this bright world is yours to discover


Update on activities for 2019

Sangha & Inclusion, Service & Engagement, Sitting & Ritual, Study & ArtsGuiding TeacherComment

Dear Students of the Way,

For many of you, it has been a while since we have practiced face-to-face, whether virtually or in person. Know that I think of you often, and send kindness.

Since we have entered a new year and the Spanish online course is completed, I am settling down to prepare the curriculum for the 2019 online offerings. I am hoping to offer one class in the spring and in the fall, as well as a summer book club again this year.

I would like the Spring 2019 class to begin in late April or early May. It will be based on Dogen's "Guidelines for the Practice of the Way," originally titled "Gakudo Yojinshu" in the Chinese. It is Dogen's top ten list of important points for Zen practitioners to keep in mind, and it touches on topics such as effort, student-teacher relationships, compassion, and the koan "mu." Of course, there will be some supplemental materials as well. I expect the course will involve a pre-recorded talk and a group discussion meeting each week. Once the class dates are set, I will post them to this website and to Twitter. For now, if there are other folks you know who may be interested, please feel free to pass this page along to them.

It's not too early to make suggestions for the summer book club, also. It will be a bit short this year, starting in mid- or late July and ending by October 1st.

In the more immediate time frame, I am going to be offering practice discussion online. If you would like to connect for a practice discussion, please write to {hey.konin@gmail.com} to request one of these times. Also, please specify whether you prefer Zoom or Skype video chat, or a phone call and to what number.

And I have added some more “Study & Arts” posts to the home page, including recent poetry and watercolor paintings from my solitary retreat.

Lastly, my next retreat offering is to co-lead a 5 day sit in early May at Spirit Rock in Northern California. It's wait listed, so mention this post if you decide to sign up. We'll try to get you in.

I look forward to seeing you soon. In the meantime, let's keep sitting!

Yours in the Dharma,

Dhammadīpā Kōnin Cardenas

How Could I Have Known?

Sangha & Inclusion, Sitting & RitualGuiding TeacherComment

June 19, 2017

How could I have known that I belong to this place I had never been before?

Eiheiji feels so familiar. It has a sense of being closely held, and it has a very human scale, belying it's capacity to train hundreds of monks.

Walking very slowly through the corridors, my new Japanese colleague and I were led by the Jisha (Attendant), who carried a paper lantern, lit only by a single candle. He took care to point out the places where one might misstep, and he spoke so politely that I had difficulty with some of the conjugations that were then translated by my Anja (Assistant). We were shown each place of practice. Walking in the outer corridor of the dimly lit zendo, I had a deep sense of Dogen's presence, his profound sincerity and resolve. I feel very at home in Eiheiji, and I felt Dogen's teachings about attention to detail, generosity, and grandmotherly mind come to life.

The head of the International office, Rev. Taiken Yokoyama, also accompanied us for part of the preparations. His ease and willingness to help were evident. Later, after the ceremonies had all been performed, he invited me to his office. We spoke for a long time about American Zen, where he'd practiced for a number of years, and about the difficulties of leaving one's training temple. We exchanged cards, and he welcomed me back. I look forward to being in touch with him again before too long.

The ceremonies went very smoothly, though I made note of how nervous my Sojiji colleague was.  It must have felt very awkward for him, just as it had for me at the other Head Temple. After breakfast I spent the rest of the morning enjoying the tall, tall pines and the pools on the Eiheiji temple grounds. There are so many lovely places tucked into the greenery of that hillside, including a pond with a huge frog. This, of course, reminded me of Suzuki Roshi who loved frogs. I also made an offering at the lay sangha memorial hall, acknowledging their crucial role in making this Way possible for everyone. Their contributions and Dogen's remind me that I can take the bodhisattva vow only because I am held within the vows of other bodhisattvas.

Daihonzan Eiheiji Zuise-shi photo

Daihonzan Eiheiji Zuise-shi photo

Concluding with Zuise at Eiheiji was just right. It feels like the perfect end to the long road of Dharma Transmission, each step a place of practice and awakening to the Way of Zen.

The Bigger Picture

Study & Arts, Sitting & RitualGuiding TeacherComment

In Zen we often speak about the study of the self, about checking into our experience and what it really means. Yet, if the study of the self begins and ends only with this body and mind, only with the perceptual realm that you can explore, then it will always be a limited view, a biased view, and a one sided view.

It will never be able to fully encompass all that is the Self. Pointing at this Dogen writes, “…the true human body is the entire universe.” One could equally say that the true human mind is the whole universe.

So what is it to study the true human body, the true human mind?

Recently, I read a quote about finding your soul and your soulmate. But what if you are so completely interconnected with all things that there is nothing permanent about you? What if you are so completely defined by the temporal arising of all things known and unknown that you cannot even identify something that is the core? Wouldn’t that be a world in which you become incredibly vast, incredibly fluid, incredibly connected?

More poetically, Dogen describes it thus, “…mountains, rivers, and the Earth, and the sun, moon and stars are mind.”

Pelican Galaxy photo by NASA

Pelican Galaxy photo by NASA


And yet you certainly can’t deny that there is a particularity about you. There is a grouping of physical attributes which tend to hang together to form your body. There is a consciousness, one that is full of thoughts, feelings, tendencies, history, hopes. So there is no reason to deny the unique temporal arising that is bounded by your physical and mental state. It is as much as anything else is, which isn’t much.

From the perspective of Zen Buddhism, holding both of these perspectives simultaneously is a sound view. Both things are true; they, in fact, inform each other and rely on each other. Together these perspectives enable a view that brings you into harmony with the true nature of reality. It is a view that enables you to be in accord with everything, whether you are attracted to or aversive to it.

This view of the interdependence of all things has many implications. It implies that what you do matters, because it impacts all other things. It implies that there is nothing that is static or independent or permanent. It implies emptiness inherent in form.

However, the aspect that I want to focus on today is that this view implies that there is more to life than what meets the eye. It implies that our bodies and minds can be vehicles for transformation, and for experiencing even things that are completely beyond the realm of what we can perceive. This is not mysticism. It is simply acknowledging that the human sense experience is limited, but what it means to be human is not. And that teaching is important, because without that context we are simply swirling around in the world of our biases, and our psychology, and the arbitrary boundaries that we draw around ourselves and others. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with that swirling, but to say that simply abiding there doesn’t lead to freedom from suffering.

Ryoanji garden in Kyoto, Japan

Ryoanji garden in Kyoto, Japan

Thus Dogen Zenji states, “Neither the great elements nor the smallest particles can be wholly realized by the common person, but they are mastered in experience by the sages.” Sekkei Harada Roshi intones, “This thing, which you think is yourself, is neither you nor anyone else.” Shunryu Suzuki Roshi explained, “Don’t be bothered by your mind.” I say do not be defined by your mind.



Each One Liberated

Sitting & Ritual, Study & ArtsGuiding TeacherComment
The Way is fundamentally complete and perfect, all pervasive; how could it be dependent upon cultivation and realization? The vehicle of the source is free; why expend effort? ...The great whole is not apart from here; why go someplace to practice?
— Fukanzazengi - Translation by Thomas Cleary

These words were written by Zen Master Eihei Dogen shortly after his return from four years of study in China, in a piece entitled "Universally Recommended Way of Zazen."  Yet I imagine that, for most of us, life does not feel "complete and perfect." This may be especially true when you think about yourself - your tendency to anger or anxiety, or the way you may feel overwhelmed by the suffering of the planet or the people around you, or simply your confusion about life. So, when encountering this teaching, you might wonder whether this is really relevant to your life. You might think that it's all well and good for Dogen to have said this, living in the 13th century when things were surely simpler. Or you might think, "It could be that way for Dogen and his students, but it certainly can't be that way for me."

   Photo from the movie "Zen," about Zen Master Eihei Dogen's life.


Photo from the movie "Zen," about Zen Master Eihei Dogen's life.

In fact, Dogen acknowledges this tendency we might have in the next line he wrote. 

Nevertheless the slightest discrepancy is as the distance between sky and earth; as soon as aversion and attraction arise, you lose your mind in confusion.

That is, as soon as you forget that all things are expressing the Way, then confusion sets in. Your mind is included in this Way. And even if you can accept this, even if you can take it in, even if you understand this deeply, Dogen has more to teach you.

Though you may boast of comprehension and wallow in understanding, having gotten a glimpse of insight, and though you find the Way and understand the mind, though you may roam freely within the bounds of initial entry, you are still lacking in the living road of emancipation.

Thus even an insight into your own mind isn't "realization of the Way." Even having a deep, wise understanding isn't liberation.

Lantau Island Buddha.jpg

So what is this "living road" or this vital path of liberation? Clearly it is a path that Dogen believed everyone could walk, everyone could fulfill. Shakyamuni Buddha, too, believed in the individual's innate capacity for liberation. It is a path that is informed by zazen. This we know from the title of the piece and from Dogen's example in his own life and in his guidance for his students. And yet there is an aspect of the vitality of life off the cushion as well. It is this latter aspect that I want to explore with you today. 

To illustrate, I want to turn for a moment to a dialogue that happened about 250 years or so before Dogen's writing. Perhaps we can see for ourselves what Dogen may have encountered on his trip, and see for ourselves whether this teaching can tell you about your own practice.

This is a koan about Zen Master Tong'an Changcha who is best know for a poem called the "Ten Verses of Unfathomable Depth." He lived in China during the 10th Century and is said to have had this conversation with one of his students.

The monk asked ‘Returning to the source, returning to the origin, how is it?’
The Master replied, ‘Even if the cicada has broken out of its shell, it cannot help clinging to the cold branch.’
The monk asked, ‘What about a very strong willed, and powerful person?’
The Master answered, ‘The stone ox step by step goes into the deep pool. The paper horse, shout by shout, cries out in the fire.’
— From "Unfathomable Depths" - Translated by Daigaku Rumme and Heiko Narrog

There are many historical and poetic references in this dialogue, so let's have a look at their meaning.

The phrase "returning to the source" is one that is often used in Zen tradition. It is part of our dedication at a memorial service, and it is also mentioned in other teaching dialogues like this one. It is a reference to the "Sutra in 42 Sections" which was taken from India to China and translated in about 69 CE. In that section of the Sutra, the Buddha says "When you guard the mind and revere the Way, the Way is profound and vast." Guarding the mind usually implies two aspects of practice. One is guarding the mind by not overwhelming it with intoxicants, food, sex, overwork and so on. The other is guarding against a dualistic view, a view that creates a sense of separation. Both of these aspects can help to point us toward the vital path of liberation.

 Master Changcha's reply is fairly straightforward. He says that even the practitioner who has broken out of fixed views cannot help but cling to that state of coolness, cannot help but cling to their hard won insight. Having glimpsed a bit of the Way, one might want to cling to an idea of a fixed source. 

Hearing this the student is wise enough to see that one cannot stop there. He then asks about the one who persists even beyond that point, one with determination.

And here the Master's reply is much more poetic and subtle. To break it down a bit, oxen and cows usually have the meaning of a being that is free, not pushed and pulled about by circumstances. This is a carry over from the long standing East Indian tradition of allowing cows to roam. The stone ox is not only free to roam but cool, unmoved. In the Master's words, then, a practitioner who has gained some freedom and equanimity, but persists, moves step by step into the depths of insight, the deep pool.

The horse is a symbol for a fairly sophisticated person, as horses are usually compared to the more mundane donkeys. In this case, the paper horse is likely an allusion to a learned person, as paper relates to books and study. Thus, the sophisticated, learned practitioner who persists burns up their delusion in the fires of their effort. This path is not without its difficulties, described by the Master as "shouts" and "cries." We should know that practice will not be comfortable if it is going to be liberative.

Therefore, what Master Changcha is teaching his student is that each practitioner is liberated by the very things that make them what they are. Each being, if they persist in practice, will find that their very attributes are the ones that lead to liberation. The ox sinks of its own weight; the horse burns because it is made of paper. This is not a matter of how you relate to yourself. Rather it is a matter of studying those attributes of mind and body until you completely see through them, until you completely eliminate any sense of separation of self.

   Hosshinji begging bags, Obama, Japan


Hosshinji begging bags, Obama, Japan

To illustrate with a slightly more recent example, standing at Tassajara creek,  I once encountered a small fish that had jumped up on the rocks next to me. Seeing that it needed help, I tried to pick it up, but it squirmed and wiggled and wouldn't allow me to get a hold of it. In that moment I realized that I could only help it by allowing it to swim away. Scooping up a bit of water and splashing it in the right direction allowed the fish to slip easily back into the creek. That is, the fish could only be saved by enabling it to completely be fish. There was no other way to save the fish. The same is true for you and I and all other beings. We are freed not by receiving something that we don't already have, but only by being absolutely, completely what we are. And what we are is not the same as our idea of it, or someone else's idea of it. It is just that which we truly are.

So it is my hope that these stories and these ancient teachings can inspire you to be the practitioner who persists, to be the one who asks "How can this very mind and body be Buddha?" Because it is.




Congratulations to EPP students and Co-leaders!

Study & Arts, Sitting & Ritual, Sangha & Inclusion, Service & EngagementGuiding TeacherComment

Congratulations to all the students who completed the year-long program, "Establishing the Path of Practice," at San Francisco Zen Center. You fulfilled your commitment to yourself and your practice, and that's cause for celebration! And thanks to my co-leaders Paul Haller, Lien Shutt, Zach Smith, and Wendy Lewis who were a pleasure to practice with too.

How to Encounter People for Their Own Sake

Study & ArtsGuiding TeacherComment


A Dharma Hall Discourse from the Eihei Koroku as translated by Leighton & Okumura. Spoken by Dogen in 1247 CE, with Konin's comments in italics.

Seeing colors, clarifying mind, old man Sakyamuni turned a somersault.

The Buddha "turned over" his inverted views when he discovered the nature of mind inherent in his experience.

Hearing sounds, awakening to the Way, the ancestral teacher Bodhidharma held out his bowl.

Even in everyday activities like eating and hearing birds, Bodhidharma expressed the awakened nature of all things.

Before the 15th day (of the full moon), there's talk of the moon on Vulture Peak;

Before realization we like to speak wishfully about it.

After the 15th day, flowers are added on brocade.

After realization, speaking about it helps to reveal the pattern that is already there.

These are still not free from words and phrases.

That is still conventional activity.

Beyond this, how can we encounter people for their own sake?

After a pause, Dogen said: 

If pure gold is not refined a hundred times, how will it reveal its radiance?

If we don't make an effort 365 days a year, how can we realize the Way?

If a precious jewel is not assessed, how can it be judged genuine or fake?

If we don't apply our critical faculties to our experience of the world, how can we know its true nature?

What is it like, right at this time? Being early spring, it is still cold.

We start by practicing with this very with body and mind.

I respectfully wish all you honored persons 10,000 blessings in your sitting and standing.

I respectfully wish all you honored persons 10,000 blessings in your sitting and standing.


Boundless Sacred Spaces

Study & Arts, Sitting & RitualGuiding TeacherComment

During the time of the Buddha Shakyamuni, ceremonial space was defined by nothing more than four stones. Once placed and ritualized, the stones described a sacred space called a sīmā. It was a place in which the actions of the monks were considered not just valid, but also resonant with something much greater than them. This makes sense intuitively, because of the monks' practice of wandering to collect alms and to teach. They needed to be able to create a sacred space without having to construct a building.

However, this practice is also a teaching about the role of intention. It is an example from the life of the Buddha as a role model for each person's ability to set an intention that is in accord with the Dharmakaya, the function of perfection in all things. For me it seems that the Buddha knew that our experience of the world, when fully met with the body and mind, could resonate with so much more. That is why he gave the injunction not to simply believe his teaching, but to live it.

Thus, though we may be pushed and pulled by our karma and by the barrage of thoughts and feelings present in everyday life, each one of us is also an aspect of the function of perfection. Therefore, we are truly much more than we can possibly know. Discovering our ability to abide in this experience is the practice of a lifetime, and it can only be found by living it. Study is very helpful, but by itself cannot lead to the ultimate, just as reading a menu will not satisfy your hunger.

Recently I was asked to participate in an inter-faith panel discussion on creating sacred spaces. I began by talking a bit about the sīmā, and about the Buddhist understanding of body and mind as completely interpenetrating. To use Zen parlance, body and mind are not one, not two. They are not identical to each other, and yet they are completely inseparable. Extending it a bit further, this is also true of the relationship between us and our environment. That is, we are profoundly influenced by our environment, and we are profoundly influencing it. Extending this even further,  our environment is interacting with its environment, in ever larger and larger circles until the entire universe is included in each activity of a mundane life.

From this vantage point, it is easy to see why Bodhidharma told Emperor Wu that there was nothing holy about building temples and supporting the Dharma. (See the second koan in the Book of Serenity for more on this.) If everything is interacting with everything else then, from the perspective of the absolute, one thing is not more important than another.

However,  we should not understand this to mean that there is no such thing as a sacred space. We should not confuse the absolute perspective with the relative perspective. We should not fall into thinking that one trumps the other. In fact, it is because this absolute teaching is true that any space can be made sacred by our intention to enact wisdom and compassion. That is to say, since we are part of the function of the Dharmakaya then we can invoke it with our practice, with our intention, with our bodies and voices and candles and incense. We can invoke it with a bow. We can invoke it by including the stones in our ritual.

Examining it from another perspective,  since we are beings with an inherent connection to the Daharmakaya, we can feel the resonance. It's as if each one of us is a radio, and there is a signal being sent throughout the universe. If you can receive it, then you must be a part of the system.When you receive it, you demonstrate that you are part of the system. Have you ever felt the sacredness of place -  a temple, a church, a zendo, a mosque, a sutra, a scripture? You received the signal. It is a temporal arising of resonance due to the expression of intention, due to the expression of wisdom and compassion.

And that's where it gets interesting, because it means that our ability to invoke the Dharmakaya in the world begins with invoking it in ourselves. It means that the sacred space starts from within this body and mind, when we set ourselves on the path of following through on our intention to experience the Dharmakaya. So the most important thing we can do in order to create sacred spaces is to find the sacred space within us, the part of us that wants to receive the signal, the part of us that knows there is more to life than meets the eye.

Speaking to this phenomenon in his fascicle on "Awakening the Unsurpassed Mind," Dogen teaches,

Therefore the present building of shrines, fashioning of Buddhas, and so on, is indeed awakening the mind for enlightenment. It is awakening the mind to directly arrive at attainment of Buddhahood, and is not to be destroyed along the way. This is considered unfabricated virtue; this is considered unmade virtue. This is observation of true suchness; this is observation of the nature of things; this is absorption in the assembly of Buddhas; this is attaining the mental command of the Buddhas. This is the mind of supreme perfect enlightenment; this is the function of sainthood; this is manifestation of Buddha. Outside of this, there is nothing unfabricated, unmade.

So I encourage you to find the sacred spaces within, and to bring them into expression in the world because the world needs sacred spaces. And please find the sacred spaces in the world that resonate with the sacred spaces within you, because that's what they are meant to do. We all need to find our sacred spaces.