Winter Week 5: Jan 18-24

Join the BoWZ-Westchester Sangha via Zoom on Saturday mornings:
(Times: US Eastern)
9:45-10:00 -- Informal conversation
10:00 -- Opening Dedication, Readings, Zazen, Kinhin, Zazen
11:00 -- Sutra Service
11:15 -- Dharma Talk and Conversation
12:00 -- Closing Readings

Audio Only: telephone 646-876-9923 & Enter Meeting ID: 289 850 7899

Passcode: 468468

Sat Jan 23: Practice to be led by Meredith Garmon

Zoom with Boundless Way Zen Temple in Worcester, MA at any of these times:
Mon-Fri, 7-8am
Tue, Thu, Sun, 7-8pm
Zoom link: CLICK HERE

This video of the Heart Sutra chanted in Sino-Japanese is provided by Sangha member David Bauer:

For Winter Week 5: Jan 18-24

This Week's Reading

For Sat Jan 23:
  • Taizan Maezumi, Appreciate Your Life: The Essence of Zen Practice, "On Life and Death," p. 112.
  • See Reading Schedule.

This Week's Raven Tale

This Week's Sutras

  • For odd-numbered days, begins with Gatha of Atonement (AUDIO)
  • For even-numbered days, begins with The Three Refuges (AUDIO)
Opening Verse for Mon Dec 28 - Sun Jan 24 (11th Fourweek) (AUDIO)
  • The Fruit of the Bodhisattva Way, p. 6
Sutra Service for Week 5 (AUDIO)
  • The Compassionate Heart of Wisdome, p. 16
  • Harmony of Relative and Absolute, p. 17
  • Hakuin's Song of Zazen, p. 17
Closing Verse for Mon Dec 28 - Sun Jan 24 (11th Fourweek) (AUDIO)
  • On Zen, p. 41
  • The Four Bodhisattva Vows, p. 42

Next Week's Sutras: Winter Week 6: Jan 25-31

  • For odd-numbered days, begins with Gatha of Atonement (AUDIO)
  • For even-numbered days, begins with The Three Refuges (AUDIO)
Opening Verse for Mon Jan 25 - Sun Feb 21 (12th Fourweek) (AUDIO)
  • Into the Dark with Empty Hands, p. 6
Sutra Service for Week 6.B. (AUDIO)
  • Hakuin's Great Doubt, p. 19
  • Guidance in Zazen, p. 20
Closing Verse for Mon Jan 25 - Sun Feb 21 (12th Fourweek) (AUDIO)
  • Queen of the Lake of Awareness, p. 41
  • Save All the Beings, p. 42

Sutra Book

For printing (double-columned pages):CLICK HERE. (Page references are to this double-column version.)
For reading on your computer screen (single-column pages):CLICK HERE.
Chant Along with these Audio Files: CLICK HERE.

Home Practice

Practicing every day, or nearly every day, is a crucial aspect of the Zen path. Other central aspects include sangha (meeting weekly or so to practice with a group), and sesshin (going on occasional week-end or week-long Zen retreats).

Home practice ideally includes Zazen, study of zen text (or listening to a recording or podcast of a dharma talk), and chanting/reciting some of Zen's central texts.

  • Sitting supplies: A zabuton (mat) and either a zafu (round cushion, usually of kapok or buckwheat hulls), or a seiza bench (kneeling bench); or a chair that is your meditation chair
  • A dedicated space: A corner of a room that is used only for Zen practice, where your sitting supplies and a small altar reside
  • An altar: a small table with a Buddha statue and maybe an incense holder, candle, or sacred items.
There are many ways to structure home practice. Here's one:
  • Light a candle, stick of incense, or both, on your altar.
  • Standing in front of altar, facing it, make three bows (prostrations or standing bows) to Buddha.
  • Recite "Gatha of Atonement" (odd-numbered dates) or "The Three Refuges" (even-numbered dates);
  • Recite Dedication and Opening Verse (see Sutra Book)
  • Zazen (25 mins)
  • Recite the Sutra Service Readings for the week (see Sutra Book)
  • Dharma Study time: reading a dharma book or listening to a dharma talk recording (15-30 mins). (Check out "A Quarterly Study Plan" on the Reading/Videos page.)
  • Recite Closing Verses (see Sutra Book)

Additional Practice Opportunities

White Plains Zen Center:
Tue evenings: 7:30 PM

Hudson River Zen Center:

Insight Meditation with Nina Nagy
Mon evenings: 6 PM


Raven 154: Forgetting

Lungs know how to breathe; hearts know how to pump. No need to remember them. Forget, and they go on serving, serving the universe.

Raccoon visited Raven from Cedarford once again, and Raven welcomed him, saying, "I'm sorry I don't have your kind of food to offer you."
Raccoon said, "No problem. I come for the Dharma anyway."
Raven said, "I don't have that, either."
Racoon said, "OK, OK. But maybe you can comment on something Moose Roshi is saying these days. 'Forget to the bottom, and the bottom will serve you.'"
"I see his point," said Raven.
"How would you say it, Roshi?"
"Forget to the robin, and the robin will serve you," said Raven.



Raven 153: The Word

Sometimes you need to stare at the finger for a while before your eye turns to where the finger is pointing.

Stag Sensei invited Raven to speak to his students, and Parcupine went along as her attendant.
In their absence, Owl led the discussion but said very little.
Wolverine asked, "If truth is essentially wordless, why do we usually talk so much at these meetings?"
Woodpecker said, "Maybe we should listen to the silence between the words."
Hearing of this later, Porcupine said, "The word! The word!"



Raven 152: Power

Circulating the power (of, say, being discussion leader) is the Way.

Dao De Ka-Ching!

Owl asked, "Does the Way have its own power?"
Raven said, "It circulates."
Owl asked, "What is its path of circulation?"
Raven said, "Why don't you lead the discussion tomorrow night?"



Raven 151: The Sabbath

The Indian Poet Kabir (1440-1518), writes:
Do you believe there is some place that will make the soul less thirsty?
In that great absence you will find nothing.

Be strong then, and enter into your own body;
there you have a solid place for your feet.
Think about it carefully!
Don't go off somewhere else!

Kabir says this: just throw away all thoughts of imaginary things,
and stand firm in that which you are.
We come to Zen practice hoping it will show us a "place that will make the soul less thirsty." We can't help it. We must start somewhere, if we are the sort inclined to start, and this is where we start. Gradually, slowly, with many regressions and returns, the feeling may grow in us that there is no place that will make the soul less thristy. It is the nature of souls to thirst. Gradually, slowly, with many regressions and returns, we may throw away more of our thoughts of imaginary things, and more often stand firm in that which we are.

But if we are thinking that we are headed some place that will make the soul less thirsty, then naturally we would like others to also have the the satisfaction of such a place -- particularly our loved ones. So the question comes up: how can I encourage my partner to take up this practice? This is a thought of an imaginary thing.

Walk your path. Trust that others, including the most intimate others, are walking theirs. You might incorporate bits of their path, for the sake of walking together or because it feels right to you -- just don't think about how to get them to walk yours.

After Porcupine's final response to Wolverine, Mole spoke up.
He said, "I have something quite different to ask about. My spouse is not the least bit interested in our practice. Is there something I can do to encourage her?"
Raven asked, "What does interest her?"
Mole said, "She likes to go over to the Little Church in the Grotto and listen to the sermons."
Raven said, "Keep the Sabbath."



Raven 150: Sameness

Same yet different. Different yet same. Like the seasons. Like sleeping and waking. Like joining the circle or holding oneself outside.

Wolverine began attending meetings on a fairly regular basis, joining the circle instead of holding herself outside.
One evening she asked, "If everything is essentially the same, how is it that winter follows fall, and spring follows winter?"
Raven said, "I defer to Porcupine."
Porcupine said, "I defer to Black Bear."
Wolverine said, "Black Bear? He's off snoozing until spring."
Porcupine said, "Well?"
Wolverine said nothing.



Raven 149: Non Sequitur

The opposite of truth is also true. Without Buddha there would be no dew. These are conceptual abstractions -- intellectual baubles. They can be fun to play with, but aren't going to help you. Raven cuts to the concrete: Snacks! No snacks!

The issue before us -- as, in Zen, it always is -- is the concrete fact. Woodpecker's excursion into abstraction is the non sequitur.

It's rather a striking turn of phrase, though. Without Buddha, no dew.

Kind of a tasty snack at that.

That evening Woodpecker asked, "I've heard that without Buddha there would be no dew on the grass. What doyou think?
Raven said, "Tonight we're all out of snacks."
Woodpecker said, "You're full of non sequiturs these days."
Raven said, "Ah, Woodpecker, you should talk."



Raven 148: All Truths

If the snacks are good, what better response could there be to any idea than to have a snack?

Owl dropped by one afternoon and asked Raven, "I've heard that the opposite of truth is also true. What do you think of this idea?"
Raven said, "Let's have a snack."
Owl said, "Aren't you devaluing my question?"
Raven said, "Not at all. We have fresh grubs today."


Raven 147: The Acorn

How could you say there was anything that couldn't be expressed in words? As soon of you'd said what it was, you've expressed it. Even to say, "It's ineffable" is to eff it.

You might say, "But some things are not completely expressed." True enough, but adding "completely" reverses the situation. Changing the question from "Is there anything that can't be expressed in words?" to "Is there anything that can't be completely expressed in words?" changes the answer from "nothing" to "everything." Everything can be expressed, and nothing can be completely expressed.

So the living question for us is: given the infinite expressibility of every object, phenomena, or experience, when do we say, "that's enough" -- and when do we heap our plates with detailed expression?

John Keats spoke of "negative capability" -- which he said meant being "capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason." Or, we might say: "content with a vague, imprecise allusion without any irritable reaching after more concrete or detailed expression."

To go further, let us recognize that it's misleading to say that every expression is incomplete, which suggests that expressions are partial -- as if, by accumulating more and more expression, one could asymptotically approach completeness. It's not that expressions inherently reveal only a part of the reality. It's that expressions always and inherently hide as much as they reveal. Indeed, they conceal exactly as much as they reveal. Necessarily. Such recognition strengthens our negative capability.

Woodpecker asked, "Is there anything that can't be expressed in words?"
Raven said, "Nothing."
Woodpecker asked, "Even the ineffable experience of the Buddha under the Bodhi tree?"
Raven said, "The morning star."
Porcupine said, "There's a kernel in that acorn."
Woodpecker asked, "How can I get at it?"
Porcupine said, "Come on, Woodpecker! What's that chisel beak for?"


Raven 146: Intelligence

How do you depend on it? Intelligence, humor, health and physical fitness, your eyesight, hearing, legs, arms. Any of these: how do you depend on it?

During a question period, Mole asked, "How important is intelligence to the practice?"
Raven asked, "How do you use it?"
Mole said, "As best I can with what it is."
Raven asked, "How do you depend on it?"
"You know," said Mole, "I really don't depend on it very much at all."
Raven bobbed her head silently.


Raven 145: The Train

Be in touch with your essential nature (as if that were possible!), or be out of touch with your essential nature (as if that were possible!) -- but what's the point of saying so? Saying it is just words. Show us how you live it (if possible), or don't (if possible). Show us your (and you're) humus.

Wolverine spoke up during the question period one evening and said, "I am finally in touch with my essential nature. It has been hidden all this time."
Wolverine said, "It's my basic nature, the source of my inspiration."
Raven said, "My, my."
Wolverine said, "It's beyond all ideas of life and death."
Porcupine said, "More like the train beyond Cedarford."
Mole asked, "What do you mean?"
Porcupine said, "It never seems to break down."
Wolverine put her head on her paws.
Next day, Woodpecker spoke to Owl about this. "I thought Porcupine was bristly toward Wolverine last night," she said.
"Yes, said Owl, "Porcupine was being Procupine. But you know, Wolverine did break down at last."


Raven 144: Bowing

"Humiliate," "humility," and "humble" all originate from the Latin humus, meaning Earth (hence, lowly, on the ground). "Human" (earthling, earthly being) also comes from humus

So it's worth remembering, that when Buddha was questioned on what authority he had to be teaching as he did, he responded by placing a pointing finger on the Earth.

Gray Wolf spoke up after zazen one evening and said, "Isn't it undignified to bow before the Buddha? I always feel rather humiliated."
Raven said, "Not enough."


Raven 143: Love

Aldous Huxley wrote:
“Of all the worn, smudged, dog’s-eared words in our vocabulary, ‘love’ is surely the grubbiest, smelliest, slimiest. Bawled from a million pulpits, lasciviously crooned through hundreds of millions of loud-speakers, it has become an outrage to good taste and decent feeling, an obscenity which one hesitates to pronounce. And yet it has to be pronounced, for, after all, Love is the last word.”
If you suppose that Mole has not yet learned the last word, look again.

Mole spoke up one evening and asked, "Why don't we ever talk about love in our discussions?"
Raven asked, "What would you like to say about love?"
Mole stared back at Raven and was silent.


Raven 142: Too Soon

In #11, Brown Bear recommended that Raven "try camping out for a while." In #12 we learn that she took this instruction to heart: "She wandered a long time, from forests to upland meadows to icy lakes." It was a time of pilgrimage and solitary practice -- which life fundamentally always is, in any case.

Woodpecker asked, "When Brown Bear said you should camp out for a while, was there anything underlying his words?"
Raven said, "Woodpecker!"
Woodpecker said, "Yes?"
Raven hung her head and turned away, saying "Ah, too soon."


Raven 141: Risks

How can there be learning when what you already are is the truth? And if there is learning, how can there be a teacher when you can only learn from yourself? How can there be sangha?
We may fool ourselves that we are coping -- as if there were such a thing as not coping.

Porcupine came to consult with Raven and said, "I'm beginning to see the risks in being a teacher."
Raven said, "They're built in."
Porcupine asked, "How do you cope?"
Raven drew herself up and said, "Don't accuse me of coping!"