John Tarrant talks about living in an underworld time, in a descent as a culture and as a world, and as a planet. 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.
I’m getting used to the thought that many things that seem as if they belong in the realm of the body are also influenced by the mind. Placebo studies indicate that even surgery can be a placebo. In medical school the faculty will sometimes say to students that they should use a drug a lot when it first comes out while people still believe in it. There is a Zen koan that goes “The whole world is medicine,” and the joke is that it could go, “The whole world is placebo.”
In forty years, the earth itself, beyond our control, and human violence, also beyond our control, will have changed all our assumptions. Even so, what do I want the teachings to be?
It’s easy to forget to be curious, and to grab an off-the-shelf knowledge, something like “This is awful.” Not reaching for off-the-shelf understandings, though, is an important skill.
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.
Audio Excerpt: PZI Winter Sesshin. Sarah Bender’s comment on a nightmarish moment during the round the world voyage of navigator John Slocum. As mentioned in Allison Atwill’s talk recorded Jan. 16th 2021.
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.
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.
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.
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.
PZI Zen Online: Zhaozhou said, “Clay Buddhas cannot pass through water; metal Buddhas cannot pass through a furnace; wooden Buddhas cannot pass through fire.” Which Buddha survives? The mid loves its ideas, structures, concepts and so does society. Some of those constructs are always dissolving. Discomfort of change in society norms and our own personal norms. As recorded June 10, 2020.
John Tarrant in Fall Sesshin 2019. Being lost or between places is a fundamental human predicament. Being lost delivers you to yourself with an unknown outcome. The teacher takes away the student’s need to know what’s unfolding on their pilgrimage. Zen likes predicaments as signs that things want to change.
Audio: John shares his interest in investigating reality through inquiry koans, koan types, the Watou of zen stories, and more. As recorded at Winter Sesshin January 14 2020.
John takes us further into our lockdown descent with a predicament koan that interrupts our usual ways of navigating, into the Sea of Ise, 10,000 feet down, to a single stone. Session includes John’s talk and koan, meditation segments, closing music, and participating teachers’ comments. As recorded April 5, 2020.