The three treasures are Buddha, Dharma, Sangha.

Towards the end of his life, the Buddha said to his disciples "My true body is my teachings"

Out of this arose the idea of the dharmakaya, the Universal Body of the Buddha, and then, later, the Bliss Body. As 'buddha' inflated, 'sangha' shrunk.

But there's another way to look at it.

The Buddha's teachings weren't written down in his lifetime. They were held in the bodies and minds of the disciples who heard them. They were brought out by those disciples. That's where the teachings arose. Without a sangha, there would have been no dharma. That's where the teachings were embodied. And from there, outward, to everywhere.

And it is this body - the Sangha body, both mythical and flesh and blood - which keeps giving birth to new buddhas.



When she was alive, I often thought Nancy Amphoux, who introduced me to zen, was a terrible teacher. It took me a long time to realise that I was a terrible listener.

When I last saw her, a week before she died, she gave me a bird's feather. She explained that years before, when she'd been driving in France, she saw a fox attacking a bird. She stopped the car and got out. The fox ran away, but the bird was already dead. Some of its feathers were scattered on the road, and Nancy took them, and kept them.

As people came to say goodbye to her, she would tell them the story and give them one of the feathers. As she finished telling the story to me she gave me the last feather and said "There, all gone"

Often in the teachings, an apparently humble thing: a cat, a pillow, a broken ladle, a dead bird, symbolises the alive wholeness of everything, but unless we feel it, our understanding is useless.

I lacked even that understanding. And I didn't ask her who the fox was, either



When we chant the lineage, we chant the six primordial mythical buddhas, then the historical Buddha, then the generations of teachers following him, down to the present day.

The superficial problem - aside from the mythical buddhas - is that the lineage is made up. Some of the people named probably didn't exist at all, and others almost certainly didn't say or write what has been attributed to them.

In full knowledge of this, my teacher said that he accepts the lineage completely. How so?

Rinzai said that there is a true person - this person - who has no rank. This person is always going in and out through your face.

When we chant the lineage, all the names are provisional names, for this person.

And in the lineage of your own life, this person appears. All the demons, ghosts and false persons do not obstruct this person. And they don't matter.




Blue Cliff Record, Case 63

The Case: at Master Nansen's temple, two groups of monks were arguing about a cat. Nansen held up the cat and said "If you can speak then I will not kill it". The monks were silent. Nansen cut the cat in two.


1. Who is the one person within the temple who carries a sword? Manjusri, the bodhisattva of wisdom. He sits on the altar, atop the lion of courage.

1.1. So is it a real sword? Or a real cat? Given that a humble pillow can symbolise dependent origination, what more could a cat signify? What are monks really likely to be arguing about?

2. Dogen, in Zuimonki,  asks his students what they would have said in response to Nansen's demand. And then volunteers that he would have said to Nansen, "Why don't you cut the cat into one?" Wouldn't you be happily cut in two if you could say something this brilliant?

2.1. Isn't Dogen's point that the cat -reality- has already been cut in two? Nansen does not kill it, because it has already been 'killed' by the sword of duality, wielded by the disputatious monks. But Manjusri's sword is different. It cuts into one. How?

Shinji Shobogenzo, Book 3, Case 4

The Case (adapted):


Master Tozan was asked by a monk, "When we are going along a narrow path, how should be proceed?"

Tozan said, "Poisonous snakes are found even on a broad path, and I advise you not to attack one directly"

The Monk said, "If I do, what will happen?"

Tozan said, "Just at that moment, there will be no room for you to escape"

The Monk said, "Would you tell me about 'just at this moment'?"

Tozan said, "All things are lost"

The Monk said, "Where have they gone?"

Tozan said, "Because of the grasses, we cannot find them"

The Monk said, "Master, if you go to the river bank you can get there at once"

Tozan rubbed his hands and said "The air now is poisonous"


Nagarjuna said that we should approach Emptiness as we would approach a poisonous snake. We cannot avoid it.

But if we attack it, we remain in duality. Likewise if we ignore it. We should pay careful attention to Tozan's "you".

Tozan was one of the founders of our Soto tradition, our narrow path. Unlike other traditions, we don't engage with Emptiness "directly". We don't use koans. We don't intellectually engage with it. We just sit. But isn't that engaging directly? Because no "you" remains?

The Chinese Masters were keen that we didn't misconstrue Emptiness as nothingness, or vacuity. Neither that we reified it. So they reconfigured Emptiness as Suchness, Is-Ness. The world is empty of our concepts and names, so what we choose to demarcate as distinct things 'disappear' and are lost. "Grasses" or "Myriad Grasses" is a way of talking about all beings, all things. In Suchness, we cannot find one thing as it is part of everything, which is whole.

The Monk finally alludes to the last part of the Heart Sutra - the Sutra on Emptiness - but for Tozan, this is exactly the sort of intellectual engagement he has disparaged, and so he dismisses the Monk.



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