Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Don’t misunderstand me, the following poem written by Ryokan has very little to do with my life. I spend most of my time clinging, resisting, holding …The way I see it, the way I see IT is that as I go along, reluctantly and with great difficulty, bits and pieces drop and drop. Not many. Bloody slow. I would like so much to be able to allow it as rain pouring down, throwing itself away without holding on anything. Sheer joy and relief. And dance.

A few months ago as I was hitting rock bottom, I had a kind of strong vision, so clear, so uncomplicated: I was begging at dusk holding the large black bowl and walking in a fierce, whirling and joyous wind. There was nothing in my bowl, neither food nor money, but a glimmering reflection floating there. As I looked more carefully, I did not see my face or the straw hat in the black curved mirror, but the whole of the night sky was thrown in there, in my bowl, stars and moon and yellow and greyish clouds and birds and whispers and… This has now become my direction.

The rain clears, the clouds clear
Then the air clears too
When the mind is pure, the whole universe is pure
I gave up the world, gave up my station in life
Became an utter good-for-nothing
Now I can live out my days
Companion of the flowers and the moon

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Three treasures

Tomorrow, I will be on my way to Brighton. And, the following day, early morning, it will be an operation in aprivate hospital. Nothing too serious. Part of me doesn't like it at all ( surgery, g.a, recovery time, risks...) and the other part could not care less. Funny mixed feelings. And always this good old experience of loss that made so far my English episode, eight years of it: loosing two marriages, daughter, father, friends, job, social recognition and "esteem", money and even a bit of my health. Existences I love seem to fly away.Chunks of the bloke falling off.

The way I sometimes see what is left of me ( don't worry, there is still a substantial amount of delusion and energy at work in here) is that I am a looser. And why would it be different? If I end up really disliking this place ( I-England) it is because it mirrors back the splendid and repetitive failure of any desperate attempt to make things work. This place is in fact a great place and a very skilled teacher. It shows the mad rat at it, the blind mouse. Of course, I wish I could sometimes take a rest, have a nap ( and that's why i'll fly to Japan soon, just a break). I wish I could allow the flow of life to carry this body-mind.

Nevertheless, I must say that I am so lucky. So lucky to be alive, to have met Buddhist practice in this lifetime. So fortunate to have met a teacher that opened my clouded eyes on the possibility of sitting and living differently. Since day one, Zazen and kesa never failed me. Even if I fail in my deluded practice, I can't really say I feel very lonely. Yes, I am alone, and alone with everything.

May be it takes all that I went through to understand why Shakyamuni's teaching is also called "the three treasures":

Alone with the ineffable, Buddha;

alone with life as a teacher, Dharma;

alone with all existences, Sangha.

Alone and together.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Child of Samsara

How can I express my gratitude to this very man I have never met?

Issan was his Zen name, One Mountain.

He used to love being the impersonator of “ Hard-Hearted Hannah”, a striking beautiful girl with legs as long as the night and skin of exquisite velvet dressed up to break your heart, she could in her sweet voice and in a flash of her eyelashes send you straight to heaven or hell.

Tommy Dorsey, his real name.

Sometimes, in the arms of his gay lovers, he was given other names.

Sometimes drinking, smoking getting everything and anything running down his veins. LSD, dope, whatever. Sometimes picked up by friends or police in the morning, not remembering anybody’s name.

Issan was also a Zen oddity, after giving up his junky life and drag queen trip, he became the Zen abbot of a gay community an later, when AIDS started its bloody work, he just opened the Maitri Hospice for people to die in dignity and surrounded with love. Issan was just a child of Samsara ( Beautiful expression coined by another one of these children, Chogyam Trungpa).

This little game of expressing views could go on and on, I could try to endlessly frame the guy and presumably his portrait would end up on an altar. And why not? The bloke is such a mixture of Saint Francis, Ryokan, Rumi, Ikkyu…

But that’s not what I want to do. I would like to just say that what touches me in this junky-drag queen-Zen master, is the face of the unknown, the name of the nameless. When he was opening his kesa on the body of the dying and kissing them on their cheeks like he would kiss babies saying : it’s Okay, I just came for you, I am here for you”. When he was ascending the seat of abbot or sitting at a table having a drink with you or dating a gorgeous man, the guy was pretty much the same, carefree, transparent, at ease. A perfect embodiment of the “nothing holy” of our rebellious ancestor. An absolute challenge to our petty holiness and arrogance. To our beliefs. He was not trying to be anything else but a vulnerable, beautiful man in love with the Dharma and with other men.

How can I express my gratitude to this man who lives closer, much closer that I would have thought?


Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Sunday morning drizzle

Sitting in this

Sitting with me


Chirps and chips of nothing


All around

Falling, dancing

Undoing the veil

Inviting the unknown guest

Pointing, pointing

Blades of the sweetest fire


Walking in all this

Robes flapping in the wind

A shiver in both trees and spine

Practising the impossible

"Where? Where can I enter the way?
How? How can I study?"

Kyosei asked a question in turn: “ What is the noise outside?”

“That’s the voice of the raindrops, that’s the rain” the student said.

“Enter from there” Kyosei replied.

A gate. But that gate, unlike any other, doesn’t lead anywhere. Gateless gate.Kyosei doesn’t actually point at the objective thing called “rain” ( how could rain be perceived as something happening" over there", anyway?) I believe that this good old fox is pointing at the activity of the self. Listen to the word "enter".The activity cannot meet its end, you cannot enter through the gate of rain. The curtain made of rain drops won't let you through. You are too big anyway. Therefore, you simply, utterly endlessly “enter”. Pure direction without destination or goal.

In other words, letting this "entering" doing itself in sitting, we allow our sitting-zen to be nothing but nothing but nothing. A living gate opening on itself, again and again. A dynamic space free of the rigidity and fixation of hope and fear, free of the worry of achieving, grasping, fixing, loosing. A space free of any view. I know: it sounds a bit philosophical, heavy almost pompous. When kyosei whispers "enter from there" he manifests the direction of great simplicity, he urges you-me-everybody to practice the impossible and be met by the ineffable.

What is it? Keep entering and if you can help it, never get anywhere.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Let me fall like
a blossom
In spring

Sunday, February 12, 2006


Leaves and petals


True home


Selflessness. All is impermanent, all is without a self. Mountains being mountains, rivers being rivers.

What does it mean? Does it mean there is a big void, empty core veiled by this ( emotions-thinking-body)? that is what I used to think. Mountains are not mountains anymore, rivers not being rivers.

There is nothing you cannot call " self". This whole thing when doing itself displays the universal self in every aspect of yourself: thoughts, emotion and body and beyond. Mountains are mountains again, rivers are rivers again. You cannot put your paws on it, grasp it, it will go through your fingers. The answer to the question "what is it?" cannot be verbal, and is not an answer. It is the formless form of your body-mind sitting when you wake up. it is a question asked with every fibre of this bodymind of yours. It is given through space and as such it is traceless, nameless. Master Tendo Nyojo's poem of the wind bell manifests it all. It is the very essence of the Maka Hannya Haramita. Moved by space and space only, and the whole thing in the four directions will resonate.

On a wooden kotsu ( a stick for teachers) I asked a Japanese friend to write the following poem:

"The blue mountains are of themselves blue mountains,

The white clouds are of themselves the white clouds"

In this allowing ("of themselves") IT happens. Allowing the form of blue mountains and the play of clouds is IT. And this of course, I very seldom allow.Self? Others? Let's not even bother.

Wish, allow, have the clear intention of letting it ring and ring you.

Reed in the hands of Rumi

Bell of Nyojo

This one breath

Blows everywhere.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Starting Now

Dear Nickm,

Yes good for you. There are no reasons not to start. I remember sewing my first kesa when I was seventeen following rough plans and instructions. I could hardly do any needle work at the time but the faith and determination got me through. Of course, in Japan most monks buy their own kesa instead of making it and this particular type of kesa is quite different ( shape, size, colour, pattern) from the kesa as taught by Kodo Sawaki and his disciples: the Nyoho-e kesa. Even nowadays, if you go to sit in Eiheiji or Sojiji as a monk in traininig, you are allowed to wear a Nyoho-e, you have to wear the kesa of the so called Soto sect.

How to start? Now. You may think about getting some thin fabric, cotton or linen of a dark and broken colour ( dark brown, purple, grey, black ) and you can of course buy it ( safe and easy route). I would advise you to buy a thin and strong fabric of good quality. The other way is to gather bits and pieces, garments and stuff people don't want anymore and dye it. You may be inspired by an article about Halifax roshi and her kesa or read both chapters of Shobogenzo where Dogen describes the kind of material used and where it comes from.

Then, you need to just learn the back stitch used for kesa making. I can send you a picture or you could may be find somebody around you to show you how to do it.

And you just get going.

What you truly have to understand is that you don't need to be ordained to sew, receive and wear the kesa. The kesa is the robe of zazen. Its universality is beyond schools, opinions, groups and sects and religions.

If you wish I can send you plans, measurements and very valuable instructions to get you started. As far as I know, There isn't any resource on the web. A book was released in English years ago by Katigiri Roshi's sangha about kesa making. If you could find it, it would help. There is another book in French whichI could photocopy for you.

Please, don't feel it is too challenging. It is not out of your reach. If you want help, I'll be there.