You are the answer.

teisho 738 (2000)

It is not enough that we have a good practice on the mat. We need to be able to bring our practice into everyday life. We need to stay present in activity. It doesn’t matter what you are doing, whether you are working in the garden, washing dishes, adding up columns of figures, sewing, one must pay full attention to what is being done.   Maintain an attitude that expounds the dharma through the most trivial activity.

There is a deep, natural, creative power.  This is what you are fundamentally.  Talking, walking, eating, all are governed by this creative power. By being attentive and open to what is happening at the moment, one sweeps away obstructions to the natural operation of this power.

How can we find our way home?   This is the question that everyone doing zazen is asking.  It is not often asked in those words, but rather in a feeling of anguish, incompleteness, dissatisfaction.  Our whole life really is asking this question.

The questioning is inarticulate;  it is the expression of the fullness that we are, imprisoned in the limitations of the mind. When we give this a verbal expression, such as ‘Who am I?’ or ‘What is Mu?’, it gives it a focus, a direction.

We need to allow the deeper questioning to come up at the same time as we ask, ‘who am I?’  Then the question loses its verbal clarity, but direction has now been given.  One should not look for an answer, a response – you are the answer.  The only fact that you can be sure of is that you are.  Have faith in yourself, allow the truth ‘I am’ to ring out.  Because I am, everything is possible.  The world resides in the openness of I am.

Posted in Teisho | Leave a comment

Just be

teisho 1286 (2012)

Nisargadatta says: “All experience is transient, but the ground of all experience is immovable.”

Any experience, no matter how sublime, how profound, how revealing, is still an experience, and as such it is not the ground of experience. We cannot experience reality.  Reality is not a quality, like a colour, a shape, or a sound.  When we talk about the world, we talk about reality.  The world is reality.  This is not to say the world is real.  Awakening is reality, we do not awaken to reality.  Awakening is the world, the world is awakening.  As long as you believe that there is awakening, and then an experience, an insight or self that one awakens to, one is lost in an illusion. All experience is transitory, but you are not. You do not come and you do not go.

We have the question, “What am I?”   and in that question lies a trap.  And in fact it is to set the trap that the koan is given. We ask “what am I?” and the implication is that there is an I or I am to be found, to be awakened to, or to be discovered. And we determine to solve this problem in the same way as we have dealt with and solved so many problems in life. But it is this method of resolving problems that has tied you up into so many knots. To continue in that same vein will only entangle you more.

Nisargadatta says: “nothing that may be called an event will last.  Some events help purify the mind and some stain it, adding more confusion.”

It is difficult to come to awakening because you are not prepared to question your basic assumption, which is ‘I can do it.’  It may be difficult, it may take a long time, but I can do it.  If that is not the way, if that leads into a blind alley, what is a viable alternative? This is the question.  This is what you should be asking when you ask ‘What am I?’ What is a viable alternative to ‘I can do it’?  How can you see into what is really meaningful?  What is really worthwhile?

Most people do not know that there can be an end to pain.  Does that mean an absence of pain? Awakening is the end of that sense that I am something and that something is pain. There is nothing to do, just be. The condition of timeless perfection, to which nothing can be added and nothing taken away, is your state right now.  This is you right now.  You simply change stations, like when you have a radio and the programme is very poor, so you change stations. The radio stays as it always has been, you simply tune into a different wavelength. This is what is meant when it is said that there is nothing that needs to be done.  You don’t have to take the radio to pieces or buy another one, the radio stays the same.

The aroused mind is not something you can make happen, it is your natural state. What you can do is cloud the aroused mind, bring about a tangle of yes and no.  And all your efforts to come to awakening simply cloud the mind more. Just be.   There is no technique or practice to do this. It is the immediacy, a fearless jump into the truth that is called for.  Just be.

Posted in Teisho | 2 Comments

Prajna Paramita Hridaya

teisho 1116    (2008)

Hridaya – that which is basic to it all.  It all goes back to I am.  You cannot pin it down, you cannot say ‘that is it’.  You cannot say anything definitive, but that does not mean to say that you cannot say anything. There is often the belief that if one cannot say everything, one shouldn’t say anything. But it is how we use words that is significant. If one approaches what is in an open way, one realises that there can be no beginning or end.

Pra means aroused, na means primordial awareness, primordial knowing, primordial openness. So Prajna means aroused awareness, aroused knowing.  But this does not mean aroused once or twice, it means this is the nature of knowing.  You cannot say that knowing is, it is not an ongoing condition, it is not a substratum, or background.  And yet it is continuous.  This seems to be a contradiction, but it is only a contradiction when we try to seize it, nail it down.The word prajna is an invitation to be open to what is.  It is pointing us to an alive vital state.

Paramita traditionally means ‘to the other shore.’  Buddha’s teaching was likened to a raft that one rode on to cross to the other shore, which we usually look on as ‘over there.’  But with Paramita the other shore is ‘I am.’   The other shore is here already;  it is not a journey, it is an arrival.

One could say that Prajna Paramita is the source.  From the source, all beings are Buddha. As the source, as the origin, all beings are Buddha. As the origin, all beings are aroused knowing.

Dogen said that one must think the unthinkable. This does not mean moving around words and ideas, it is going to the heart of the matter, it is giving the mind to, not something over there, but what is already here.

The Bodhisattva of compassion, as opposed to the Arhat who is the one who has stepped off the wheel of birth and death, foregoes entry into nirvana and takes on the suffering of the world. This looks as though the Bodhisattva of compassion is the ultimate in altruism, but it would be a mistake to view it in this way.  Bodhi means knowing.  You could say Bodhi stands to Prajna like the sun stands to the rays of the sun.  Bodhi is the brilliance of the sun, of the light.   Sattva is being.  Bodhisattva, knowing which is its own being; being which is its own knowing.  We talk about this as fundamental reality.  When we ask ‘what is reality?’ we are talking about Bodhisattva.

The Bodhisattva is not a person, but anyone who seriously practices the way is bodhisattva. This is not saying that the person is a bodhisattva, but that the seriousness of the practice is bodhisattva.

One must go where it all begins.  It is not something which is known or knowable, not something which stands apart, it is not something that can be felt;  it is the bodhisattva of compassion.

When we see there is no I that suffers, we sunder the bonds of suffering. The I suffers because there is an implicit acclaim of being separate, distinct, unique.  We do not come to an end of suffering, we come to an end of I.  As long as I want to free myself from suffering, inevitably I will suffer.  As long as we look on suffering as the problem, we perpetuate our suffering.  When we see that I am the problem, then it is no longer the problem.

Posted in Teisho | Leave a comment

Peace of mind

teisho 1025  (2006)

The big danger with practice is that it becomes a habit;  we do it because we do it. The wellspring of discontent and dissatisfaction, of yearning, can so easily dry up in the sands of habit.  Opening again to the source is therefore an essential element in the practice.

It is unwise to ask ‘why am I doing this?’ for it can so easily lead to ‘I am doing this because.’  The best answer to this question is ‘I don’t know.’  But this can become a cheap way out of the effort required to arouse the mind in such a way that the contradictions, uncertainties and anxieties can be clearly seen.

Possibly one of the most common reasons given for practicing is to gain peace of mind. We want this as a kind of veneer, to cover up and obscure what is really at issue.  We need to enter into the pain and suffering of life without any kind of protection; we need to allow what is to be, without trying to manipulate it, interfere with it, deal with it, or direct it towards a specific end.  To seek peace is like taking a broom and trying to sweep back the sea as the waves come crashing in. There is no such thing as peace of mind.  Mind means disturbance and restlessness.

When we practice and try to bring about some kind of change, this is just a continuation of the restlessness of the mind. The wish to do something about our situation is part of that situation.

It is said one needs great faith to practice. Great faith opens up the mind that seeks the way. And the mind that seeks the way is the full expression of great faith. But it takes humility to allow the practice to practice. And it takes courage. One of the difficulties is that when the practice is aroused in us, we have a sense of being more; we feel fuller, richer, and we can mistake that for progress on the way. If we continue to practice, that richness and fullness starts to dry up, because we are beginning to get beyond the need for a sense of self.  We begin to get beyond the feeling of being. One way to put this is that in the darkness of night, a candle is very valuable; but in the morning the sun rises and the light of the candle begins to lose its attraction.

You get up in the morning and go to bed at night, what happens in between? It is as though there is a blue sky over-arching it all; what goes on under that sky doesn’t really matter.  At the time it matters a great deal, but even the worst moments in our lives in retrospect loose most of their sting. And the sky over-arches it all. The agony, the pain, the humiliation, the shame, matters at the time, but it dissolves, it melts away, but the sky ………

It takes courage to open oneself and allow in the ravages of our karma.  Don’t be afraid of your fear, don’t be depressed by your depression or anxious about your anxiety.  What is this mind that is so restless, what is this pain that is so insistent?  If it is the restless mind that is searching for peace, how can you get beyond it?  When you ask ‘what am I?’  or ‘what is Mu?’ you are searching for that mind. And, like the second Patriarch, cannot find it anywhere.

Posted in Teisho | Leave a comment

A seeing that is being

Teisho 1238  (2010)

Buddha said, ‘Life is suffering.’ Suffering is the very fabric of life. One can liken life to a tapestry: experience is the warp, suffering is the weft. Once one realises that pain and suffering are a manifestation of the awakened mind, then we begin to realise that there is a truth and reality that transcends any kind of truth or reality that comes through intellectual  knowledge.  But we must remember that there are degrees of awakening. Very often the initial awakening is quite shallow, just ‘ah yes!’  But now you know what it is you are seeking, and one’s doubts are gone.

Gurdjieff used to call his way ‘the way of the sly man.’  In other words, a way that is not obvious, a way that others would not recognize as being a way. But it must be based on sincerity. And it is not something one can do tomorrow. Tomorrow is a disease, a disease that grows. There is no tomorrow, there never will be a tomorrow.  It is now, right now, that is all there ever is or will be. It is only now that you can come to awakening, only now that you can work. Let go of all the excuses.  In this state all desires and fears are absent, not because they were given up, but because they have lost their meaning.

A questioner asks Nisargadatta “what do I need to do?’   And he replies, ‘There is nothing that needs to be done, just be.’  The finest demonstration of all koans is drinking a cup of tea and making oneself comfortable. You don’t have to change anything, get rid of anything, you don’t have to see into anything, to know anything, just be.   Not ‘be yourself’ – just be.

If you are asking ‘what am I?’ intelligently, then little by little you will be stripping away all that you are not.  We live normally with the assurance that there is a world of things. And we are also convinced that we are something that lives in this world. This is not wrong, but at the same time it is not complete. There is another way to see. A seeing that is being. One’s orientation changes.  As long as we are caught up in things, with oneself as a thing amongst them, then one is always wondering how it all fits together, what one needs to do, how to understand it.  When one wakes up as the whole, one sees everything is meaningful, everything is OK.

There are no steps to awakening.  As long as you believe there is a path, a method, you will be constantly experimenting, trying this way and that, reading this book and that book, going to different teachers. Once you realise there are no steps, it changes the way you practice.  There are no steps to awakening, there is nothing gradual about it.

You are the whole.  You are not a part of something, a part of the whole.  You are whole and complete. Being the whole does not mean there is just beauty, light and love; there is also darkness, difficulty and pain.  But as T.S.Eliot said, ‘you see it as though for the first time.’  The other side of suffering is creativity; it now becomes the source of inspiration for living life creatively.

Posted in Teisho | Leave a comment

The Immutable

teisho 683  (1999)

When we ask ‘what is Mu?’ and ‘what am I?’ these are not questions in the ordinary sense of the term.  Normally when we ask a question we are wanting information. At a deeper level, we are trying to set the mind at rest, as we believe that by doing so we would live a better life, be a better person. But the mind does not need to be put at rest, does not need to find peace.  It is itself peace.  It is not at peace, it is peace.

By asking ‘what is Mu?’ or ‘what am I?’ you are dissolving all possibility of seeking something.  One must practice with great intensity, because unless one seeks with all   one’s being one cannot go beyond the seeking and see into the truth, that there is nothing that needs to be done. But this does not mean that one must do nothing; one must go beyond doing, not fall short of it. You must exhaust all the resources of your being, which means you must explore every possibility of doing, every possibility of finding an answer, every possibility of being something.

If we are searching for peace, we are generating restlessness; and if we try to stop searching for peace, we create more restlessness. The searching is important, one must not stop searching. It is the searching for something which is the problem.

Dogen asked: “If we are already home, already at one with everything that is, why do we need to struggle to realize this?” This is the kind of contradiction that needs to be the motive power when you are asking ‘what is Mu?’ or ‘what am I?’  To enter into confusion is very painful and we are unable to sustain it for any length of time. This is what sesshin is for, to give the possibility and help to do this.  Enter into whatever is offered; this is how you do without doing, this is how you seek without seeking something. This is how you question without wanting a particular response: one uses the questioning to be open to what is. Everything that comes up is you, is Mu, and yet you are not something, Mu is not something.

How can one have more faith in oneself? Changes by themselves cannot bring change. The real does not have a beginning.  What is it that is beginningless and endless?  What does not come and go?  What is it that is not born and cannot die? Come home to the immutable; it is already fulfilled, it is not in the process of being fulfilled.

Posted in Teisho | Leave a comment


teisho 1125 (2008)

It is the need to exist, the insistence on existence, that is the source of our suffering. Existence comes from two words:  ex-which means outside of, and then sistere, to stand. So existence is to stand outside, and it is this need to stand outside that is the source of our suffering.  It is standing outside of ourselves that is the real key. Standing outside of ourselves arises from the creation of the world that we undertake. The sense of self stands at the center of the world we create.  Being at the center, being the one, is the key to existence.

Nisargadatta is asked: ‘When the body dies, do you remain?’  And he replies, ‘Nothing dies.  The body is just imagined, there is no such thing.’  We chant the Prajna Paramita: ‘No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind…’  In other words, we are affirming this illusory nature.  Ultimately the Prajna Paramita is the chant of death. If you are going to see into What am I? you must see truly into death.

Nisargadatta is then asked: ‘when you die, we will see your body cremated. that will be our experience of your death.  What will your experience of death be?’  And he answers: ‘Time will come to an end.’  This is called the great death, the death of time.   The questioner asks, ‘ Does that mean the world and its content will come to an end.?’ Nisargardatta replies, ‘The world is your personal experience, how can it be affected?’

When a person dies, time comes to an end for that person. But what kind of death is this? We have said that seeing into yourself is the same as seeing into death. It is seeing into the illusory sense of the self which is at issue. When we consider death and it brings up fear, we are considering nothing, negation, annihilation.   The thrust to exist, the need to be one, special, unique, is negated by the fear of death, there is no longer the ability to affirm an absolute self. Yet it is that need to affirm an absolute self that is behind our idea of ourselves.  There is the sense that death is the greatest mystery, but the mystery of death is the mystery of what it means to be, not what it means to die.

The great mystery is I am. Beyond the thrust to existence, giving it vitality and life, is I am.  It is the apparent negation of that which cannot be negated, that which is beyond existence, which is the mystery. How can that which cannot be negated be negated by death?  When we put it in those terms, we see the mystery crumble because the negation is an idea.  I am is the reality.   When we ask Who am I?, if one is really serious with this question, it is inevitable that it can bring about a great sense of unease, even anxiety and fear.

What we call the world is that which is encompassed by your immediate experience. Your world consists of memories, of fears and hopes.  You might have been giving a talk for two hours.  Where has it gone when it is finished?  When you have a thought and then that thought no longer exists, where has it gone?   Now you are dying, where has it all gone?  If life is your experience, where does that experience go when you die?  At death, the beginning, middle and end of life are merged together, it is the end of time.  Time has come to a stop; it was, but is no more.

We think that because we die there is no longer life; and because we live, there is not yet death.  Is it possible that life is the body of death?  In which case, what we call death is no longer a dark empty hole, but a brilliant, scintillating light of life.  Immortality is freedom from the feeling I am.   But this is not extinction. On the contrary, it is a state infinitely more real, aware and happy than you can possibly imagine.  Only existence is no more. Existence comes out of the sense of self.

Many feel that their feelings are the truth, and the feeling I am is often confused with the truth.  But the truth I am is beyond all feeling.  As it says in the Prajna Paramita, it is beyond consciousness itself.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


teisho 1229  (2010)

What am I?  One of the main problems we have is that we do not know how to ask this question in a meaningful way.  It is possible to hear this question, or read it, or for someone to give you the question and tell you to work with it, and to never get beyond the words and concepts that support the words.

You are not an experience, you are not a thing. You must go beyond thoughts, ideas, images – anything that can be known is not you.  Everything we know and can talk about comes from experience, from some kind of encounter.

That which is beyond the mind and its language, is indescribable. Is it possible for  reality to have no quality, no form, no color, sound, taste, touch? How can we ask about  this in a meaningful way?

First there must be the recognition that the question is a real one.  And yet, in that the question is posed in words and thoughts, it is meaningless.  Once we enter into the question ‘what am i?’ we are asking a meaningless question, because the essence of the question, I am, cannot be questioned in this way.

When you are working with this question, you must recognize the twist. We normally think that if there is a question we can ask with sufficient clarity and determination to get an answer, then we will eventually get a positive response. But this is not the case when you work with the question ‘What am I?’   One has to see into the meaninglessness of the question.

Questioning is an experience itself, one can say that it comes from the mind.  How can a process of the mind transcend the mind?   The only way that this is possible is if the questioner already transcends the mind. It is the questioner that is forgotten.  You forget yourself constantly, and then you seek to find yourself.   So the twist is not in the question, it is in you.   You ignore that which you are questioning. You put it on one side, and then you look to find it.   How can one break through the barrier and know what it means to be immutable, unchanging?  This leads us into the heart of the matter.  The mind is like a seething, changing, surging ocean. The word immutable is the bridge.  Explore it, look at it from all directions, dive into it with earnest perseverance.  But if you have already forgotten yourself when you do this, it will be useless.

It is said to practice Zen you need great faith, great doubt and great perseverance. Nirsargadatta says one needs great doubt and earnest perseverance;  he takes for granted that I am is participating in this, that I am is not forgotten.

You are asking a question that has already been answered, whatever your question is. Arouse the mind that seeks the way, this is the mind of faith.  It starts from where it wants to go.  You are already immutable.  You are already unchanging, but this does not mean that you are fixed. We take it there is an enduring being, and we take unchanging to mean ‘always the same.’  But it is far more subtle than that.  One could say that that which changes never changes, that is why it is immutable.  It is letting go of the underpinning to existence which is the hardest challenge of all.   I am is not a fixed condition, always the same. This is why I am happy, I am sad, I am walking, I am speaking, I am sleeping.  There is nothing that puts you into action, your very nature is action.  Buddha nature is impermanence.   One is looking for an underpinning, a foundation, a ground to our being.   But it is only when we rid ourselves of the ground of being that we can hope to be free.

The question ‘what am I?; is a shortened version of the question ‘what is my face before my parents were born?’  But there was no before in terms of time.  ‘From the beginning all beings are Buddha.’   But the beginning is not in time, the beginning is always now. And the before is always now.

The question, ‘what is my face before my parents were born?’ cuts away anything and everything, including  an historical occurrence.  Take away everything, all being, all I am, all I know, take it all away – then you have  ‘before my parents were born’.  What is there now?  It is not nothing.  You negate yourself, and then ask ‘What am I?’  But isn’t that what the question asks, for you to negate everything?  But you start off believing you are something, believing you must have a cause, something that brought you into existence.  But nothing has brought you into existence because you have not been brought into existence.

Questioning is essential because it is the very thrust of existence, of life.  The thrust of life is to transcend itself, life is always struggling to go beyond life. But as long as you look in terms of what is, what exists, in terms of something, you have stepped out of the picture. The word itself is the bridge, remember it, think of it, explore it, look at it from all directions. If you simply ask a question in such a way that you are seeking an answer, it is a waste of time.  But if you start by recognizing that the questioning is already that which you are seeking, that it is life itself asking the question, then it is within the question that you are going to awaken.   The question comes from you, you are already the question.  But you have dissipated it in the sands of ignorance.  When you question What am I? you are remembering. To remember is to collect together. it is coming home, it is collecting together again. You are not asking about something outside yourself, you must start where you are, because anything that is there at the moment is already it.

Endure all delays and disappointments, because you are working with the impossible. If you work with the possible, you are simply continuing with what is a false start.  Suddenly the mind turns around away from the word towards the reality beyond the word.  But this beyond is not on the other side, it is here. The mind suddenly wakes up to the realization, it is here all the time.

Nisargadatta says, ‘words are valuable because between the word and its meaning there is a link. and if one investigates the word assiduously, one crosses beyond the concept to the experience at the root of it, which is you.’  Practice is the persistent attempt to cross from the verbal to the non verbal.




Posted in Teisho | Leave a comment


These blogs are usually prepared from a teisho.  This one is different, it is an extract from Albert’s comments in Genjokoan by Zen Master Dogen.

A friend had been taken by the previous blog on allowing.   Her husband recently came across more words on allowing in the above booklet and drew it to her attention.  I had not found this booklet previously easy to read but took it up to find what they had found.   In case any of you have had my difficulty and missed this, I decided to type it out and publish it separately as a blog.


The basic illusion that we have is the illusion of existence, which is the illusion of separation: the illusion that the reflections can be separated from the mirror.  To reach out to the world implies that the world is ‘over there’,  apart, separate from my seeing it.  We are constantly reaching out: reaching out to something, to know something, to do something, to have something. This is to see the world as having an independent reality, a reality towards which we reach.

To allow the world to come to you is awakening.  To reach is intentional: one reaches in order to get, to find, to know, or have something.  To allow is to be receptive, actively open to the possibility.  To allow is not a passive state.  It is not ‘acceptance’ ‘surrender’ or ‘not doing anything’.   To allow requires intense vigilance. Without vigilance we constantly slip back into reaching out.   Allowing also requires that we do not interfere.

Practice is to allow.  You can control the breath – slow the breath down, or lengthen the out-breath.  Or alternatively, you could sit and wait for something to happen.  But also you could allow the breath to flow while remaining vigilant.

In his book, All and Everything Gurdjieff writes of the need for non-desires to predominate over desires, and Hubert Benoit writes of the ‘non-will to experience’.  These are different ways of talking about allowing. In his book, Zen in the art of Archery Eugene Herrigel says that the master taught that one had to release the arrow, but not intentionally, one must allow the arrow to be released.

To be able to allow one must fully realize that nothing needs to be done.

Posted in General | 2 Comments

What am I?

teisho 1234 (2013)

‘I am’ and the question ‘what am I?’ are fundamental. Our very life is a question. There is this constant onward thrust;  life is not static, needing to be put into action by outside forces. All life is inherently active, dynamic.

This dynamism constantly assumes a form: as a flower, a fish, a bird.   In a human being it takes the form of words, thoughts.  When a person asks “what am I?” they look to the words, they look for the meaning of the words.  They look for the meaning of the words “I am.”  But words do not have meaning, meaning has words. What meaning is there that seeks to find expression in the words “I am”?

One has to look at being itself.  What does it mean to be?  This is a special kind of question, because as long as you stay at the level of words or thoughts, concepts or feeling, it is not going to get you very far. Being itself will constantly escape you, because you cannot stand outside being and look at it.

One needs to come home to the truth ‘I am’.  When you do, you do not come to something, to some separate, isolated, unique and different form. The only answer is ‘I am the world.’  The realized person thinks, acts and feels together, not in a dislocated and fractured way.   When Buddha said “when I was awakened, the whole world was awakened with me,” this is another way of saying “I am.”   At the beginning of his verse, Hakuin emphasizes ‘All beings are Buddha.’  All beings are this dynamic living flow.

We are not something.  We take form, but that does not mean we are something. My understanding takes form in words, but that does not mean to say my understanding is words.

There was a paper delivered by a professor at a university, in which he was criticizing the Zen tradition.  He said that Zen Budhists now devote their time to coming to some ineffable experience called Kensho.   Are we simply looking for some experience, some sort of psychological high?   The professor also said that the ethical side of Buddhism has been lost.  That the search for awakening has taken such dominance that the ethical teaching of the arousing of compassion has been lost sight of.  Is this true?

Awakening is not an ineffable experience.  If you have worked hard and long enough, there is joy upon awakening.  But that is not what it is about.  The joy goes.  It is that one now sees the world in a different way, no longer in constant opposition. One can honestly say ‘I am the world.’  Awakening is not an end, the end of work. The work continues, but in the light.

Zazen is a kind of involvement; if one’s mind tends to wander,  a zazen posture can be very helpful. But whether one sits in a special position, or whether one walks or sits in an armchair, if one is involved in this way, concerned in this way, that is zazen.

Posted in Teisho | 1 Comment