Over the last few days we’ve been treated to such beautiful spring mornings! On my way to the Zendo before dawn and struck by a clear moon, I found myself gazing across our garden. It seemed to extend far beyond its boundaries, all the way to the horizon — a formless field of benefaction. I thought back on my life as an artist, particularly the years I actually lived in my studio. Spending day and night between large paintings, the line between canvas and the world often seem to drop away, as if the whole world was a generous painting that happened to be myRead More →

In Zen, like in the arts, skill and inspiration need to go together. Without training in the craft, you won’t be able to make a good painting. Yet without inspiration you won’t create a real work of art. So it comes as no surprise that Dogen Zenji emphasizes over and over again that enlightenment needs to be realized and practiced, that practice and enlightenment are one. Still, it is easy to forget. Some may believe that a sudden flash of inspiration will immediately bring about a fully mature Buddha, while others may humbly hope that diligent practice by itself will slowly ripen into realization. Or,Read More →

Dharma transmission is highly mysterious—two minds and yet one mind. Something is being transmitted, yet there isn’t really anything that is transmitted or can even be transmitted. It is tempting to understand dharma transmission as an approval, and in some ways it is. But it can only be given when there is no need for it anymore, in fact when there is no one to be approved of.Read More →

Dharma transmission can be appreciated on many different levels. There is the transmission from Buddha to Buddha, from country to country, from West to East and from East to West. In fact, the dharma is continuously being transmitted from moment to moment. A single hair penetrates many holes.* There is one dharma, and yet we can experience that same dharma from moment to moment however different these moments are. Our world is a moment to moment reality; it is a single hair that penetrates many holes, a string that connects moment to moment to moment endlessly. Every moment presents us with a new situation, andRead More →

Last month one of our members, who lives in the Middle-East, brought me a beautiful little glass jar filled with red desert sand. It sits now on a bookshelf in my office next to a statue of Bodhidharma, and he seems to throw a pensive glance at this red sand as if he remembers it from his long travels. Remembering plays a strong part in meditation. We remember and want to return home. It can even grow into a tremendous sense of nostalgia. Dogen Zenji calls it “Longing for the Ancients”. When he quotes from the old masters, he often says, “I remember”. It’s asRead More →

In the chapter “Gyoji” (Continuous Practice) of the Shobogenzo, Dogen Zenji says, “The whole universe is the monastery.” This implies that wherever we go and whatever situation we face, we find ourselves in a monastery, a place of practice. Yet Buddhism would not have survived throughout the ages without physical monasteries. And of course Dogen Zenji himself is famed for establishing Eihei-ji, still one of the main temples in Japan. The functions of monasteries vary and adapt across times and cultures. At Zen River most people who participate in the training programme also make short-term commitments to full-time residential practice. They enter the monastery inRead More →

Mahayana teaching includes the truth of suffering, but it does not necessarily start there. We take the enlightenment of the Buddha as our standard. In the Sutra of Complete Enlightenment, Manjushri is the first bodhisattva to speak, and he expresses our innate wisdom. Such wisdom is not really part of our direct experience yet, but we trust that one day it will be. This takes a lot of daring. We are asked to question our present observations and put our faith in something that we have failed to see. Rather than trust what we know, we have faith in what we don’t know. Complete enlightenmentRead More →

Whatever insight we may have, as soon as we would wish to communicate and express that insight we need language. So besides training in meditation which facilitates insight, training in language is extremely important. Over the centuries the old masters have developed a highly effective language that sets forth the guiding principles and clarifies the various stages of practice through beautiful images and analogies. We can find this language in the Indian Sutras and the works of Chinese, Tibetan, Japanese, Korean and other masters. They all speak with distinct voices and yet they share remarkable similarity. The same seems to be true for body language.Read More →

When we turn our own light inward, we depart from form and enter emptiness. When we go deeper, everything exists again. We discover that the mind reflects everything.* It feels like we have returned to the world of form, yet something has thoroughly changed. The world has lit up. Into enlightenment, there is emptiness. Out of enlightenment, there is existence.* Looking in, there’s vast emptiness; looking further, there are all forms. And these two sides are in perfect balance. We talk about the identity of relative and absolute, yet they may not always be evenly appreciated. In fact, I find the word ‘relative’ a littleRead More →

Sometimes I think of buddha nature as inspiration. This may not be quite correct, but it does shed interesting light on our practice. Inspiration may be difficult to define, yet it can be so obviously and vividly present. Interestingly, it only seems to come to us when we are willing to give up preconceived ideas and make space in our hearts. So inspiration comes with surrender. Without surrender of the self, we’ll never really find our own inspiration for this life. We end up being dependent on set patterns from within or without. If you are lucky, you find a teacher who is so inspiredRead More →