Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara

DogenenlightenmentManjushrimeditationNorman FischerRoshi Pay Enkyo O'HaraTorontoZen

No one else has ever been here, at this moment.

**Talking about Talking**

On a rainy day at Green Gulch temple the poet Gary Snyder told this story: Years before, when he was a young man studying Zen in Japan, he had attended a practice period which featured a daily lecture by the roshi. Every afternoon, at the scheduled time for the talk, a fierce monsoon rain storm would come up, pounding on the temple roof so that it was impossible to hear the roshi’s voice, which was, even under the best of conditions, faint. Day by day it went on like this, not a single audible word. Some years later Gary met a man who had also attended that practice period. The man said to him, “Do you remember those dharma talks we couldn’t hear all training period long? Well I am beginning to hear them now.”

**commentary by Zoketsu Norman Fischer**

In Zen practice we are always listening to talks and studying the sayings of the ancients. It’s funny that for all its emphasis on silent sitting and sudden insight, Zen has produced an enormous literature that seems to require extensive commentary in order to be understood. But in the end knowledge really isn’t important, and the virtue of all the listening and reading is simply that we experience the feeling behind it. The roshi’s words aren’t so important. He or she may use a lot of them, but it’s the flavor and scent, the sense of life that is conveyed, not so much by the words themselves, as by their presentation and context, that counts. I have no doubt that the man really was beginning only now, years later, to actually hear what the Roshi had been saying. Can you hear it?


What is the zen view of words?

A painted cake does not satisfy my hunger.

The idea of inside and outside are just ideas. Emptiness and fullness are just ideas.

**Qualities cherished by Zen**

Wabi: not having highest value, a poverty of design, the more worn and simple the look, the higher the quality

Sabi: austerity (aloneness, detachment)

Awari – awareness of impermanence, pregnancy of each moment

Ugen – profundity, depth


Dogen was enlightened when he heard these words: “falling away of body and mind.”

He ran to his teacher and repeated them. Now that you’ve heard them – are you enlightened? The experience of enlightenment is different, and takes different forms, for everyone.

When we have an idea about enlightenment we’ve lost it. It becomes a pole that we tie our mind to.

Imagine your mind without a guide (a waterfall needs no map), not following any lines.

We lose our potential for insight when we give it away to someone else (eg. When we project onto a teacher who is perfect.)

If you want to step into the infinite, only go into the finite everywhere.

**Sufi Joke**

One person yells to another across a river. “How do I get to the other side?”

“You are on the other side.”

It’s a mistake to wound the heart trying to cross the stream. There’s no way to fail Zen.


You can get lost anywhere. Old monks used to get lost in monasteries. Today we can get lost in electronics. If we’re lost in the dream of ourselves – others are objects that are good for me or bad for me. How do we leave ourselves out of that? Oh, look: there are other people in this room. In the room of this neighborhood. This city.


Form has no intrinsic value. But by inhabiting a form, or allowing it to inhabit us, we can step into its historical momentum, and express solidarity with those around us who are also engaged with this form. Here in this room, and back then, in the other historical rooms. The repetition of form is a kind of ritual that creates community. It can help reduce grasping and assist us to recognize and work with mutuality; to realize that we are not simply grasping at awakening for the self. Bowing in community expresses this mutuality, this reciprocity. We are bowing together and it is helpful to practise bowing in unison, in recognition of the other and our unity. Form helps to bind a community together.

**Sitting posture**

Find balance and ease. One holds the position. One is held by the position. Sit in a posture you can hold, that can hold you. Practice is enlightenment.

If your knees are not touching the zabuton/floor then there’s stress on the lower back. Time to raise the cushion, sit on something higher. Sit on the forward 1/3 of cushion, use it as a wedge. If you’re sitting on a chair, don’t touch the back of the chair. Small cushion will free abdomen. Hand position: cosmic mudra. Passive hand held by active hand. Two thumbs barely touch (forming a point of attention, this is another way of receiving feedback to wake you up when you drift off) and create a circle. Can ravel up sleeves to cradle hands to reduce tension in shoulders. Tongue on roof of the mouth against the top two front teeth to reduce saliva and create attention. Ears over shoulders, nose in line with navel.

Eyes open but not wide open, look down 2 or 3 feet in front of you. Take in the whole field with your eyes in a wide gaze so that you’re grounded in this place, this room. On softening the eyes: there is no hierarchy of practice. The eyes look across a field, there is no point in looking, no single figured focus, Instead, it is a soft and receiving gaze. Pointed looking is a way of reasserting a single point of view, a single self. It is a way of looking back at the illusory self. Instead, look out, slightly down, with a soft focus. Try to be not too tight and not too loose. When you look straight ahead this can be difficult to maintain, the field too wide. Looking down decreases tension in the neck and relaxes the eyes. The chin comes down slightly. This is called the upright posture of the Buddha, the ancient posture of being awake.

Sit completely and wholeheartedly. When you feel sensation breathe into it, work with it. Our life is about meeting these challenges. There’s no need to panic or become tense. If you need to move, to adjust your posture, then notice you’re going to move, bow, move, and when you’re finished moving bow again to signal to your neighbour and to yourself: I’m finished moving, now I’m sitting. Those around us are being affected by our gestures and our stillness, you have a responsibility to your community to take care of everyone.

**Walking Meditation**

In the zendos shoes are left at the door. Everyone enters barefoot. When you leave to go to the bathroom put on shoes or sandals. The bell rings to signal standing. Clasp hands in prayer at the level of the nose – clack – bow and turn to the right. The second row turns to the left and the third row turns to the right. Begin walking _ steps slowly with hands at the belly. The thumb rests in the left fist and the right hand covers the left in front. Walk slowly clockwise until the clack signal and then walk quickly. At the clack the hands are in prayer and stop, then walk to the front of your cushion – bow to the cushion and bow to the front.

**One Body**

Performing the quality of one body through form. It’s such a rare feeling except at major sporting events. The one body of practice – we’re doing it as a group. As we walk around the room together we experience ourselves as one body, but we don’t lose ourselves. The more we realize this, the more open to all teachings we are. Teachings come from everyone in the group.

A celebrated sitter and old friend was dying of cirrhosis of the liver and he came to visit the roshi on retreat. He said he couldn’t stay for the whole day because he was unwell and that he hoped only to be able to stay long enough for the talk. Instead, he stayed for the whole day. At the end of the day Roshi approached him, noticing that he hadn’t left. He said he was sitting beside a young kid who was restless, always in motion. He thought it would be good if he sat still on his own cushion, to set an example. When we’re sitting we’re not just sitting for ourselves. We’re taking care of everyone.


If someone has a problem – how to serve them? How to work to empower them, not to lean in to fix the problem, how to help them to fix it, and by so doing, to recognize their wholeness. Often it means being present, listening with the whole body at once.

There’s no wrong way to do this practice! Every time I slip away and return it’s time for congratulations. I’m back! This is such an important moment. The tendency is to beat ourselves up. My practice sucks, this is not for me, I’ll never get concentrated. So often we use this moment to re-engage the negative thought patterns we already have. How instead to find in this moment the possibility to hold ourselves with care, with both soft hands, to become the mother we really need. There are two movements in this moment: the movement of return, and the movement of holding. The feeling of celebration and the evocation of the mother.

**Not Too Tight, Not Too Loose**

If you’re too tight or too tense, concentrate on release, on the exhale. Letting go. If you’re too loose and distracted, concentrate on the inhale. Remember the area just below the navel. Bring awareness and slight tension if you are experiencing torpor or collapse. If too tense concentrate on the outbreath, the release. If just right you are goldilocks in the right bed at this moment.

Teaching provides a supportive presence vs fixing. Practice is about becoming empowered to do it for yourself. There is more right with you than wrong. There is no judge here to say what is appropriate. This varies from person to person. For example, one person needs to attend to the breath especially if the mind is busy. For another, it is the feelings that need attention – to be with them, to allow them. There is no wrong way but there are more skillful ways. “We can get caught in little eddies.
Instruction or direction is helpful. For example, be attentive to breath and then notice, “oops I wasn’t.” When we come back it should be a moment of congratulations. “Oh! I’m back.” You will have your own experience which can only occur if you are present in body and mind.

**Face to Face with Linji**

In a formal Zen questioning ceremony Elder Ting asked the tough teacher Linji, “What’s the essential truth?” Linji got up off his ceremonial chair, grabbed Ting by the lapels of his robe, and hit him three or four times. Ting stood there speechless until one of the other students said, “Why don’t you bow?” As Ting, still in a daze, started to make his formal leaving bows he suddenly had an insight into the truth.

**commentary by Zoketsu Norman Fischer**

Wouldn’t it be nice if someone could tell us what the truth was? Then we’d have it forever. But any truth that’s really worth knowing can’t be explained. It arises as a result of our meeting one another, nose to nose, face to face, intimately. “Bowing” means plunging into our life with gratitude. When we are willing to do that, come what may, the effective truth will dawn on us.

Martin Buber said: all living is meeting. Enlightenment isn’t something someone has and can give us. There are no teachers and there’s nothing to teach but we need each other, and in the mystery of our meeting something occurs that’s more than either of us, more than the two together.

**Burnt Norton (TS Eliot, excerpt)**

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,

But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,

Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,

Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,

There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.


Zen master Daowu visited the assembly of master Shitou.

Daowu asked, “What is the fundamental meaning of Buddha dharma?”

Shitou said, “Not to attain, not to know”.

Daowu said, “Is there some turning point in going beyond, or not?“

Shitou said, “The vast sky does not hinder the white clouds from flying.”

When we know something there’s a me that knows and over there there’s a thing that is known. Shitou says that subject and object are not separate. There’s nothing to attain, it’s something we realize. There’s nowhere to get to but here, where we already are. “Is there anything beyond this?” The sky does not obstruct the white cloud’s flight. What appears as emptiness (sky), contains something that appears as form (clouds). Are they one or two? We hope to experience life directly. Is our search for meaning and insight any different or separate from the one searching? We separate it all the time and become so frustrated.

One thing enters all things. All things enter one thing. This relational mutuality happens all the time but our protective tendency keeps it away. The interdependent Buddha flow is in that smelly drunk on the subway. Can you recognize the Buddha quality in him?

**Gratitude Practice**

Write down everything we are grateful for as a daily practice

Everything is evanescent (I love this word) – the forsythia, the magnolia, the cherry blossoms. Nature provides us with the opportunity to so clearly see the beauty and sadness of impermanence, the ebb and flow of change, how it all comes and goes.

“Settling, the white dew does not discriminate. Each drop its home. (no picking and choosing) Include everything without preferences, without settling into your likes and dislikes. “The dew doesn’t say I’m not going there.”

The intention of life is to open our hearts.

**Now I’m into death.**

Ryokan: Nothing in the cry of cicadas suggest they are about to die.

Kabayashi Issa was a Zen monk who married late, and had a child with his wife Kiku. Their daughter was named Sato. Smallpox ravaged the village of Kashiwabara and eventually claimed Sato. While he had dedicated his life to the practice of impermanence, the end of craving, and enlightenment, he was stricken with grief. He wrote.

The world is dew –

The world is dew –

And yet, and yet.

Feel what you feel. Be alive to it and let it go. Don’t grasp. Allow and let be.

“How shall I enter the way? Do you hear the sound of the sewer? Enter there.” Enter wherever you are in every moment.

Stay present,. Be aware of words. When we decrease words we decrease harming.


A teacher asks, “What is that sound outside?”

The student says, “Raindrops.”

T: People these days are so upside down. They lose themselves and follow after things. They get lost in objects (the idea of this thing named, described-as if the name is the thing itself).

S: Teacher, how would you say it?

T: I almost don’t lose myself.

Teaching is like selling water by the river. “I almost don’t lose myself” – but I do. Emptiness simply means without construction. Words are tags that – temporary tags that help us organize our minds but that’s it.

Then – if we answer yes – even a speck of dust has existence. If we answer no, the entire universe is a void. “Like the moon in the river – we can’t say it’s there, and we can’t say it isn’t”

**Avatamsaka Sutra aka The Flower Garland Sutra**

Second longest sutra in the Mahayana Canon, (40 chapters). A massive interweaving of a variety of texts compiled in the early part of the first century, the Avatamsaka Sutra presents a head-spinning interlace of visionary phantasmagoria.

**Indra’s Net**

The “Flower Garland Sutra” describes the universe as a net of diamonds that exists in three-dimensional space and in the fourth dimension of time. It goes backward and forward in time. This is the huge net of the universe, at each point where the net meets is a jewel, and each jewel reflects all other jewels in the net. When you see one diamond, you actually see every other diamond in the net. You see the whole thing. Nothing is left out of the picture. When you touch one diamond, you’ve touched every diamond in the net. It’s incomprehensible that each thing contains every other thing, that there’s a mutual identity and causality, each thing contains the totality of the universe. But that’s the nature of reality. There’s an energy of interdependence, a fullness, and this energy is called Buddha. It is that which pervades everything from the smallest particle which this beautiful floor is made up of, to the tip of your nose.

**Look Who’s Here – It’s the Buddha**

When someone does something for me – a Buddha appears.

When someone says something, so that upon reflection I can see an error: this teaching means that a Buddha has arrived.

The flower of the flower sutra represents the blooming of the mind. Our limitless relation to reality. At this moment we are sharing with everything in the universe. Can we think of ourself as a moment in time, shared with everyone in this building, city, country? This is a very broadening way of recognizing yourself, shared by all. How to find a way to put yourself in the direction of the current that is happening now – to be in the wave that is this moment. You’re a piece of seaweed moving in the current, though utterly singular and unique, you’re not like any other part of seaweed.

The Buddha-body is ungraspable;

Unborn, uncreated,

It appears in accord with beings,

Equanimous as empty space.


How do we practice? Dogen asks: if we’re already Buddhas, then why should we practice? Practice is enlightenment. It is the performance of enlightenment, it’s not just something that happens on the cushion. The word ‘practice’ begins to expand.

In the ninth book of The Flower Garland Sutra, Buddha spreads light throughout the universe, it emanates from wheels at the bottom of his feet. This is the lowest part of the Buddha. His feet are bare, and he walks across dirt and mud puddles and shit. That’s where the light comes from – the most polluted place. Inside our own bodies, as we make a pilgrimage, we might find this place in the mula bhanda, the place where we store so many of our unwanted feelings. The light comes from our knots and obstacles. Our granthis are the ground of our practice.


Manjushri carries a sword that cuts away delusions. When the primordial buddha Vairochana vowed to emanate throughout the universe as the princely and ever-youthful bodhisattva of Wisdom, his purpose was to lead beings in an inquiry whereby they could discover the true nature of reality. For that reason, he is usually depicted displaying the two tools essential to that investigation: in his right hand he wields the double-edged sword of logic or analytic discrimination and in his left, the Prajnaparamita Sutra, the text of the teaching on Emptiness. This teaching is fundamental to all forms of Buddhism, and for that reason it is often called “Mother of All Buddhas.” It is cushioned on the lotus of Compassion.

Manjushri’s sword of discriminating wisdom is tipped with flames to show that it severs all notions of duality. It can cut away delusion, aversion and longing, to reveal understanding, equanimity and compassion.

To control the mind: this is the practice. We watch ourselves go over and over past delusions and greed so we can recognize where they come from and then shift our point of view.


How can we serve others? To ferry suffering beings in an ark of truth. In our ark or boat or canoe – how we can sail across the waters of delusion? We may start out by imagining that we are practicing only for ourselves: it’s all me, my enlightenment, making myself better every day in every way. But ultimately we see that it’s not just ourselves, we are working for everyone. If you ferry someone across you are also taking the trip. I am the ferry boat, you are the traveler. When I embrace you, I can cross over: it’s something we do together. We carry each other in so many different ways.

Chapter 11 of the Flower Garland Sutra became so popular it was made into a book in China and Korea and given to priests. In it, the chief of knowledge asks Manjushri: how can enlightening beings use ritual to attain fine qualities, to ferry people across? He is speaking here about the six perfections (paramitas)- charity (dana), morality, patience, diligence, contemplation, and wisdom.

**Every Day Practice Vows**

How can we train our minds and liberate ourselves?

If it’s a hot day off, take off a piece of clothing, and cast off distractions. If it’s a cool day, wish that all beings could be cool, dampening down our forces of anger and desire. Whenever you come to a bridge, wish that all being could cross over. In the shower, wish that all beings could wash away stains of delusion.

Practice is not something special you do one weekend in the winter, it’s your life. Each time we encounter something it makes an intention for awakening ourselves and others. When I hear angry politicians blaming immigrants, I vow to open my heart to all who appear strange. When I see commercials offering promises of a better life, I wish that all beings will have enough.

What is the meaning of the Buddha? Absolute intimacy. There is no other. Today in meditation we sat as one sky. Each little worry or craving was like a cloud in our sky. Can we treat these arising conditions not as obstructions or distractions, but as lessons to be shared? Can we tune into what’s actually happening without turning it into another way of saying I, me, mine? Our problems and diversions are the sky, but they’re also clouds.