PZI Teacher Archives
It’s not so hard to realize that practice is immediately beneficial. But there’s a deeper thing: meditation is a way to befriend your life and befriend reality. Some days just seem harder than others, right? And you come home and think, Oh, god. Practice is a good thing then. Practice, practice, practice.
Usually, casually, I think of myself as being well. When I am sick, wellness is the me I imagine I’ll get back to. I can’t always be sure what is healing and what is the opposite.
Zen is about meeting—we make friends with each koan and allow the universe to work with and through us. The sweetness, and even the gnarly bits of friendship are part of the intimacy at the center of meeting. In the field of connectedness we discover things we can’t discover on our own.
If you’ve got demons, you’re alive! But you don’t have to get on board with them. Demons come out of your own heart, just like enlightenment.
Have confidence: just go into the silence. The absolute is always there. Inside it all, there’s freedom. There’s no situation where infinity is not there.
I’ve been thinking that everybody needs to start by being lost. And that the Dharma is a spiral path. It will happen again, and then again, and then again. So, when you are lost, instead of thinking, “This is an abnormal, wrong situation,” that’s what koans give us—they say, “Oh, well, I’m lost, fortunately. I don’t know what I’m doing.”
When we wake up and see our true place in the universe, it’s as if we have stepped out of a landscape and then we’re willing to step back into it. We appear and go back into the brocade. Then, we have our true place in the universe.
So, if you stop being afraid, if you stop being wonderful, if you stop being charming, if we stop charming each other, we’re just here in the vastness with no agenda, and that’s the Daoism that’s at the core of Chan. Emptiness is here. That’s what I think is a good thing.
Here you will find links to audio and video dharma talks from PZI’s Great Summer Sesshin: Creatures of the Summer Dawn with John Tarrant & PZI Teachers. Includes music from Amaryllis Fletcher, Michael Wilding and Jordan McConnell. Held in person at Santa Sabina Center from June 12–18, 2023.
The nice thing about falling is it’s already happened, you know? It started already; there’s not much you can do about it. So you’re kind of free, in a way. It’s sort of like being condemned: Knowing you’ll die tomorrow—well, you can do anything you want tonight.
It’s a noble thing to gather together for the Dharma. It has hidden effects, that if we thought about it from afar, we’d think, Ah, I don’t know. But when we’re together, we can feel, Oh, yeah, it’s happening. I can feel it in my heart and my soul and my fingers.
It is the Chan way to understand that the fullness of life resides in us, and the experience of life, whatever it is, is all for you. Our task is to have the life we have.
The mind is a great artist, ceaselessly creating and assessing problems. The territory of the koan is finding the delicious helplessness of the mind and body, and settling into that—it’s the robe of the moment.
Questions about death and the after-death are a part of the traditional Chan koan curriculum. Dignified by their antiquity, they are the primordial instance of that which cannot be negotiated with.
Our era is undoubtedly difficult, and even crazy. We are in an underworld time. We know that we’re cutting down ancient trees, burning fossil fuels, melting the sustaining ice, finding leaders who pretend that we have no part in the changes that overwhelm us. We are suffering from forces greater than us and also from ourselves; we too are forces beyond our control.
What you can conceive of might take away your life. On the other hand, what you cannot conceive of will give you your life.
Animals give us the gifts of their living presence, and we feel the profound effect they have on our lives. Animals surprise and enlarge us. We become the animal we are seeing, and that is a primary Zen move. The way we become the world that we are part of, is a profound part of Zen.
Koans and poetry tumble over each other. Old Zen masters used snatches of poetry as koans. Good poetry has an objective quality and is related to koanville in that way. It does not try to persuade or recruit.
What is this? is an ancient question—it holds our whole lives. That wondering is the essence of what it is to be human.
Meet Great Ancestor Linji: “A nine-colored Phoenix, a thousand-mile horse.” That’s how Linji was described in early Chan times.
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.
Anything might be in the Blue Dragon’s cave: awakening, memories, sorrows, dance moves—all the possibilities of your life might be there. You just fall into meditation in the Blue Dragon’s cave. Perhaps your whole life is blessed—every struggle and confusion itself.
The Zen approach is not about avoiding mistakes but bringing them to the path. Making a mistake opens the tenderness in us and can be more helpful than not making one. Then, the mistakes are not mistakes.
John tells a story about dogs and Buddha nature upon the death of a beloved dog: Animals have their own large awareness in which we can share. Meditation is one way to do this. It resets the mind to zero and we stop waving our arms about so much, and we enter a communion with the universe.
To meet a Tea Lady was always a somewhat risky proposition. Usually, in koan-ville, an unsuspecting traveler hurrying on their way somewhere else—consumed with their own knowledge and problems— would encounter a tiny wayside establishment with a deeply mysterious proprietor on hand.
Like trees and giraffes, delusions appear to be the opposite of emptiness. But when you really settle into being lost and uncertain, that is an open gate. It comes to be called “here.”
John Tarrant gives a talk on Zhaozhou’s NO: This koan is often offered as a first “gate,” but I think you need to already be in trouble and falling before it’s useful. Life is always offering us that cliff—that door of falling. When you’re falling, you can’t screw it up because actually there’s not a lot you can do. But what you do will be very free and won’t be constrained by the usual. From a recording made in Fall Sesshin 2022.
Eventually you come to a place where you can’t go on and you can’t go back. You have arrived at the base of cliffs; you can’t scale them, you can’t get around them, and there’s no handy tunnel through them. It’s a daunting place—that’s the point of it. And when you arrive here your life and your journey can become your own.