A monk asked Master Jisai - "How is the moon when not yet round?"

The master said, "swallowing three or four moons"

The monk said, "And when the moon is round?"

The master said, "vomiting seven or eight moons".

In this story the moon is a symbol of enlightenment, so the monk's question really is: what is the person like before and after enlightenment?

The Master's answer seems to be that before enlightenment the person is primarily conceptual. So, the various concrete moons the person experiences - the harvest moon, the waxing moon, the present moon and so on - all arise within [swallowed] the concept of 'moon', whereas for the enlightened person, the actual limitless manifestations of moon are - as it were-  liberated [vomited] from the concept of moon.

This interpretation isn't wrong but it can lead to a terrible literal Zen, where there is an unbalanced emphasis is on concrete reality and  a lot of banal and formulaic talk about the Here and Now. And in this block of concrete Zen, delusion is considered as the other: thoughts, dreams, imaginings, visions and so on.

In his commentary on this koan, Dogen says that the whole world is expressed in the act of swallowing and the whole world is expressed in the act of vomiting. We should swallow the self and the whole world. We should vomit the self and the whole world

Or, to put it slightly differently  - there is a dynamic folding and re-folding between wholeness-ising everything [swallowing], and releasing everything in its own vivid expression-ing [vomiting]

Which is our practice.



Bowing is a modification of prostration.

When we prostrate, we de-centre the head, throwing it forward into the world, throwing it down on the ground of all being.

Our body is open and vulnerable. Our hands are without all the things of the self.

On entering the dojo we bow to the altar: to Buddha and to the flowers of emptiness. We bow to the incense that perfumes the space. We bow to our cushion. We bow to our fellow practitioners. 

It is not that our cushion is a small person and you are great person or that Buddha is a great person and you are a small person. No. When we put our hands together and bow, a great person appears - not just in front of our hands, not just behind our hands. Not just in the hands themselves:




Our lives do not exist in time. But in our lives, time exists. It is not that we have been living these thirty years, these sixty years. They are living through us.

This person is the pillar of the world. This person is like the ground beneath the ocean, holding the water in his open palm, so it does not cascade into nothingness.



Dahui, the 12th Century Chinese Master, said that Soto practitioners stagnated in Emptiness. What he meant by that was to say that our tradition over emphasised tranquillity and lacked insight, wisdom. It’s a criticism which was repeated by his Rinzai successors, most famously by Hakuin.

Is the criticism fair?

Certainly, in response to it, there has been a sporadic but persistent response within our tradition which attempts to create an atmosphere of dramatic urgency, which no doubt does curtail tranquillity, but for what benefit? We are earnestly told that we must practice zazen as if our life depended on it. Does it? Isn’t the truth that our life hangs by an infinity of single threads, yet we do not fall?

Further, we are periodically given false instructions to breathe in a prescribed way to develop power in our hara, lifted straight from Rinzai, as if that could be done with a non gaining mind.

Dahui’s criticism of these kind of practitioners is too mild. It’s not even drama. People who teach in this way are the rear end of a pantomime horse.

But the criticism generally is not fair.

This body is not the possession of the self. The self appears and disappears within this body. The breath, liberated from the grip and pull of the self, can express itself fully. Likewise all things. Likewise, all things.





We expect to see the Buddha, within us or behind us.

But no matter how hard we look, he is nowhere to be found.

Instead we see a fox of wisdom, a fox of piety, a fox of compassion, a fox of enlightenment and so on, for what seems 500 lifetimes.

We need to understand that this person is not a complete person, and never will be. This person is half a person. The momentary beingtime crashing against this half a person likewise is half a person -



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