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From the Mouth of Matsuoka Roshi

Matsuoka Roshi"Be careful of that one little thing that you allow yourself... that is what will get you."

This particular quote from Matsuoka Roshi, which I heard him say only once, came to mind when a student (who shall remain anonymous) sent an email (this term will soon date this writing) with the heading "Gloriously drunk," in which he made clear, directly and via typos, that he had been out drinking whiskey to the point that he had overdone it. He was clearly a happy drunk — a giddy tone and lack of anger came shining through. I thanked him and told him I was honored that he thought of me in his inebriated condition. I went on, as is my wont, to mention that Master Dogen said, "When we take the tonsure (shave the head) we are already intoxicated." And so that drugs and alcohol are what in Zen is called a "head upon a head" — substance intoxication on top of sensory intoxication. But the next morning I got the hangover memo. Like most things in life, we observe the Precepts in retrospect, when we have broken them. The hangover is merely the immediate consequence, Karmic though it may seem in its magnitude at the time.

I speak from experience here. My father was afraid to let himself drink, as he thought he would become an alcoholic, and as the leader of a jazz band playing night clubs, he saw a lot of the downside of inebriation. He told me that we are part Choctaw — somewhere there is a photo of a great-great-great matriarch of the family, and she is definitely Native American — and a couple of his father's generation had become serious alcoholics. I have learned to avoid the firewater myself, as I have learned from hard and embarrassing experience.

But Matsuoka Roshi was not speaking of the dangers of alcohol as a prohibition; nor was he warning us away from anything specific. He was indicating, I think, that when we practice Zen we tend to get the big head. Our practice — particularly of zazen, which is very demanding, done right — can be misinterpreted, in that we may come to believe that since we are so diligent and disciplined in this one area, that we can permit a little slackness in other areas of our life. We can afford a little drink now and then, for instance, as our Zen meditation is so sobering. This applies to anything, not just booze. It could be sex, drugs, rock and roll; a little larceny here and there; a minor violation of one of the less important precepts... Practicing a little secret vice, rather than secret virtue, when no one else is around.

Whatever it is, if we find ourselves indulging again and again, and rationalizing our behavior (a little "white" lie) — it is going to get us in the end. If we are prepared to suffer the consequences of our actions, it makes no difference, of course. But that attitude presumes that we know the consequences, a priori, of allowing ourselves that "one little thing."

"Oh — not much wisdom here!"

One Sunday when O-Sensei and I were walking to the Seminary Diner on Halsted and Fullerton after zazen, I mentioned that I had a terrible headache, a hangover from drinking sake and beer the night before, when a group of us were out for dinner. He immediately said the above, laughing. He clearly had no hangover, even though he had had at least as much to drink as I had, and a much lower BMI. I had to be topping an eight of a ton at the time. So how did his "wisdom" prevent his having a hangover?

This incident recalls for me a Zen master (I think maybe Suzuki Roshi) who pointed out that a baby can cry and cry, without getting hoarse. He suggested that the reason is that there is no resistance in the infant's wailing. It just cries, full throttle.

Most of us are resisting all the time, whatever we are doing. You can see it in the joggers who invade the streets and sidewalks in my neighborhood on a daily basis. Some are just running full-tilt, all-out. Others look like they are trying not to run, actually, wincing with every step, or otherwise illustrating with body language that they are — yes, running — but really would rather not be running at the moment. But they seem to feel they have to. So perhaps my hangover was a side effect of some kind of resistance to the alcohol, and its effects, in and on my body. Perhaps Matsuoka Roshi had no resistance anywhere. Ergo, no hangover.

"Too precious!"

On another occasion when imbibing alcohol was involved, a senior student and I were traveling in Japan, and were treated to dinner by friends of Matsuoka Roshi. They were the number one and number two men (J. satcho and butcho, respectively) of Mitsui-Busan, at that time the largest export company in Japan, we were told, if memory serves. Satcho was a very senior guy, and had that air of confidence associated with being in command. Butcho seemed a bit of a rascal, with a quick and sardonic-sounding laugh, about the same age as Satcho, with long, rather unkempt graying hair, and sporting a goatee, which I took as a sign of status, facial hair being a rarity in Japan business circles. Two others rounded out the standard quartet of the top management party: the translator and the gofer. The former was a tall, elegant and eloquent gentleman, fluent in English, maybe forty-ish; the latter a rather jolly, younger fellow, who seemed happy to open doors and in general look after everything the top dogs might need. I was given to understand, and had confirmed many years later by an ex-patriate client architect from Japan, that daily bouts of carousing and drinking were the norm in the Japanese business community; getting drunk together apparently fostered bonding, and gave the boss a chance to get to know the real you. This, it turns out, is a cultural meme in the business class, endemic among the "salary men," as testified to the many suits we witnessed, red-faced and loading up on ramen or other noodles in the shops each evening, before taking the train home. The noodles apparently absorb much of the alcohol. Then next day, here we go again.

The point of this story is that, as the party moved from the beer and sake with sushi (first and only time I have eaten "puffer fish," the famous and deadly, colorless an nearly transparent raw fish that can only be served by licensed chefs, owing to its extremely poisonous glands), when inhibitions began to subside, the businessmen, knowing that we were involved in Zen, began to chant various verses from the Japanese liturgy, which I and my companion also knew, so we began to join in. It must have been a strange sight and sound to behold, these two Americans, with five Japanese gentlemen chanting ancient and arcane religious teachings in medieval Japanese language (J. Nihongo).

Matsuoka Roshi, who had not joined in the rather raucous chanting, at one point leaned over and with a grin whispered into my ear, loudly enough that I could hear him over the din, "Too precious!"

I took this more as a teaching than an admonition or criticism, and slacked off the chanting; the others soon followed suit. Sensei issued several variations on this theme over the years, all conveying the same balance between normal, everyday activity, such as chit chat or gossip, and the respect he had for Zen, which was unassailable. He admonished us against trivializing Zen by engaging in casual conversation about it, as well as humoring others by indulging their propensity for discussing it as an interesting, but inherently intellectual subject. He especially warned against ever arguing about it with others, whose disrespectful comments or behavior he would sometimes dismiss with a curt "ignorant." He frequently summed up this latter point determinatively:

"Zen is not up for debate."

"Very precious!"

Another moment when Sensei dropped a brief statement and moved on without comment came when we were cleaning (J. soji, which I never heard him say; he used samu, "working" instead) the temple in Chicago. He kept a box of rags under the sink, neatly torn into small pieces, about 4 inches square. These we used instead of the now-ubiquitous paper towels, for which acres of forest are regularly harvested. While cleaning the table, one scrap fell to the floor. Bending swiftly to retrieve it, Sensei said, almost under his breath, "Very precious."

That stuck with me as a Zen view of the preciousness of all things. Unfortunately, in the cynical and ironic vernacular of today, saying that something is precious is used as a snarky put-down, much like Dana Carvey's "isn't that special" from Saturday Night Live's Church Lady. I took Sensei's meaning to be broad and deep. Amongst other associations, his gesture and comment seemed to point to forgetting the self. If even a worthless scrap of cloth is very precious, all things other take on a different value. A turning point (J. yoki) in coming to appreciate our life on a deeper level means turning away from the built-in preciousness of the preconceived self.

Many years later, during one of my visits to Long Beach Zen Temple, where Sensei had relocated in 1970, the same year I moved to Atlanta, I recounted this story to his students who were there that Sunday for zazen, inadvertently betraying my effusive feelings as to its profound meaning. When we turned to Matsuoka Roshi, expecting some comment, he did not remember the incident. Or at least he claimed not to.

"Questions and answers unimportant!"

At that same meeting, Sensei had asked me to lead the chant, playing the drum and gong, as his local students would not strike the gong hard enough. Sure enough, I completely muffed the very first strike, which caused him to snap his head down at me, while I was laughing at myself internally. Later, after zazen, we were all sitting around, I think having tea, after Matsuoka Roshi had introduced me. He said nothing about my blowing the gong, but always seemed to be presenting me as an example to his other students. Perhaps he did the same with others in another context.

I ventured a comment, saying that in Atlanta, we ordinarily have a discussion about practice, and invited the others to bring up any questions or comments they might have. Sensei suddenly said, rather gruffly, "Questions and answers unimportant!"

I smiled and said, "Well of course, Sensei is right... the real answers come from your experience in zazen..."; end of discussion. I don't really know if Sensei (he did not ask us to refer to him as "Roshi," which is why I suggest that my students call me "sensei" — if it was good enough for him, it is good enough for me) was simply enforcing his approach at his temple, or admonishing my presumption in offering to answer questions from his students. Later, a couple of them told me they would like to have more discussion, but I encouraged them to follow Sensei's lead and throw themselves wholeheartedly into zazen, following on another expression that he often repeated:

"All your questions will be answered in zazen."

"No barriers anywhere."

When I underwent lay ordination with Sensei, he gave me the name "Taiun" — "Great Cloud." In explaining its meaning, he said it means "no barriers anywhere" — the aspirational dimension of a dharma name. Of course, every time I turn around, there is yet another barrier. So he saddled me with a name, and a teaching, that is with me every waking moment, and even when sleeping and dreaming. For that I am eternally grateful, and cursed.

"Your enlightenment is yours, and mine is mine; you can't get mine, and I can't get yours."

This was also said during a one-on-one conversation, the rest of which I cannot recall. Sensei had a way of stopping you in your tracks with his comments, disorienting and throwing you out of context for a moment. So I do not attribute my inability to recall the context to aging, or mental decline. That's my story and I'm sticking with it, or it is sticking with me, in any case.

One of my senior students was conflicted by a conflict in the sangha, if that is not too redundant; one that was led by some other senior students who had become disgruntled — a surprisingly common affair in the secret annals of American Zen. He left for a while, as the disgruntled are inclined to do, but returned later, and rather sheepishly admitted that he had discovered his error in a writing of another Zen teacher (whose name I cannot recall because he did not mention it, to the best of my recollection). He said that he (the Zen teacher) said something like, "Don't go after what your teacher has; go after what he went after." He said this made him realize that if he, as the student, simply pursued the same thing that I, as the teacher, pursued, how could there be any conflict? Would that all students of Zen would recognize this humble truth, and stop trying to take over in all their infinite wisdom.

So what would I add to this comment? Your enlightenment is yours, and mine is mine; I can't get mine and you can't get yours."

"In Zen, every day is a good day; every day is a happy day."

When asked by a senior student what I would add to this saying, I said: "Regardless." Everyday is a happy day; every day is a good day. But in Zen, this happiness, this goodness, is not dependent upon circumstance.

Happiness is a strange concept. Conventionally, we are happy or unhappy depending on how healthy we are, biologically as well as psychologically; and to an ever-greater extent, financially. But Zen's happiness, the true goodness of existence, derives from spiritual poverty. This kind of poverty is not set against affluence. It has nothing to do with liquidity. Even Bill Gates and Warren Buffet can practice spiritual poverty, if they choose to. And perhaps they do.

Zen trains us to practice meditation, centrally. In practicing meditation, we learn to practice patience. Developing patience with ourselves on the cushion fosters discovering patience with others off the cushion. In this same way, we learn to practice many other things that are often taken for granted, or misunderstood. I think happiness is one such idea. We practice happiness, in Zen, regardless of circumstance. It requires seeing the bigger picture, beyond "the whole catastrophe," to quote Zorba the Greek. Happiness is immanent, looming over and lurking behind all the wretched catastrophes wrought by humankind.

"Silence is thunder!"

calig silence thunder 100h cleanHere, Matsuoka Roshi points to an insight from zazen that is captured in the Japanese expression mokurai, which also means "motion in stillness, stillness in motion." Apparently, this term refers to the resolution of opposites in general, and is found in the ancient, long Zen poem Faith in Mind (C. Hsinhsinming) by the third Chinese Ancestor (Jianzhi Sengcan; J. Kanchi Sosan — d. 606):

  No comparisons or analogies are possible in this causeless relationless state
  Consider motion in stillness and stillness in motion
  Both movement and stillness disappear

Although Sensei did not shout this out, as the exclamation point may suggest, his saying it had the silent thunder clap of Master Dogen's saying (emphasis mine):

  Each moment of zazen is equally wholeness of practice equally wholeness of realization
  This is not only practice while sitting it is like a hammer striking emptiness
  Before and after its exquisite peal permeates everywhere

From this expression I got the idea of the Zen experience transcending all conceptual opposites, as well as, or including, time and space — which in Einstein's formulation are spacetime — a modern expression of mokurai. So it is clear that from a Zen perspective, silence is not the absence of sound, any more than stillness is the absence of motion. The sound is in the silence; the stillness is in the motion. Thus, all such opposites "disappear" into nonduality.

"Zen is round and rolling, slippery and slick."

This may also be an old saying, appropriated from the ancient Chinese masters, as some of Sensei's other sayings turn out to be. But in Zen, this borrowing from others is not a form of plagiarism. Zen is not a scholarly pursuit at heart, although some of the great Zen masters, including Master Dogen and Matsuoka Roshi, were clearly scholarly in their erudition and eloquence in expounding the subtle teaching (in Sensei's case, in a second language at that).

In fact, this particular expression indicates the impossibility of grasping the buddhadharma in the way that we would like to think we can. In most subjects we study, we finally get a grip on the subject matter, the essential techniques or practices, we come to possess the wit and wisdom of the field, the basics of the profession. But Zen is not like that. Zen is not about anything in particular, it is about everything in general. In includes, and returns to, the self and its place in the greater scheme of things.

To presume that such an ineffable thing is graspable is to stumble on the first step of the path. In pursuing the dharma, we find it is like a bar of wet soap: the moment we squeeze down upon it, it pops out of our mind's hands. In frustration and confusion, we come to accept the final ambiguity, which is expressed far more eloquently than I can muster, in the sayings of the ancients, and Matsuoka Roshi's dynamic formulation here.

"When the body posture, the breath, and the attention all come together in a unified way, this is the real zazen."

Citing the irreducibly simple, three cardinal dispositions of Zen's meditation, and the subjective suggestion in a unified way, Sensei points to the non-duality underlying the perception of duality. This expression also carries a cautionary tale, implying that we may, unbeknownst to us, be practicing un-real, or pretend, zazen. The operative word is unified. That we can even speak, or write, of the posture, breath, and attention as separate; that there are separate words for them in the English or any other language, illuminates the dualistic nature of the discriminating mind (S. citta). Language is both the blessing, and the curse, of humanity, though apparently other sentient beings have their own analog level of communication.

We can use language creatively, as Master Dogen and Sensei both did, to point at the non-separation of these distinct phenomena we perceive/conceive as our reality. For example, we can say that the body breathes, the posture modifies the breath. The attention notices the difference, and in fact is the difference. Without attention, there would be no difference in the posture affecting the breath, for instance by standing on one's head. Or running down the block instead of sitting still.

We can go further in this exercise, asserting that the body is breathing, the breath is "bodying"; the body is attending to the breath; the attention is embodying the breathing; body is bodying; breath is breathing; attention is attending. Nowhere in this complex network is there a need for the self. It is a "head upon a head" — extra. If there is self, there can be no unification. When subject is meditating upon object, we are lost in the syntax, the synthetic diagramming of experience into graspable categories. Subject-noun, meditate-verb, object-self is the opposite of the unified way.

"The way is beyond language," as the great poem Hsihsingming has it, but the effect of language on the problem of practice goes beyond simply freeing ourselves of the incessant compulsion to label our experience. The way we experience the body, breath, and attention is conditioned by this powerful tendency of the discriminating mind. Zen promises that beyond language — before our incorporation of its structure into our perception — on a primordial level of consciousness, lies experience beyond labeling, in which even the word experience is no longer germane. This, I think, is the unified way of Matsuoka Roshi's dharma.

"Zazen is hard work."

This expression is the translation of one of Sensei's archival scrolls, painted during a visit in which he did several. The fact that he committed it to paper indicates the importance he attribute to such a simple saying. I have no idea whether it is original with him, or an ancient saying. I believe that, amongst other interpretations, it means that, compared to zazen, everything else is relatively easy. As long as you are doing the real zazen, that is. The corollary would be that if you are not practicing zazen, everything else is relatively difficult. So what is so hard about practicing zazen? As an aside, Sensei remarked, somewhat dismissively, that, oh yes, everyone was interested in his calligraphy. I took this to mean that there was something of far greater value in his teaching, but people glom onto the artifacts instead, such as a nice scroll they can hang on the wall and forget about.

I think we can better understand the necessity of great effort and diligent discipline in zazen if we look at it as a subtractive, rather than an additive, process. We are erasing, not drawing, when we do zazen. The hard work of zazen is not to be understood as adding something new, gaining some form of esoteric knowledge, but a process of divesting ourselves of the various kinds of ignorance to which we are prone. These include, most traditionally, the stubborn belief in the self or soul, with its accretions in the form of gender, racial, ethnic, social (e.g. class distinctions) and genetic dimensions of self-identification; our adherence to other beliefs about reality — by definition learned — however well-founded in scientific fact; and our cherished philosophical, religious and psychological overlays on top of the naked reality. By this definition, zazen is a process of unlearning.

As Master Dogen reminds us in his rewrite of the mercifully brief, but incredibly dense, ancient Chinese poem Acupuncture Needle for Zazen (J. Zazenshin) by Master Wanshi Shogaku (C. Hongzhi Zhengjue), from Shohaku Okumura Roshi's translation, "The intimacy without defilement is dropping off without relying on anything." It is the sheer mass of all the things we rely on for our ordinary apprehension of reality that we are dropping off, along with, eventually, body-mind itself. This is the hard work of zazen.

"Just forget about it."

This expression was spoken, in Sensei's thick accent, much like the much later "fuggedaboudit" popularized in movies about the Mafia. It occurred when we were in a convenience store, and he seemed interested in a candy bar. For whatever reason, I had no money or credit cards with me at the time, and apparently he didn't either. When he saw that we could not purchase it, he said "Just forget about it." I may be reading in, but this seems a perfect summation of the Zen attitude toward desire. If we can have the object of our desire — a candy bar, for instance — great. But if not, just forget about it.

"I like to keep things empty around here."

Another cleaning comment by Sensei during one of the many times we were together and cleaning the Chicago temple (I begin to see why my first wife resented my practice at the time). For Matsuoka Roshi, as for Master Dogen, from his extensive writings on the subject, the smallest, most mundane activity was replete with meaning. In the simple, everyday actions required to keep the public spaces neat and orderly, where dust and dirt would send the wrong signal to the newcomer about Zen, we were encouraged to find the real practice of Zen. It is not just a matter of cleaning so that others will feel welcome, but is a sort of teleological feedback to one's own mind. If we take seriously the idea that the mind and the environment cannot be separated, this makes perfect sense. I know that in my cluttered life, it is occasionally necessary for me to "clear the decks" in my studio or workshop, to create an "island of sanity" in the chaos. It directly, and very clearly affects my mind. In the larger sense, I think this simplicity and untrammeled quality is an apt metaphor for the original Mind.

"Cleaning the temple is cleaning the mind."

Another time, Sensei made the connection even more specific and clear, declaring that cleaning the temple is cleaning the mind. I do not believe that he meant this as literally as, say the Yogacara theory of "mind-only," where we no longer allow the distinction between what we ordinarily mean by mind, and the kitchen floor. As if, somehow, our perception of the floor is wrong; we should be perceiving it as "mind." I think Matsuoka Roshi's meaning was beyond such intellectualization. It is enough to say that in the act of cleaning the temple, or the toilet at home, we are, indeed, cleaning the mind. Whether we take the object being cleaned as literally the mind or not makes no difference.

"People think the Zen mind is calm, like the surface of a pond. But when you drive off the expressway at full speed, and somehow manage to miss all the trees and come safely to a stop, this is the Zen mind. It moves faster than anything."

I may not quote Sensei's longer statements verbatim, as he would sometimes say something like this embedded in a longer discussion, in which he would explain a more cryptic quip more fully. In fact, he often used the metaphor of the pond to illustrate the stillness of the Zen mind, so this statement may seem to be a contradiction. I think this also goes beyond the principle of mokurai, which he explained resolves the apparent contradiction that there is no motion without stillness, no stillness without motion. Here, I think he is getting at a larger point, that the Zen Mind is not subject to the limitations of time and space, and if unimpeded by thought — and second thoughts — it operates on a plane that transcends normality. He mentioned this effect of in the area of martial arts, in which he held a black belt in Judo, as well as in sports, such as baseball. He said that when we see unusual feats of human performance in such areas of great action, there is something of Zen in it.

"Two Samurai warriors face off, the swords held aloft. If the enemy, the swords, and the air are not empty, you lose; you die."

Again, I may not have the exact quote, but this is the gist of what Sensei said. He also said that when the swords begin to fly, there is no time to think. If you are distracted for the slightest fraction of a second, by your opponent or by anything else, all is lost. How to train for such an exigency? Zazen.

In zazen, you might say that we slow down — or speed up — to the present moment. Thought is always retrospective in that it takes time for a thought to emerge from immediate perception. Conception follows perception. But the problem is that we come to rely on our concept of reality, which in turn begins to affect our perception. Thus, based on prior trauma, we can have a panic attack when there is nothing threatening, actually; or conversely we may be lulled into a sense of complacency when we should be on the alert to danger. In some situations, the amount of time it takes to analyze and decide what to do is too much; suddenly it is too late.

Hopefully, none of us will be put in a position of having to test this level of acute awareness. But we should all recognize that developing it on the cushion — ultimate stillness begetting ultimate motion — is open to all.

"A person of Zen has no trouble following the sidewalks."

My notes indicate that Sensei also said that such a person "waits at red lights, and walks on the sidewalks" so this expression may represent the mind's tendency to condense and simplify over time. Waiting at the red light would have occurred on one of our many walks to the restaurant after zazen on a Sunday morning, and taking short cuts, across someone's lawn, for example, would exemplify violations of the latter precept. Implied is the notion that everything, especially in the city, belongs to someone. Respect for property, as mundanely conservative and politically conformist as that sounds, is embedded in Buddhism's selfless embrace of the world of humanity.

Again I may be reading in, but the overall message here seems similar to a comment Rinzai master Sokei-an is said to have made, when his students decided to take him on a ride in the country to enjoy the scenery, which they apparently thought would be a nice break from Manhattan, where his center was located under the overhead train tracks. He appreciated the gesture, indicating that he liked the countryside because one could see the "mind" of nature, but that he also like the city, where one could see the mind of man. I think Sensei's comment carries this same wise sentiment.

With more and more of the world's population abandoning rural areas for urban centers, it is high time we set aside the futile fiction that we would all rather live in the country, that living in the city is a necessary but undesirable compromise. People are social animals, and the contemporary conceit that living large means owning an estate in a remote wilderness, miles from any undesirable neighbors, is just another manifestation of the self-centered self. The Zen masters may have been cave-dwellers, but they eventually "re-enter the market-place with bliss-bestowing hands" (The Oxherding Pictures).

Granted that one is living in the city, it reveals another dimension of this self-absorbed self if we are impatient at red lights, and insist upon taking short-cuts to get to our destination. If whatever business we have to transact at our final destination (you are allowed to interpret these phrases as metaphors as well as literally) is so important that we have to create hazards to ourself and others getting there, we should have had the foresight to leave a bit earlier. So this admonition points to the Zen person, who is not such a busy person after all.

A further implication is that the works of man (humankind to be PC) are somehow inferior to those of nature, and admittedly they are. With all our sophistication, we are unable to create anything as elegant and complex as the lowly mosquito, or cockroach (both of whom have the ability to adapt to urban and rural locales).

But at its extreme, this attitude, which is usually taken to endow those who harbor it with a sense of superiority — as if it has never occurred to the great unwashed, everyone else in the ghettos and slums, as well as the high-rises and mansions, of the city — amounts to a kind of self-loathing, a repulsion at one's own species. As if somehow we were intended to live alone, with only select friends and family members invited to enter the exclusive inner circle of our presence.

This mindset is reflected in its most entertaining, and most embarrassing, form, in the commoners' celebration of feckless royalty; but more broadly in the admiration of wealth and privilege, class distinctions, manifesting as private clubs and gated communities. Which have their practical reasons for being, of course, but I am afraid are symptoms of an underlying disease, one that prevents society at large from realizing the promise of Sangha, the "harmonious community." Demonstrated by Shakyamuni Buddha and his followers, that "this way of living is the best in the world" (from the Loving Kindness Sutra — S. Metta Sutta), by yes, separating from society so as to offer another model, but integrating with society by living in the midst of the population centers of the time, and welcoming all, from any level of the caste system, into the true community of seekers.

Rather than look to structural defects in the organization of society as the source of all that is wrong in the world, Zen suggests that we start at home, with an attitude adjustment in our hearts and between our ears. It begins with a simple following of the sidewalks.

"Don't mix up Zen."

"I wish I knew how to make money like Baker Roshi!"

This comment came sometime during the 1970s, when Sensei was living in Long Beach and I was established in Atlanta. He was well aware of the advent and popularity of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, who came to the USA in 1960, I believe. Sensei had arrived some 20 years earlier, and had established the Chicago Zen Buddhist Temple long before San Francisco Zen Center at Paige Street. The latter, I understand, came about mainly through the direction of Richard Baker Roshi, who apparently was instrumental in organizing and funding the various offshoots of Paige Street as well — Green's Restaurant and Tassahara. Several books have been published on this history, but the behind-the-scenes reality may not be fully reflected therein.

At the time, Sensei's remark inspired me to self-reflection, and wondering about the difference that led to the fame of Suzuki Roshi and the lack of public awareness of Matsuoka Roshi. I concluded that the missing element is that Sensei did not have a "Richard Baker" on his team.

In the profession of marketing, they say that success does not depend upon having the better product, but upon better marketing whatever product you have. The unfortunate but predictable outcome of this idea can be seen daily on the "paid program" channels that infest television, hawking all manner of exercise equipment and videos, and any number of other items that no sensible person can possibly live without; most with minor differences that are touted as a breakthrough advantage over the competing products on another channel or time slot. This is not to compare Sensei and Suzuki Roshi to the detriment of either, but to emphasize that no one, for whatever reasons, truly grasped the rare import and potential of Sense's appearance on the American scene.

While it may be a bit crass to look at Zen in this context, if Sensei had had a savvy promoter, one who recognized the treasure that he represented — not to mention his important and seminal place in the founding of Soto Zen in this country — he may have been able to prosper, and to share some of the fame and fortune that came to other relative late-comers to the scene. Here it may be important to remind all that spiritual poverty does not mean not being able to pay the rent in a city like Long Beach.

I have personally felt a bit remiss in this regard, that I let Sensei down, though clearly I am not as gifted as Richard Baker in the requisite abilities. He had the foresight — and the vision — to realize that Suzuki Roshi was a genuine treasure, like Sensei: a modest, self-effacing and charming persona, but one who carried this treasure house of the true dharma. All that was necessary was to tell his story, and to make it available to the public, especially those who could and would support the establishment and stabilizing of his legacy financially. That project was effectively introduced to the larger public through the establishment of SFZC and the publishing of Suzuki Roshi's spoken teachings, which we — including all of my generation of his students — had failed to do with Sensei's written teachings in a timely manner.

Sensei's first attempts to gather together his talks he entitled "The Kyosaku," a term dear to him, but not likely to garner much recognition from the American public, being the Japanese name of the stick or stave used to correct posture and to strike the shoulders of a meditator on request. In those days, we did not have the digital revolution at our fingertips, so some of the initial attempts at preparing his collection of writings went nowhere. Only after his death in 1997 did I have the original manuscripts for that text, plus any others I could scrape together from the closets and back drawers of Sensei's students who were inclined to cooperate with me. They consisted of a polyglot pile of old perforated, sprocket-driven, computer paper, yellowing copies of the talks Sensei had printed and sold for a quarter at CZBT, and some reprints of previous efforts to publish. It was a herculean task to scan, create text edit transcripts, to which a small group of students had contributed their time and effort, and then go through and clean up all the glitches and typos, before finally whipping them into sufficient shape to print. The final publications of The Kyosaku collection as Sensei had conceived it, and the other recovered talks, grouped similarly under the equally-obscure title I chose, Mokurai, came only after one of my senior students, who was in the publishing business, pulled the edits together in " book-like form" and self-published them through one of the online services. Otherwise I am afraid it would have never happened. I am not even sure that all were properly acknowledged in the final texts.

All this is to say that I can fully appreciate what it took for the students of Suzuki Roshi to publish the famous collection of his spoken teachings, Beginner's Mind, which is shoshin in Japanese, incidentally the title of one of Matsuoka Roshi's chapters.

This has been a bit of a ramble, but important to understand as the history of the propagation of Zen in America lurches on. I and others have taken the time to capture what we could of the legacy of these great founding teachers, not for fame and fortune, but to inspire future generations to practice, and to appreciate the near-heroic efforts of so many early pioneers in the spread of Zen to the West. It is our responsibility to honor their achievements, and to make them known, so that all may benefit from the buddha-dharma in all its messiness.

"Something missing: spiritual confidence"

Sensei would often say that most people go through life with "something missing"... they don't know what it is, but they know it is missing. Eventually, they come to Zen and find it, he would conclude. The expression he used to define what is missing, and what they would find in Zen, is "spiritual confidence." He frequently mentioned confidence in other contexts as well, so I got the impression that this word carried a lot of connotations for him. But spiritual confidence is special, not the usual variety, as I understand it.

The kind of confidence that most of us are familiar with is that which comes with familiarity, through experience. For example, most people learn to drive a car at one time or another. It used to be that by the age of sixteen, a person had taken driver training courses in order to get their first driver's license. Now I understand that more and more young people are driving less and less, perhaps owing to the availability of alternative modes of transportation, and the cost of operating a vehicle. At first, when learning to drive, we have a kind of false confidence — of course I can drive a car — which may have a negative effect on our attention. At the beginning of my first test drive for a license, I promptly backed into a car parked behind my father's Pontiac. End of test.

As we continue driving, get our license, and log several hundred miles or so, our confidence increases. Driving becomes second nature, allowing us to pay more attention to the surrounding environment, such as whatever may appear in the rear-view mirror. Eventually, we drive the car without a thought, even engaging in conversation, listening to the radio, and nowadays, phoning and, laws not withstanding, texting others while driving. It used to be that drinking while driving was the main hazard on the road. No more.

This kind of confidence is based on motor muscle memory, much like the ability to play sports, perfecting skills in dance and other performance arts, and the martial arts. If circumstances change, such as driving at 200 miles an hour plus in a crowded field of high-performance race cars, or performing in front of a large audience, our confidence may wane. This kind of confidence is dependent upon circumstance.

I think the kind of confidence that Sensei was pointing to as spiritual is not connected to circumstance in the same way. The "circumstance" of being alive — and therefore in danger of aging, sickness, and death — is a constant, and cannot be avoided, however hard we try. Having the confidence to live in this context, which Buddhism defines as dukkha — suffering — is a different order of confidence. If we can come to terms with the inconvenient truth of our existence, it might be said that we have gained a kind of confidence, no matter the immediate circumstances of our daily life. In this sense, life takes its meaning from the reality of death. Far from being morbid, or even pessimistic, this is simply realistic, from the Zen perspective. If we find this kind of confidence in our practice, then it will go with us everywhere we go, and though it may be tested by circumstance, it may also be strengthened by whatever befalls us. So that, in the long run, we will come to have this kind of spiritual confidence of which Sensei spoke, and which he seemed to have in abundant measure.

"It is not what we do, but how we do it."

CZBTThis comment was made in regards to ritual, the protocols surrounding Soto Zen service, mainly consisting of chanting before and/or after zazen. In Sensei's Zen center, the Chicago Zen Buddhist Temple, a three-story brownstone walkup, the meditation hall occupied what would have been the living room and dining room, the altar sitting against the far wall. The drum and gong were together on the left when facing the altar, and the designated time-keeper (J. doan) would sit there, ringing the gongs to start and stop the sitting and walking meditation periods, and beating the drum when leading the chanting. Usually the Heart Sutra (J. Hanya Shingyo) was chanted at the beginning and end of the zazen session, once in Japanese and once in English, after we had an approved English translation developed by Kongo Roshi, my senior dharma brother, and other American Zen priests. Until then, we had chanted only in Japanese.

Sensei trained us to lead the service as Doan, while he performed the role of Doshi, the center of the ceremonies, mainly doing the bowing and offering of incense. I think he understood that most of the time we would be leading meditation sessions alone, without benefit of the presence of other priests and disciples, so the various service functions of monastic service, which may include Doshi, Doan (gongs), Fukudo (drummer), and Kokyo (chant leader) were combined into one position and person, which he called "Ino," which usually designates a position in charge of the overall responsibilities for the zendo. When a center has the requisite personnel, and the desire to implement a more complex protocol, they may divide the functions amongst four or more people.

Sensei stripped everything down, and kept it simple. He understood, I think, that we would figure out the details in good time, and that the most important aspect of the training, the upright stillness of meditation itself, was the appropriate emphasis. With Master Dogen, he took the position that "Once you meet a master, without engaging in incense burning, bowing, chanting Buddha's name, repentance or reading scripture, you should just wholeheartedly sit and thus drop away body and mind." Of course, along with Dogen, he continued offering incense, bowing, chanting Buddha's name, repenting and interpreting the Zen scriptures, for the sake of his students and the public at large, including both the Japanese community, the members of which would show up for the important holidays, or for the occasional funeral, as well as the Americans who ventured into his sanctum.

I took copious notes and codified the various services and ceremonies, in order to be able to perform the doan role.

Once, if memory serves, during the Festival of the Flowers (J. Hanamatsuri) celebrating Buddha's birthday, the Japanese community was there, sitting in row upon row of folding chairs, the role of doan had fallen to me, and Matsuoka Roshi had dressed those of us performing in the ceremony in long, flowing robes, of which he had a large closetful, all different sizes. Mine was a dull purple with extremely long sleeves. During the chanting of the Dharani of Great Compassion (J. Daihishin Darani), diligently following the sheet I had printed of the obscure Sino-Japanese script, I lost the striking stick in the folds of the left sleeve, as the moment for striking the gong was fast approaching. In a panic, I scrambled around in the fabric with my left hand as discreetly as possible, so that no one in the audience would notice, and just got hold of the thing at the point the gong had to be struck. As they say in Japan, you don't know humiliation until you have failed before the emperor! Fortunately, I dodged a bullet this time.

The point of all this is to set the context for Sensei's saying that it is not so much what we do, exactly, as how we do it, which might otherwise be interpreted as a kind of lackadaisical attitude and approach to ritual. Sense's training in this regard was strict but kind, and down to the minutest detail, such as precisely how one holds the striker, at what angle the gong is struck, and the dynamic of the stroke to elicit the best sound from the gong. In the martial arts, it is said that the best student is the one who wishes to perfect the smallest detail. Sensei, as a black belt in judo, embodied this principle, and it came across in all aspects of his teaching, from cleaning the floor to performing service for the sake of the Japanese community.

But in some cases, I have come across an attitude that seems the opposite: that it is precisely what one does in protocols (often referred to as the "forms" of practice) that is important, rather than the mindset with which we do them. Of course, this can be disregarded as simply a difference in pedagogy, much as most of the differences in interpretation of teachings may be interpreted as semantics, but Sensei's point seems to get lost in the attention to the lore of Zen, and a devotion to its rote memorization and rehearsal. To the point that some people may judge your insight based on how well you perform the rituals down to the fine details. This is rather humorous, actually, when we learn that those monastics trained at Sojiji, as was Matsuoka Roshi, and those trained at Eiheiji, as are most of the teachers training Americans in such protocols, do things rather differently than each other, requiring rehearsal when they get together for combined services.

So for us, in Matsuoka Roshi's lineage, the "heartfelt" aspect of doing the forms trumps the aspect of doing them correctly — crossing all the "t's" and dotting the "i's" — although we honor this attitude of perfecting the smallest detail. When and if we get to the point of criticizing others, mentally or out loud, based on their performance of what we know to be the "right" way, we have already lost the point of the exercise. There is a famous story of the abbot's instructions to the young trainees (J. unsui - "clouds and water") who had just arrived at the monastery: "Don't go imitating the senior monks around here." When later they witnessed him doing the exact same protocols in precisely the same way, they confronted him with the contradiction. He said, "I just have my devotion this way." (From a Trevor Leggett Zen Reader if memory serves.)

This abbot was not telling the youngsters to avoid doing the rituals, but when doing them to do so wholeheartedly, not in an imitative sense. This is basically the intent and import of Master Dogen's comment (from Self-fulfilling Samadhi: Jijuyu Zammai), and from Matsuoka Roshi's attention to detail in training us in the protocols. It is how we do what we do that affects both ourselves and others in the performance of ritual, not whether we have got the what of it down pat. The former is what Sensei referred to as the living Zen; the latter threatens to devolve into dead Zen.

"You must become a priest..."

Sensei caught me off-guard in Chicago one day in the 1960s, by taking me aside and saying this, continuing, "...not for yourself but so that others will listen to you. We live in a credentialed society, and if you do not have credentials, no one will listen to you." So I said — innocently, not knowing what I was getting into — "Okay." Soon I underwent lay ordination and became what Matsuoka Roshi termed a Disciple — of Buddhism — and his student. He would tell me that it was time for such-and-such ceremony, and we would do it according to his simple approach, at the Temple in Chicago and later in Atlanta when he would visit from time to time. He and I did a simple Transmission (J. Shiho) ceremony, in which he loaned me an old bowing cloth (J. zagu) of his, laying the edge of another on top at one point, then reversing with mine on top of his, a detail that I saw again when Shokahu Okumura Roshi did my formal ceremony in 2007.

I did not know what it meant to become a priest, and suspect that no one really does a priori, but I do not regret it for a moment, in spite of all the turmoil and stress that has come with the honor. More than once I felt like giving up, but Sensei would counsel me, "Never give up your priesthood." And he was always offering encouraging words, once telling me "You will enlighten thousands." The latter I took for hyperbole, perhaps something he said to everyone, all his students. But in the intervening years, certainly thousands of people have been introduced to Zen at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center, which has been in relatively continuous operation since its incorporation in 1977. And, if the effects of exposure to Zen do not show up immediately, or even for years afterward, even lifetimes, according to classical Buddhism, maybe he was right. It remains to be seen, as is true of most things.

I do not believe that we are in the business of cranking out Zen priests, however. I do not feel that any of my students must become a priest. Many have, and I am confident in their intent, as well as a relative degree of spiritual maturity, but we do not view priesthood in our order as any kind of honor, really, but more a responsibility, a life decision in which we shoulder a certain amount of responsibility for the propagation of genuine Zen.

Just as Matsuoka Roshi expressed confidence in myself by ordaining me, I do the same for certain students, who are ready, in my humble opinion, to take on Master Dogen's original mission, when he returned from China at the tender age of 27, if memory serves. And just as Sensei implied that there can be a zazen practice that is not 100% genuine, with his emphasis on "the real zazen," it must be recognized that there can also be a "real Zen" and, therefore, an "unreal" Zen. I once had a roommate who, upon tossing his hat onto the hatrack, would declare that his "Zen thing" was working if he was accurate, or that it wasn't working if he missed. This is only one of an infinite set of unreal Zens.

We all have Zen, so to speak, and in one way or another, all are on this spiritual path, whether they know it or not. But as with many things in life, just because we have it doesn't mean we know it. And the way we are manifesting it, or practicing, may not be very good. We are all doing our best, but have to be our own best judge of whether our best is really very good, or not. Without falling into the flip side of arrogance — self-loathing — we should strive to "keep your doubt at a keen edge" as the old saying goes. Like sharpening a knife, the stone works both sides of the sword, that of doubt, and that of complacency. We may prefer to feel a false confidence, but it is only the doppleganger of doubt. This is one reason why the great ones have always declared, "I don't understand Buddhism." I also don't understand being a Zen priest, but I cannot let that get in the way.

"Precious: shame; humiliation..."

I don't recall an exact quote, but Sensei made it clear that such feelings as shame and humiliation — that we in the West would typically consider negative and to be avoided — are appreciated in the Eastern mentality as precious; perhaps owing to their rarity. In films and dramas, we get the impression that other emotions, such as melancholy, are similarly held in high esteem in the Orient, reinforced by the tone of traditional poetry, which captures a sense of the passing of time, the fleetingness of our lives.

When visiting my mother toward the end of her life, I would be overcome with a heavy melancholy, an almost suffocating sense of something like claustrophobia, which would overtake me when finally leaving my hometown. This experience calls to mind the true meaning of the phrase, "You can't go home again," in that yes, of course, you can visit your original home, but it will never be the same. This irrecoverable change is a key aspect of Buddhism's suffering (S. dukkha), though it is presumptuous to read emotional content into it. When human beings are caught up in change that they don't like, or in attempting to change something that stubbornly resists, such as a leaky faucet, their emotions are aroused. We tend to take things personally, and are impatient with the imperfection of existence. We might say that the feeling of impatience is the emotional content of imperfection.

On a more social level, when we are exposed to shame, humiliation, or simple disrespect, we tend to react poorly. Our defenses spring into action, and we sometimes overreact to perceived slights or even the implication that someone is "dissing" us. This has been known to lead to tragic consequences. If, however, we examine what it is that we are trying to protect, we may find that it is simply our precious sense of self — or "ego" — which realization may lead to a feeling of shame, or at least a degree of mollification of our anger.

Anger is often treated as a shameful emotion, triggered by fear of embarrassment or actual physical harm, to oneself or to others. Anger is not always ego, and can be perfectly justified by the severity of the threat. When someone attacks our loved ones, or unjustly harms another, anger is an appropriate response. And in the history of Zen, we see great Masters using apparent, red-faced anger to make a point to a recalcitrant student. But too often, anger appears when the only thing being threatened is our pathetic sense of pride.

The old saying, "You don't know humility until you have failed before the emperor" captures a most extreme example. And the tradition, or cult, of ritual suicide (J. seppuku) represents an attempt to transform such personal humiliation into honor, through personal sacrifice. It is also said that suicide in the East is relatively common, often driven by such circumstances as financial failure, which we in the West might regard as a temporary setback. These are difficult cultural memes for us in the West, but we have our share of suicides, such as that of the beloved comic and actor, Robin Williams, who was suffering the onset of Alzheimer's disease, and apparently preferred sudden death to slow deterioration. And we are seeing more radical reactions such as public shaming, which is getting some press as an effective response to some types of crimes. On the other hand, we are daily witness to an ongoing parade of shamelessness in public life, from reality TV to the political sideshow.

What are we really feeling, that we identify as shame or humiliation? Just thinking about it, perhaps remembering past indignities or personal failings, we can begin to feel the flush of warmth in our face and temples. Shame is a powerful emotion, with deep roots into our childhood and perhaps beyond, if we take rebirth into account. Because it is an unpleasant feeling, we might posit that we are closer to the truth of something we ordinarily ignore or avoid.

The most salient forms that suffering takes for sentient beings are expressed as aging, sickness and death, in the traditional Buddhist model. As we age, we may feel a bit of regret or remorse, that we can no longer do the things we used to do; that we did not take better care of ourselves. The prevalent obsession with physical self-improvement is tied into this view, though we may interpret it less sympathetically as ego in action, the worship of youth, a futile exercise in clinging to fantasies of immortality. But if we have the humility to accept aging as the natural process, we may be able to feel the unpleasant emotions of embarrassment and humiliation as we lose our powers, both physical and mental, without being diminished by them. If we are able to be realistic about the true conditions of life, perhaps we can even face sickness, and even death, with equanimity. In another expression that Sensei would often use, he succinctly captured this formidable teaching:

"If you get sick, you just get sick; if you die, you just die."

Of course, Zen being nothing if not practical, he admonished us to follow the doctor's orders, in the meantime.

"(Zazen) looks like a mountain, but actually it's a volcano."

Sensei said this more than once, I am sure, though I cannot recall the precise context. In giving dharma names, zan or san is often part of a male student's name, denoting a mountain of some kind. And the tradition in China, and I think Japan, was to locate monasteries and hermitages on mountain sides. The Master living there would often be called by the name of the mountain, which is interesting as an inversion of Western names, as many family names begin as place names.

The posture of zazen indeed does resemble a mountain, with its three-pointed base and the peak of the head. The layout of Eiheiji, which is seen in large mural paintings there, follows the form of zazen, with a building at the top of the slope where the head would be, and other buildings and covered walkways coming down the mountain on both sides like arms and legs of the sitting Buddha, coming together at the great gate at the foot of the hill. Many references in Zen connect its practice to the stability and grandeur of mountains, such as the question of an ancient student to his teacher quoted by Master Dogen in his tract on the principles of seated meditation, Fukanzazengi: "What are you thinking, sitting in that mountain-still state?" The answer, as many of us have learned, is non-thinking; not actually thinking as such, at all. So the stillness of the mountain sitting there belies the great power underneath, building up as a caldera, a growing dome of magma, which, if the volcano is active, may suddenly erupt in a great explosion, as seen in Mount Saint Helena some years ago; or a gentle, but still dangerous, overflow of molten rock as seen recently in Hawaii. Sense's expression implies that, while our zazen may seem still and serene, some kind of power is building up underneath. Whether if manifests as an abrupt explosion or a gentle eruption may depend upon the nature, or temperament, of the individual. While we may all claim to share the "same" buddha-nature, it does not mean that we are not different.

Sensei's colloquialism, mokurai, meaning "stillness in motion, motion in stillness," is related to this conflation of the mountain and volcano, I think. While we enter into a profound level of stillness in zazen, we also sink into a deeper level of motion. Subtle energies normally subliminal cone to our awareness, so that what we regard as "feeling" or sensation changes. The life-energy (J. ki) may be thought of as the ground of all energy, and is often referred to as that new, or fundamental, level of energy that we tap into in zazen. The focus on "stomach power" (J. hara), and the tanden, the center point of our being, in zazen also reminds us of this central consideration. When these teachings become real in an experiential way, we begin to understand the meaning of Zen. This is when our Zen becomes what Sensei called "living Zen."

"This is the most you can do (zazen)."

Another salient comment Sensei made about zazen was in the context of "engaged Zen." Again, I do not recall the specific discussion that led to it, but like most of his more memorable remarks, this one stood out in the flow of the conversation. When he said it, he dropped his hands onto his lap in the so-called cosmic mudra position typical of Soto Zen meditation, palms up, one hand on top of the other, thumbs touched at the tip and raised.

He also spoke of zazen this way in other contexts, indicating that whatever the situation in which you find yourself, zazen can always help. But in terms of engaging in good works, charitable or compassionate causes, and so forth, this expression takes on a slightly different meaning. I think he meant that, while it is okay to pursue whatever activities seem right and just to you, when doing so or particularly before, Zen meditation is recommended. The reason is that in sitting on the cushion, we are working on the fundamental personal issue from which all other social issues arise.

To state the idea in reverse, if we are not straight with ourselves, we may unconsciously be acting upon a bias, and in engaging in a cause such as protesting the death penalty, or the oil pipeline of the day, we may be adding to the confusion, rather than clarifying the conflict. Like charity, any such reform begins at home, and so we need to trust zazen to help clarify all internal conflicts before engaging in external ones.

The early history of Buddhism, in which Shakyamuni and his followers engaged in a revolutionary revision of society, may appear to some as a turning away from the community, but actually it was the opposite. The original Order constituted an invitation for others to join, and intermingled with the larger community, in the form of public talks and mendicancy. Their "business model" was the begging bowl; depending on the kindness of strangers was its modus operandi. However, begging for support was a form of charity-in-reverse: the monks and nuns were performing true charity by allowing the public to support Buddhism in the only pragmatic way they could, through financial and in-kind donations.

So "this is the most you can do" is not solely an individual solution; it is also a social solution. The revolution begins at home, with each of us doing our utmost to solve the basic koan of existence. If we are successful, we will be in a better position to do the right thing in addressing the injustices and their root sources in society. If not, our actions may regrettably represent another case of the blind leading the blind, a metaphor that originated with Buddha, apparently.

"Don't look for a lightning bolt out of the sky; enlightenment is more like the parting of the clouds to reveal the sun."

When it comes to doing zazen, most people expect some kind of immediate result, as well as seeing some effect on their social life and well-being in the long run. This comment was repeated several times, to the best of my recollection, at least once in the context of Soto versus Rinzai Zen. The latter school was held in high esteem by Matsuoka Roshi, attested by his inviting visiting Rinzai priests to talk at the Temple on an occasional Sunday morning. But Sensei felt that Soto Zen's laid-back manner was more suited to the Western mindset and lifestyle. Of course, there is nothing lackadaisical about sitting zazen on retreat. Sesshin and zazenkai should be called a Zen attack, not retreat. Our intensity, as well as our intent, is likely to be challenged in the extremes of day-long or overnight sitting.

But sudden enlightenment, the "lightning bolt" school of meditation, he seemed to associate with the driven approach in the Rinzai method, which he felt not to be the best attitude for Americans, who are already driven in so many ways, perhaps to all the wrong aspirations and certain unwarranted conclusions. The Soto way of practicing patience, living in the present instead of an imagined future, was his prescription for countering our tendency to dissatisfaction, in trivial and distracting ways, with our present state of affairs. In this same sense, Zen practice is a way of becoming less dependent upon circumstance for our happiness and sense of fulfillment.

Especially in zazen, he cautioned against looking for some special effects, or immediate results, in that this would continue to trap us in a fantasy of the future. I believe it was Master Dogen who said, somewhere, that enlightenment is not something that happens in the future, or words to that effect. Matsuoka Roshi added that looking for certain changes in our personality is like attempting to adorn ourselves with jewels. In doing so, we may miss the wish-fulfilling jewel (S. mani) said to be already hidden on our person.

This is a rather descriptive statement, one of few spoken by Matsuoka Roshi. In the literature of Zen, we find little in the category of descriptive narrative, with the important exception of Hakuin Zenji, and perhaps others with whom I am unfamiliar. I think the reason for this is beyond being a pedagogical choice, or a recognition of the inadequacy of words to describe the ineffable. I think that it goes to the principle of teaching a person to fish, rather than providing fish for them. Or the fact that in giving someone something, we take something away, if only their opportunity to get it for themselves. This is why zazen is taught with basic instructions, essentially verbatim from Master Dogen's written guidelines of over 800 years ago. But in Zen, we stop short of guided meditation — leading participants by the nose through what they should be experiencing at any given moment. Zen, particularly Soto Zen, is the original sink or swim school, but the pool is the Ocean of Samsara. To presume that we can know the exact unfolding of the buddhadharma in the experience of another would amount to a high degree of hubris. But to have faith that most people will go through a similar process of unlearning opinion and apprehending the underlying reality, is to express confidence in the buddha-nature accessible to all. We gain this confidence only by experiencing our own buddha-nature, following the same process ourselves.

But Sensei's description of the clouds parting to reveal the sun, as an analogy, is not misleading. It is not specific enough to qualify as one of those expressions in the literature where the traditional response is: "He said too much." Most of the work of zazen, climbing up what can sometimes be a very slippery hundred-foot pole, is this parting of the clouds, the dissipation or evaporation of our own ignorance, which shrouds the light of the buddha-nature, and the wisdom mind (S. bodhi) in darkness. Like the lotus seed in the muck and mire at the bottom of the pond, the progress of growing toward the light in the bright sky above is one that is natural, and that we do not have to force. In fact, if we try, we simply stir up the mud even more.