Travelling has always been part of my life. My mother said that I already talked about leaving home from a very young age. And I count myself lucky that Buddhism is such a mobile religion: it seems to have enjoyed migrating from one country to another throughout the ages. In our modern times this is perhaps even more evident. At a VESAK conference in Vietnam that I attended two years ago, there were several thousand participants and they came from no fewer than one hundred different countries. In the good old days, Kanzeon Sangha was a travelling circus without a fixed location, and Zen River’sRead More →

Buddhism is still young in the West and I often think of us as bodhisattva pioneers. Most of us started practice relatively late in life, well beyond the time when learning quickly by heart and body was easy. So there is a lot of catching up to do. This can sometimes feel overwhelming because not only are we pioneers, Buddhist practice itself is in a pioneering phase. To train the mind and to free oneself from deeply ingrained personal, social and cultural conditioning in order to appreciate this life to the full, has always been challenging. But perhaps it is even more challenging for us today. Not only are weRead More →

In Zen we learn to focus on the practical details of our life while maintaining a view that goes beyond self and other, even beyond birth and death. To develop a balance between these two perspectives, it seems best to shift our attention regularly from one to the other until we can hold them both together. One could say that for addressing the details we need to be mindful and focus, and for addressing the grand vision we need to empty our mind of any special focus and open up. Training in mindfulness is very popular right now, so perhaps it is time to promoteRead More →

The principle of non-dualism plays a big role in Zen Buddhism. Our human tendency is to see things dualistically, to divide things into parts that never come together. And the practice of Zen, like many other spiritual traditions, helps us to break through this destructive pattern. The most basic form of dualism is to separate self from other, and that implies that there is a substantial self, a substantial other, and a substantial gap between the two. According to the Buddha, this topsy-turvy view is the source of all suffering. Buddhist teaching is primarily remedial, and many old masters articulate the non-dual nature of ourRead More →

If we want to find our proper place in the grand scheme of things, we first have to get a sense of the grand scheme of things. In other words, if we wish our life to really fall into place, we need to go far beyond our usual conception of what this life is. Fortunately this is not difficult to do: we just need to find the time to sit still and look in. And then, if we have the courage to go beyond what we are familiar with, it turns out that this life is, in fact, the life of everyone and everything. FromRead More →

Fusatsu is a beautiful ceremony that can be highly transformative. We start with repenting for past actions that we admit were often dictated by a very conditioned and limited understanding of our life situation. Next, we ask for the help of all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas and renew our bodhisattva vows. Through these vows we enter a world that often seems inconceivable. Yet this transcendent world is exactly the one that we need to become familiar with if we want to live our life to the full. The ceremony involves a lot of bows; and when you really give yourself to them the world ofRead More →

Many people feel a biological need to procreate. In fact, the desire to have children almost goes unquestioned. By nature we value life and would like to see our existence continued in future generations. Simultaneously, some of us seem to feel a deeply rooted desire to procreate the dharma; to make sure that the dharma stays alive and kicking beyond our life-span. Without babies being born, no dharma could survive into the future; and without the dharma, future generations wouldn’t so easily have a chance to awaken to their innate wisdom – which would be a shame. So, to paraphrase JFK’s famous line, we mayRead More →

  There is nothing outside the mind, so how can we study the mind? It’s like, we have eyes to see, but our eyes cannot see themselves directly; there just isn’t enough distance. So in a way, we cannot really study our own mind. When we talk about “study”, we usually think in terms of subject and object; there is a subject that studies and an object that is being studied. Then what happens in between we call perception. Needless to say, this is a wonderful ability that works fine for all kinds of practical purposes but not for studying the mind itself. How canRead More →

Surprisingly, direct insight into emptiness doesn’t leave us feeling empty but actually quite fulfilled. When we realize that things have no everlasting substance, they can appear more vividly in this moment. In fact, only in the present can we experience our lives fully. This very moment is where emptiness and form meet head-on. In the First Mode of Meditation, we primarily look at forms in all their various sizes, colours, and textures. In the Second Mode, we turn our focus toward emptiness, the indefinable realm where all forms come from and return to. In the Third Mode, we examine the world of forms again; butRead More →

  The Zen River library now houses a separate shelf, ‘P&P’ (Path & Principles) for works from great masters which provide an overview of the Buddhist path and its basic principles. This is a reflection of my wish to engage in more extensive research on the stages of development that many of us seem to go through in practice. Stages of development and the importance of gradual cultivation often seem to be undervalued in modern expressions of the Zen tradition, perhaps because Zen champions the timeless experience of our true nature and the direct expression of it in our actions. This bias also may haveRead More →