MR: While Sarah’s working at it I think [PZI Leadership] Corey wants to speak.

SB: I realized as we were singing the vows through Jordan’s voice and his guitar’s voice—I realized something about my experience of singing the vows. And that is, you know we often talk about them as these impossible vows, and people say “How could I possibly, you know, make [such] a vow,” and actually what I experienced is the reverse. It’s like the vows give us permission to give voice to the deepest longings of our hearts, to say what we wouldn’t dare to say. They just give us the words to say what’s already there.

John: Thanks Sarah, that’s great. Yeah, thank you. I’ve got a couple more people to ask. But I’m going to ask them not to be long because I want to do some more meditation. [PZI Roshi] Jon Joseph?

(John: I did again, hang on.)

JJ: Okay, good. Fortunately that used up half my time. [laughs, sings] “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine—let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.” It’s not a little light though—it’s this big light of mine. I just felt all this clash and, you know, all this is endless proof that we’re forever divided. You know this is about seeing, that in all that division there’s a light that shines. And it’s my light and it’s your light.

John: Thanks. Excellent. [PZI Roshi] David Weinstein, can you unmute yourself so I don’t do the same to you? Thanks Jon.

DW: Thanks Jon. I’ve been aware of how—and that quote about “Only the mountain remains” reminded me of the ways that I put my own knee on my own neck, that I do that to myself. And seeing people do it to other people reminds me of how I can do that to myself, and how I don’t do that to myself as much as I used to. And how I’m grateful to the practice for that. And how my awareness of how I can do that to myself and be my own victim opens up my own heart to have compassion, for not only the one who’s got the knee on the neck, but the one is putting the knee on the neck. Coming from that place of peace, I feel like a vector who carries this infection of coming-from-a-place-of-peace around the world. And I hope I infect a lot of people. I think we all do.

John: Thank you. [PZI Roshi] Allison Atwill?

AA: Yeah, The Four Boundless Vows. I heard them differently this time too, like Sarah. But “boundless” was the big word. The vows themselves were, “Who’s holding the vows?” [and that] became boundless. The vows were being held by the trees and the birds and the sky, and I thought of the two Chinese poets Li Bai and Du Fu. Li Bai, that line, “All the birds have vanished into the deep sky.” I think he wrote that when he was in prison. And the birds were the bodhisattva vow. They were holding his own freedom while he was in prison, and giving him his own freedom while he was in prison. And then Du Fu, when he said “The flowers were weeping.” The flowers were the bodhisattvas holding the tears of the world. 

And when you told the story about [John’s daughter] Serafina and also her roommate’s grandmother. How the fingertips had become frostbitten and the fingertips themselves were like the flowers weeping, the fingertips were flowers weeping. And one final thing you said—that friend of yours who was the Japanese [man] who was in, I think it was maybe in Mansinar—I have one of his sculptures.

John: Excellent. That’s his dragon folded out of one piece of paper. [laughs] Thank you very much. So you know what we’re going to do right now. I feel just really touched sitting with all of you. I guess whether you’re disturbed, or feel moved, and tears and happy—all those things we feel all at once. 

Let’s sit a little bit more, okay? [laughs] I think we’re stuck with the vows and the true person with no rank for a theme right now. So let’s ride the horse the way it’s going. 

The true person has no rank. [rings bell]

Always there’s that space inside the heart, that is the space inside the galaxy, it’s the space inside of every molecule. And always in that space the vows kind of do make sense. Actually, we already love life and love each other. Forgetting that we don’t [not love life] is the important thing. Forgetting the thoughts that we don’t, forgetting the beliefs that we don’t is part of what meditation is. And it’s so much easier not to be scrambling around and arguing with life and reality all the time. 

The true person has no rank.  

PZI Musician Amaryllis Fletcher: [plays violin]

John: [rings bell] Well, thank you.You know, those vows are treated as koans in the Zen world. So they’re also a depiction of the reality, that you and I are not really different. So setting one heartache to rest sets another heartache to rest, like that. So we have this kind of marvellous possibility in our hearts that’s always here with us. It’s that light that’s always with us, that’s in everything outside and inside. So, just to know that as you go through your days and years.  We too are being carried by the great forces, and they are for us. 

So what I want to do now is head off into the Four Vows. And then we’ll come back and say a couple of things. And I want to thank you for coming. I think it’s really a crucial thing to gather together and touch the light in the center of the universe and the center of a human being— together. So thank you for doing that. When we do it together there’s a magic, it’s sort of beautiful. So thank you, I’m touched. Okay, let’s—whoever’s doing the vows, go for it! [laughs]

AF: [plays violin] 

JM: [plays guitar, sings] The Four Boundless Vows…

John: Thank you, Jordan and Amaryllis—excellent. We should do that more often. [laughs]  We should do it every day—it would be great. [laughs] Thank you, thanks everyone. It’s a great thing to be here together. What else can we say at the end. Here’s another writer I like a lot, you probably know about, called Yousef Koumenyaka. It’s one of his early poems from his Vietnam days, I think. [reads]

Rock Me Mercy

The river stones are listening
because we have something to say.
The trees lean closer today.
The singing in the electrical woods
has gone dumb. It looks like rain
because it is too warm to snow.

Guardian angels, wherever you’re hiding,
we know you can’t be everywhere at once.
Have you corralled all the pretty wild horses?
The memory of ants asleep
in daylilies, roses, holly, & larkspur.

The magpies gaze at us, still waiting.
River stones are listening.
But all we can say now is,
Mercy, please, rock me.

So, we’re here with all the animals and all the trees and all the humans. We’re all in this together, so the more peace in our hearts we can carry through the days together the better. And that’s just the bodhisattva path—you do what you can. It probably infects other people. So good for you. Thank you for carrying it out. [PZI Sangha Member] A., Garnette Cadogan, you know about his work. That’s kinda cool. Do you want to say something about it?

A.: I put it in the chat. The essay, people were asking what it was. The Jamaican writer. It’s Garnette Cadogan’s Walking While Black.

John: Thanks. It’s a great title, too. And we have a retreat coming up if you look at pacificzen.org, an online retreat with many of the fabulous teachers you heard today and more. We can have everyone teach. [laughs] So it’s going to be a three-ring circus. It’s going to be fun and deep and profound, so check that out. 

And we’re passionately committed to teaching the dharma, holding the dharma, keeping the lamp, the ancient light alive, and passing it on. So if you want to contribute, you can donate to us on pacificzen.org. We like that. You can send us comments or questions, we actually read them. 

And thank you. It’s lovely to be here. Blessings for the road. Bye bye.

—John Tarrant Roshi
A True Person of No Rank, No Color, No Gender: Seeing through All Distinctions
Green Glade of Meditation Sunday Zen on June 7, 2020

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