Friday, 8 December 2017


176. The death of a dharma brother or sister is always sad. But when it is by their own hand it is tragic. Our thoughts fly at once to the grieving spouse and the children suddenly made fatherless. Our hope is that they will find support and solace in the love and care of family and friends. At the same time we cannot help but try to imagine the desperate anguish that drove our brother to perhaps not so much take his life as to bring to an end the suffering that he evidently found so unbearable. We can only surmise that he felt that he could 'not live this tormented mind/ With this tormented mind tormenting yet'. In the face of this much sadness, suffering and tragedy, would our old Zen master of long ago still dare to claim that 'everyday is a good day'?

Wednesday, 6 December 2017


175. Singing, dancing, laughter: can these really be 'the voice of the Law'? How can this be in the face of poverty, injustice, sickness and death? Sad, even tragic, events continue to intrude into our lives on a daily basis. It has been said that after Auschwitz there can be no poetry. But seventy odd years have passed since Auschwitz and, in spite of it, we have somehow managed to pick ourselves up and have found ourselves once more singing and dancing and laughing. Even in the midst of disasters and the experience of horrifying crimes, it seems that the words of a medieval Christian mystic somehow resonate with us still. Her words: 'all will be well, all will be well, all manner of things will be well'. And an old Zen master from the past would insist that 'every day is a good day'. 

Tuesday, 28 November 2017


174. Given the intractable character of many of the problems that bedevil our world, a vow to 'save all beings' must appear as a serious, even daunting, undertaking. And yet Master Hakuin will insist that 'singing and dancing are the voice of the Law'.  

Monday, 27 November 2017


173. Myosho echoed Isan's laughter and brought Sozan to awakening. Isan echoed the laughter of his own master Hyakujo who, many years before, had laughed and said, 'the head monk loses', and so had nominated Isan the founder of the monastery where Sozan in his turn heard that sword-like laughter ringing out. It would seem that Master Hyakujo was a great one for laughing, a laughter that he transmitted not only to Isan but also to his brilliant disciple Obaku. For on the occasion when Obaku had gone up to him and boxed his ears, Hyakujo had simply clapped his hands together, laughed and said, 'I was thinking that the barbarian had a red beard, but now I see before me the red-bearded barbarian himself''. The sword in Hyakujo's laughter cuts away illusion, brings to awakening and transmits the dharma to his legitimate successors. Have you heard this laughter echoing down through the centuries?

Thursday, 23 November 2017


172. The sword can both take life and give life. The sword in Isan's laughter took Sozan's (illusory) life and directed him to Myosho the 'one eyed dragon' who, in echoing Isan's laughter, wielded the sword that gave Sozan the (awakened) life he so eagerly sought. But why did he have to travel a thousand miles to find that which he had always possessed and had never lost? No wonder Isan laughed! 

Wednesday, 22 November 2017


171. Isan's laughing response to Sozan was surely offensive. Indeed, Sozan immediately objected, asking why the master treated him lightly, especially as he had undertaken an arduous and expensive  journey of a thousand miles on foot in search of enlightenment. But even then Isan offers neither apology nor explanation. He does, however, instruct his attendant to give money to Sozan to help with his expenses. Then, as if as an afterthought, he seems to direct Sozan to consult another master (a 'one eyed dragon') who will awaken him. And so it came to pass, at which point Sozan suddenly realized that 'there was a sword in Isan's laughter'.    

Friday, 17 November 2017


170. When the 9th century Chinese monk Sozan learnt that Master Isan had said, 'Words of being and words of non-being are just like wisteria wound around a tree', he was deeply perplexed. He felt he had no option but to visit the master and question him. But this would prove to be no easy task. It involved a thousand mile journey on foot. Moreover, to finance such a journey, Sozan found that he had to sell all his belongings. When at last he reached Master Isan, he immediately questioned him, saying: 'I have heard that you said, "Words of being and words of non-being are just like wisteria wound around a tree". Now, I want to ask, if suddenly the tree falls down and the wisteria withers, where will the words go?' Isan's only reply was to burst out laughing.