PZI Teacher Archives
Acclaimed Sci-Fi writer and earth advocate Kim Stanley Robinson chats with Jon Joseph about his personal version of Zen practice, the what-ifs of writing alternative history, poetry in the High Sierras, and more. John Tarrant comments. Recorded November 15th, 2023.
In meditation things come and go, as in life. In Zen the experience of loss contains a treasure. There is gold inside the loss whether of a person, a country, or a beloved house. Grief dissolves everything. The valleys of life are important for developing empathy. Mazu gives us the path to walk through the demons: Help others cross. Make yourself a raft. An Indigenous saying: Inside the last tear, happiness is hiding.
What is the heart of any big question? We are swimming in a sea of uncertainty and the mind wants to fill in the blanks. Yet our questions are much smaller than what’s on offer, what’s possible as an answer—the whole universe might be doing something through me.
A lively conversation with prolific writer and former journalist Pico Iyer about his fascinating life traveling to zones of conflict, his relationship to religion, his friendship and spiritual journeys with the Dalai Lama, and his life in Kamakura, Japan, where he now spends most of his time. Recorded October 30th, 2023.
The mind is an artist ceaselessly creating narrative with a need to skip out of experience into story. The Daoists encourage us to remain in the dance—not to make a plan is the Way: Remove the barriers to your life and exclude nothing! Your very heart mind is Buddha.
Bankei’s awakening came through facing his aversion to death. His question, “What is bright virtue?” brought him to Zen early in life. Later, he became one with the field and could fully see whatever he encountered. As your life becomes more whole, everything comes to belong.
The first phase of practice is being lost—allowing that. You are out of the known territory. It is key to know we don’t control the process. When you are ‘in it,’ don’t try to go beyond it. Enjoy and embrace the lostness. Transformation happens in the vessel. This is why we have a retreat.
“What is this?” asked the eccentric Zen teacher Budai, holding up odd objects to a crowd. The universe is an intimate net, its jeweled facets contain everything, including the smell of fresh toast. All living beings must turn toward the ultimate. This is deeper than any sorrow, horror, disgrace. The strangeness and beauty of now, of life, is beyond explanation. And this moment has always been here.
Salt and sauce—the taste of life is complex. Even in times of deprivation, persecution and war, the flavor of life may include radical happiness. In Zen, we don’t have to know the solution, we just put the next foot forward. We ally with the capacity of life to dissolve outrage and the need to be either right or wrong. Difficulty and richness accord with each other. Walking the path is the gift of Zen, feeling the ancestors’ gifts of salt and sauce.
How does it feel to be here? The bath is that which contains us. We go in together—enter here. There is something marvelous about letting it all go and letting the imperfections of life appear. Feeling that subtle touch. The universe is at play: let’s see it playing, and let’s let it see us play.
David Weinstein talks about entering baths in Japan. How do you enter a bath? What is your way? We are not just entering the bath—the bath enters us. Water added to water. It’s not about getting clean; it’s about getting free.
All the ways we try to get out of awakening! It becomes a real burden, to not let some piece of life touch me. These things become very clear in retreat; it becomes hard to ignore what’s there. And all the efforts to snare it, charm it, or steal it from someone else, including a past or future versions of oneself … despite these efforts, we can’t hold off awakening.
What is this life? The nature of what appears is always changing—it’s something we feel together in ‘the bath. Prajna, or wisdom, is learning to recognize and see accurately. We can suddenly see that everything is okay and here, and yet it’s a dance. We find it; we lose it again. In practice, as in life, lost things return or cycle in and take their leave again.
Explaining things can put you in a bind. The humor of emptiness—a little eternity creeping in—is a panacea, and mind just undoes its problems. If we try to make sense of things, therein lies suffering. “You can’t really explain what inspires.”
Fall Retreat Opening Night: A welcoming dharma talk from John Tarrant and a welcome to retreat from Heads of Practice Jan Brogan and Chris Gaffney. Closing words from Tess Beasley. Four Boundless Vows with guitarist Jordan McConnell, closing bells and blessings from Cantor Amaryllis Fletcher.
Author and poet Ocean Vuong talks with Jon Joseph about his writing, his childhood in Vietnam and the US, and his first encounter with Buddhism and its influence on his work. “As an artist, there has to be an allegiance to wonder and awe and mystery, and a willingness to quest beyond truth.”
John Tarrant retells the mythic story of Belinda and the Monster, Italo Calvino’s version of Beauty and the Beast. The archetypal forces personified in the story are present in all of us. Can we allow ourselves to feel all that we are? What is the monster? Where do you find yourself in the story?
Takuan Soho—whose death poem was one character: dream—taught the dangers of a distracted mind. Son of a samurai, he understood how to lose your life. Circumstances need not be extreme—we can lose our lives any moment when we rely on devices or install veils between us and the unfixed motion of reality.
The care and feeding of a self is a 24/7 job. The burden of certainty constrains things and makes them heavy—even something as well-intentioned as undying love.
Meditation gets us away from reaching and grasping and winning and losing and honor and disgrace. This lack of ulterior motive makes meditation a friendly time. All our daily reaching and grasping and getting somehow sticks to us and when we meditate it unsticks and falls off. With music for meditation from Jordan McConnell & Michael Wilding.
It is part of being human to have complex, multiple views. We are always communing with what is here. There is no escape hatch out of this life into another one. Where would we go? When we let go of imposing conditions on our life, then there is a profound freedom—refuge allows that. And we find there is a beautiful helplessness to our condition.
The urgency of some questions and facing hidden truths help us discover our own true nature. We reveal ourselves at every turn. When we try to see our own light, we can’t—”it’s dark, dark,” says Yunmen. During sesshin, we sit and trust our own heart-mind to open, inquiring, “Who am I?” and, “How is this so?”
In the mountains, the world goes about its life without us needing to do anything. At the same time, it’s happening within us as well as outside us. It’s a marvelous thing to feel this freedom. Jiashan’s state of mind includes everything, and his enlightenment story is one of a journey between Yeshang, Dahui and a wild teacher called the Boat Monk.
Love is a recognition of wonder; friendship, too, is a recognition of wonder. At the still center of our connections is a glimmer of the realization that we are all one seamless body. Recorded June 25, 2023.
Our fascination with the Titanic endures. Even the name of the ship was the beginning of its loss; the titans stand in the psyche for whatever is gigantic and careless and ignores the laws of fate. The ship had to sink because it was unsinkable.
On some level, we are not human beings! Zhaozhou’s dog koan often leads off sesshins. When you throw yourself in with the dog, you make your whole body a mass of doubt. Your eyebrows are entangled with the Zen ancestors.
I’m a great buffalo. Why won’t my beautiful tail pass through the window with the rest of me? What is that wonderful tail? John Tarrant gives in a dharma talk in Summer Sesshin.
In sesshin, we are fish moving in and out of the depths. The treasure lies in the realm you do not wish to investigate. If you can face your fear and go there, a great watery tenderness arises as the heart opens.
Dongshan was still perplexed until he crossed a stream and saw his own reflection. He realized a great understanding: the end of self-consciousness. He wrote, “It now is me, I am not it.” All the impediments to inclusion fell away. Sentient or non-sentient teachings, he was included.