Friday, August 2, 2019


wild flowers, North Wales

Today I was inspired by the lovely weather, the summer flowers, the cool breezes on a summer day.  And by this poem, sent from the website "Poetry Chaikhana" ( a regular source of inspiration in my inbox.

Searching for the Dharma

You've traveled up ten thousand steps in search of the Dharma.
So many long days in the archives, copying, copying.
The gravity of the Tang and the profundity of the Sung
make heavy baggage.
Here! I've picked you a bunch of wildflowers.
Their meaning is the same
but they're much easier to carry.

By Chan Master Hsu Yun

(1839 - 1959)

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

A perfect shimmering sound

Fado performers in Porto, Portugal

I just read a lovely blog post from the Zen teacher Jon Joseph, about the following koan.  Thanks for the pointer to this, Jon!

Wuzu said, “Why did Bodhidharma come from the West? The cypress tree in the garden!”

  At these words Yuanwu was suddenly enlightened. He went outside the cottage and saw a rooster fly to the top of a railing, beat his wings and crow loudly. He said to himself, "Isn’t this the sound?"

  Full of gratitude, Yuanwu then took incense back into Wuzu's room. He told of his discovery and wrote:

"The golden duck vanishes into the golden brocade,
with a country song the drunk comes home from the woods,
only the young beauty knows about her love affair."

  Wuzu said, “I share your joy."

     ~ Pacific Zen Miscellaneous Koans

Sometimes when I look around at this world, all I see is suffering.  I could give you the long list, but you already know it.  Some of the suffering is personal, some global, and everything can feel like a recipe for doom and despair.  How can we practice in the face of all of this?

Without ignoring what is difficult, we can sit in the presence of everything that arises, and when we do this, our attention can expand from a narrow focus on our pain to a wider view, which includes every single thing.  In this space, the call of a mourning dove may open our hearts.  Or the laughter of a child at play or a singer giving everything she has to open her own mouth to reveal her wild spirit.  Or, really, any sound, or sight, or smell, taste or touch.  The world offers itself to us, and when we receive it, we share in the joy that is always present, even when things seem especially dire.  Here is a comment on this possibility by the poet Jack Gilbert.  Whether it's the sound of a triangle, a fado singer or a rooster, open your ears to hear it.  Let the heart be soothed by simple things, and know this shared joy.

Waiting And Finding, by Jack Gilbert

While he was in kindergarten, everybody wanted to play
the tom-toms when it came time for that. You had to
run in order to get there first, and he would not.
So he always had a triangle. He does not remember
how they played the tom-toms, but he sees clearly
their Chinese look. Red with dragons front and back
and gold studs around that held the drumhead tight.
If you had a triangle, you didn’t really make music.
You mostly waited while the tambourines and tom-toms
went on a long time. Until there was a signal for all
triangle people to hit them the right way. Usually once.
Then it was tom-toms and waiting some more. But what
he remembers is the sound of the triangle. A perfect,
shimmering sound that has lasted all his long life.
Fading out and coming again after a while. Getting lost
and the waiting for it to come again. Waiting meaning
without things. Meaning love sometimes dying out,
sometimes being taken away. Meaning that often he lives
silent in the middle of the world’s music. Waiting
for the best to come again. Beginning to hear the silence
as he waits. Beginning to like the silence maybe too much.

Monday, July 29, 2019

original face wash: the goat in the boat koan

photo Adam Monty

At our  recent "Original Face Sesshin" named by our tanto (head seat) Alan Richardson, we took up the story of Hui Neng, who asked Monk Ming, "What is your Original Face?"  At the end of the sesshin, our assistant tanto, Adam Monty,  mentioned the apocryphal koan "The Goat in the Boat."  When Adam returned home, he found the tube of Original Face Wash, pictured here,  in his medicine cabinet.

These two karmic occurrences inspired me to search for the elusive goat in the boat koan, and I was lucky enough to find it in our Temple library, in an obscure collection gathered together by Theodore Geisel, the sage of La Jolla.    Amazingly, it references not only the goat and the boat, but also the Original Face!  And, mysteriously, went I went back to try to find the book again it had vanished into Thin Air.  Here is the case, as I remember it, with commentaries by Boundless Way Zen teachers and senior students.

The Goat in the Boat (The One Fish Barrier Collection, Case 42)

Main Case: As the Fifth Ancestor rowed Hui Neng across the river, a goat climbed into the seat between them.  The Ancestor asked, "Don't think good; don't think evil.  At this very moment, what is the true face of the goat in the boat?"  At this moment, he presented a tube of face wash to Hui Neng, saying, "Use this all of your life.  It will never be used up."

David Rōshi said, "The student wins the prize - though he has not yet discovered the original face, he has found the face wash for this original face so that when any of us find it, we'll be able to keep it clean!!!"

Bob Sensei said, "I love this!  But it’s only for men.  Is that because women don’t collect as much dust on their original face?"

Senior Dharma Teacher Alan said, "Have you found your original face yet?  Then wash it!"

Practice Leader Adam said, "It can't be described; it can't be praised enough;
It can, however, be washed."

Monday, July 22, 2019

Boundless Way Temple Summer Sesshin 2019

Original Face Sesshin 2019 photo Corwyn Miyagishima

As we explored the question asked by Sixth Ancestor Hui Neng to Monk Ming: "What is your Original Face?" close to 40 people came and went over the week of our summer sesshin.  Pictured to the left are the folks who stayed until the very end.  What a treat to be able to practice deeply with people of the Great Way!

Friday, July 19, 2019

Drinking Deeply, Being the Water

The Sixth Ancestor's Rice Mill, ink on paper, 10.8 x 16.7 cm, Shinwa-an Collection

A few hours ago we finished our summer sesshin at Boundless Way Temple, named by our tanto (sesshin leader) "The Original Face Sesshin."  The topic was a koan about the Sixth Chinese Ancestor, Hui Neng, who threshed rice in a monastery for nine months and then was recognized by the Fifth Ancestor, Hongren, as his Dharma Heir.

We have used this koan many times, including at a previous summer sesshin, but as always, it felt new and fresh and we considered it from many angles.  One of the translations we used this year was from David Hinton, and the question that Hui Neng asks Monk Lumen (know to most of us as Monk Ming)  is translated by Hinton as:  "Don't think about right answers, don't think about wrong.  Right here in this very moment, what is the original face of Head Monk Lumen, the face that's been gazing out since the very beginning of things?"

This is a fundamental question in Zen, and you may want to play with it yourself, as we played with it for the past week.  Who are you before all of the constructions of personality and history arose in you, blocking your view of what has been here forever, and will continue with no end?   In this very moment, who are you?  The answer to this question endlessly deepens.  May you find your way to what Lumen discovered, in Hinton's translation:  "Here today I've taken a drink, and it's like the water itself knows how warm or cold the drink is."

Friday, July 12, 2019

International Precepts Ceremony at the Temple

photo Mike Herzog

A happy day in June at Boundless Way Temple -- the 16 Bodhisattva Precepts were give to 6 students of the Way by David Rynick,  Rōshi, Mike Fieleke,  Sensei, Robert Waldinger, Sensei and me.  During this semi-annual celebration, students who have been studying the precepts and sewing rakusus (the bib-like garments that represent the Buddha's robe) are given Japanese Dharma names, welcomed into the Boundless Way Zen lineage with documents that trace our ancestors back to Shakyamuni Buddha, and have a chance to speak briefly about their understanding of the precepts.  This spring we had our first international attendee, who Zoomed in on a laptop from Denmark.  (Thanks to Corwyn Miyagishima and Mike Herzog for helping with the modern tech side of this ancient ceremony!)

Pictured in the photo, from left to right,  are:  Craig Dreeszen, me, Mike Sensei, Hannah Hamad, Lone Fjorback (on laptop), David Rōshi, Bob Sensei, Susan LaMar, Marsha Gershon and Chad Cook.  Congratulations to all!

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Affection and Appreciation

Jizo of West Boylston

I just received the following text from my beloved colleague Mike Fieleke, Sensei.  It's from Joan Halifax, Roshi, and beautifully describes the stages of the student-teacher relationship.  In my experience, as a student and as a teacher, all three of these stages are equally important.  Thanks Mike Sensei and Roshi Joan!

"On considering a student's relationship with a teacher: I have often said that a student's relationship with her or his teacher can go through three phases. The first phase is the phase of idealization. Here the student's enlightenment is projected onto the teacher. The second phase is demonization – the student withdraws the projection of the ideal from the teacher, and projects her or his negative complexes onto the teacher. That’s usually when the student abandons the teacher. But, if possible, the negative projection is finally withdrawn and normalization begins to unfold, the third phase, where there’s a relationship that’s based on the realization of differences in capacity, and where there is affection and appreciation. In this phase, a phase associated with maturation, there’s intimacy, transparency, and love in the relationship. I have learned that it is truly beneficial for a student to understand this process in order to enter into a more realistic and less deluded and reactive relationship with her or his teacher."

Monday, June 17, 2019

returning to the new life

Years ago, when I was teaching mindfulness in the inner city in Worcester,  I heard a beautiful  Brazilian song called Começar de Novo.   It turned out that this was a favorite song of many of my Spanish-speaking women students -- somehow it reflected the difficulties of their lives and the new hope that meditation was giving them.

I often take heart in this song, especially when I wake up in the morning feeling haunted by ghosts of the past, with their endless stories of failure and judgment.  Começar de novo -- I can start a new life!  Not someday, but right now, in this moment...

The song was written by Ivan Lins and Vitor Martins, and a couple of us translated it into English and sang it together in our final class.  Here is a beautiful rendition by Ivan Lins with the amazing Portuguese singer Simone.  Below are the lyrics in Portuguese, followed by our English version -- a singable if not literal translation.

Começar de novo
E contar comigo
Vai valer a pena
Ter amanhecido

Ter me rebelado
Ter me debatido
Ter me machucado
Ter sobrevivido

Ter virado a mesa
Ter me conhecido
Ter virado o barco
Ter me socorrido

Começar de novo
E contar comigo
Vai valer a pena
Ter amanhecido

Sem as tuas garras
Sempre tão seguras
Sem o teu fantasma
Sem tua moldura

Sem tuas escoras
Sem o teu domínio
Sem tuas esporas
Sem o teu fascínio

Começar de novo
E contar comigo
Vai valer a pena
Ter amanhecido

Sem as tuas garras
Sempre tão seguras
Sem o teu fantasma
Sem tua moldura

Sem tuas escoras
Sem o teu domínio
Sem tuas esporas
Sem o teu fascínio

Começar de novo
E contar comigo
Vai valer a pena
Já ter te esquecido

I can start a new life
Knowing that it's worth it
Counting on myself now
Waking with the sunrise

Here am I, revealed now
After all the searching
After all the hurting
Here am I surviving

Now I've turned the tables
I know where I'm going
Like a boat that's sailing
Safe into the harbor

I can start a new life
Knowing that it's worth it
Counting on myself now
Waking with the sunrise

Safe from all your wounding
Safe for now, for always
You no longer haunt me
Now your spell is broken

Now your words can't hurt me
You cannot control me
I have left my prison
You no longer own me

I can start a new life
Knowing that it's worth it
Counting on myself now
See, I have forgotten you

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Exposed to Fire

Broken Glass, North Wales

An important part of the Zen Way is learning to meet difficulties without reactively running away from the pain or rushing to find a fix for the situation.  Facing what is present requires a great deal of courage, and an ever increasing capacity to stay with challenges until they either transform, on their own, into something else, or until a path of transformation is revealed.  In my own experience this transformation and/or revelation is subtle and may not necessarily feel like it's heading in a positive direction.  But things have a way of revealing their essence if we can stay present to what is here, now.  

Along these lines, I was very encouraged by the following quote from a Sufi teacher, H. I. Khan, from an article by my mindfulness mentor and friend Saki Santorelli.  The purpose of transforming suffering by learning to bear it is a part of the bodhisattva path.  As we realize our bodhisattva nature, we discover that we are a part of everything else in the entire universe.  And so, anything we do to facilitate our own healing helps to heal the world.The transformation of suffering is not for our own self-improvement, but a necessary part of realizing our bodhisattva nature -- that we are all connected and that our own healing is ultimately a part of healing others and the entire world.

….”There have been hearts that have been exposed to fire for a long, long time, and there comes a sulphury water from them, purifying and healing; for it has gone through fire, it has gone through suffering, and therefore, it heals those who suffer.  There are hearts with many different qualities, like water with different chemical substances: those who have suffered, those to whom life has taught patience, those who have contemplated. They all represent one or other kind of the water that heals, and so do their personalities. People who have deep appreciation of any kind, of suffering, of agony, of love, of hate, of solitude, of association, of success, of failure, all have a particular quality, a quality that has special use for others.  And when a person realizes this, he will come to the conclusion that whatever has been their life’s destiny, his heart has prepared a chemical substance through sorrow and pain, through joy or through pleasure, a chemical substance that is intended for a certain purpose, for the use of humanity, and that he can only give it out if he can keep his heart awakened and open. “ 

-- Khan, H.I.:  The Heart Quality In Sufi Teachings,Volume VIII

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Radiant World Spring Sesshin

This past weekend we had our Boundless Way Zen Temple Spring Sesshin, taught by David Rynick, Roshi, Michael Fieleke, Sensei and myself.  Our tanto, Alan Richardson, named it the Radiant World sesshin, following the theme of awakening being available everywhere.  Indeed, it is so!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Great Vehicle Heart Connections

Two Tibetan monks and two nuns visited Boundless Way Temple on Sunday, and joined us whole-heartedly in our regular Zen practice. They are on a 2 week visit to Worcester State University, and decided to drop in to our regular Sunday night practice period, which included chanting, sitting and walking meditation, and a Dharma talk by Dharma teacher Rev. Paul Galvin.  During the Dharma dialogue following Paul's talk, they participated along with the rest of the sangha, and we all enjoyed laughter and insightful comments and stories from a number of participants, including the Tibetans of course.  And at the end, they insisted on a photo -- ordained folks on the floor, with the rest of the sangha standing behind, grouped around the Buddha altar.  Just before the photo was taken, one of the monks shouted "Mahayana!" a reference to what connects us.  Zen and Tibetan Buddhism are both part of the Mahayana, or "great vehicle" tradition in Buddhism.  Sharing the practice and feeling our heart connection was simply delightful!

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

On Not Having a Headache

water spout gargoyle, Italy

After a couple of weeks of enduring various bouts of illness, including bronchitis caused by a virus that kept moving from one part of the body to another (lungs, sinus, throat) I am noticing the absence of sickness as a most subtle joy.  This feeling is physical, emotional and mental.  It arises as a softness and ease in navigating the world. 

When I'm sick, I often resign myself to feeling tired and miserable forever.  This attitude, while admittedly negative and fairly depressing,  has the positive effect of eliminating the anxiety that comes with wondering when and if I will ever feel good again. 

I've been lucky in my life so far -- my various chronic conditions have very mild or absent symptoms, and it's only when I'm struck down by a bacterial infection, headache or virus that I get to experience what many people know intimately on a daily basis.  I'm reminded, in this tender presence of the absence of illness, of the Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh's description of the return of health as "the feeling of not having a headache."  When we are suffering, we forget what the absence of suffering feels like.  It's so subtle...and so sweet.  I'm planning to enjoy it until it changes once again into something challenging.  The memory of illness acts as a reminder to have empathy for everyone who struggles with ill health, while knowing that at some point I will once again join this noble company of suffering myself. 

Friday, January 25, 2019

Alan Sunhyo Richardson completes Shuso Hossenshiki

David Rynick, Roshi, Alan Richardson, Melissa Blacker, Roshi,
Mike Fieleke, Sensei
photo by Jenny Smith
Our three week Coming and Going Sesshin at Boundless Way Temple ended this morning.  Last night we held our Shuso Hossenshiki (Dharma Combat) ceremony for our shuso, Senior Dharma Teacher Alan Richardson.  He spoke on a koan, which was presented to him moments before he gave an impromptu talk about it, and then answered questions from the sangha.  The talk, and his answers, displayed his wisdom and compassion in equal measure.  Congratulations to Alan and endless gratitude for his service to the Sangha and to the Dharma.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

coming and going audio recordings

Ango: Peaceful Dwelling Place

Coming and Going Sesshin 2019
Three-week Residential and Non-Residential
Open House Meditation Retreat
January 4 - 25, Currently in Progress

If you are unable to attend, you can still take part by listening to the two talks given daily. Recordings are posted at

Please visit the Coming and Going Sesshin information pagefor more detailed information.
Coming and Going Sesshin is our most flexible opportunity for experiencing a silent meditation retreat in the Zen tradition. There are two options: commuter and residential practice.

Non-Residential (Commuter) Retreat
You can drop in and practice for one or more of the four daily practice periods listed below, on as many days during the sesshin as you like, with no registration required. 
  • 6-8 am
  • 10 am-12:30 pm
  • 2:30 pm-5:30 pm
  • 7-9 pm
Donations for any part of a practice period will be gratefully received in the collection bowl in the front hallway. The suggested donation is $5 - $50/day.
Residential Retreat

You can come and go at the Temple as your schedule allows during the sesshin. You could stay for just one night, one or more of the three weekends, for the entire three weeks, or any stretch of days in-between.

If you've been curious about residential practice, Coming and Going Sesshin is a good opportunity to try it in a way that works for you.  

Advance registration is required for residential practice. Early registration is encouraged, but you can register up to 24 hours before your arrival. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

the karmic flow

water shapes on the path at Cascade Park, Worcester

The flow of our lives, like the shape of water, is caused by an infinite array of causes and conditions.  Some of these events are known to us, but the vast majority are hidden from conscious awareness.  We barely understand what has already happened, and none of us can know what lies ahead.  Still, we can hope...

May this new year be full of unexpected blessings for you and everyone you love!