“We all have the urge to be better people, and behind all our self-improvement there is a profound impulse. Self-improvement is a gateway, the first step in a quest, a clue to a deeper life. The most beautiful form of the beautiful life is inner freedom, the awakening taught in the ancient spiritual traditions.” Published Shambhala Sun Magazine, September 2013.
“How to meet the times we are in is a real question, and everybody feels the force of it. It is an ancient question. It comes with being human.” Published in Lion’s Roar, January 2016.
“How to deal with difficult times is fundamental for a spiritual practice, and really, for any human life. There’s birth and death, to start with, and then there is all the conflict and uncertainty that happens in between.” January 2017.
“A koan is a little healing story, a conversation, an image, a fragment of a song. It’s something to keep you company, whatever you are doing. There’s a tradition of koan study to transform your heart and the way you move in the world.” March 2016.
“Koan: Two monks roll up the blinds in exactly the same way. The teacher looks at them and says, ‘One gains, one loses.'” October 17, 2017.
“Working with a koan can make the world more transparent and alive and at the same time shift your consciousness in small and large ways. It’s a work of art as well as a spiritual method and intended to be useful in your life and contribute to your happiness.”
“Koans light up a life that may have been dormant in you; they hold out the possibility of transformation even if you are trying to address unclear or apparently insoluble problems.” Originally published in Shambhala Sun Magazine, November 2004.
“In meditation whatever arises in the mind or in your life is the gate. . . . The hindrances are the gates; when they appear, it might be an indication that meditation is going well.” n.d.
You might think of consciousness as a lamp, making a cone of light on the surface of a desk. Outside the yellow circle everything is dark and unknown. The usual way of approaching things is to try to extend the yellow circle into the darkness. Or perhaps to drag objects in from the dark. That is conceivable. This meditation takes things the other way. n.d.
“Some years ago I wrote a piece called ‘Soul in Zen’ in which I opposed the archetypes of spirit and soul. Spirit was seen as moving towards clarity, light and the eternal, while soul was the domain of the evanescent, the suffering, the beautiful.” n.d.
In the last of the famed ox-herding pictures, the disciple returns to the world with open, helping hands. That includes, says Zen teacher John Tarrant, the messy, neurotic, imperfect world of politics, the very place where the bodhisattva way is practiced and our realization is put on the line. Originally published in Shambhala Sun Magazine, May 2006.
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. The Japanese teacher Hakuin called this the Silver Cliffs and Iron Mountains. 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.
Right now, as we sit here, we are standing at the edge of a cliff. On every side there is a great drop. Right now, what do you experience standing on the edge of this great cliff? Whatever you experience standing here, that is your life. At the end of your days you’ll say, “This is what I did.” So what do you experience standing on the edge of the cliff?
We have such a passion to know and to be certain but, in practice, much of what we think of as knowledge is just untested thoughts. As the Heart Sutra says, even thoughts are empty, and if we are willing not to know, willing to walk through life without believing every thought that rises, then we’ll find a path out of suffering.