Peter’s Teachings

Tofu or beef?

When someone asks, “How’s it going?” we usually say something like “Not too bad,” or “Pretty good.” My grandpa, in his 90’s, would say, “Good, considering the alternative.” We make comparisons. We think tofu is better than beef. Or we detest tofu and love beef. We see everything in relation to something else. This feels…

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Dogen and Poetry. Firewood and Ash

Eihei Dogen Zenji’s writing is dense, deep, and sometimes perplexing. Because it’s so lush, so challenging, and often so difficult to grasp logically, I think it’s valuable to read and enjoy Dogen as poetry. Poetry by its nature involves a kind of freedom. Poets use language more freely than prose writers of any stripe –…

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The Buddha Twirls A Flower

In the Flower Sermon, Shakyamuni Buddha passes something to his disciple, Mahakashyapa. According to the story, Shakyamuni is on the teaching seat surrounded by his disciples. But instead of giving the usual kind of lecture, he holds up a flower and gives it a twirl. His disciple, Mahakashyapa smiles. Whereupon the Buddha says, “I possess…

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What is the self?

“To study the buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self.” These first two sentences are probably the most widely quoted in Dogen’s GENJOKOAN, and perhaps in all of Dogen’s writings. It’s rewarding to read Dogen slowly and closely, word by word. You could spend months and…

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Dongshan is ill

Case 94 in the Book of Serenity is entitled Dongshan is Unwell. Here’s the case: Dongshan was unwell. A monk asked, “Your Reverence is unwell. Is there anyone who does not become ill?” Dongshan said, “There is.” The monk said, “Does the one who does not get ill take care of Your Reverence?” Dongshan said,…

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A Fish Story

Kuei-shan (Isan) (771-853) woke up one morning and was still in bed when his lead disciple Yang-shan (Kyozan) came in. Kuei-shan said, “I had a dream last night. Would you interpret it for me?” Yang-shan picked up a bowl of water and a towel and handed them to Kuei-shan. Then another disciple – Hsiang-yen (Kyogen)…

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Shhhhhh

When we sit down to do zazen, it gets quiet. And when it gets quiet we notice things. We stop talking, we stop moving, and the room gets quiet. We sit still and concentrate the mind. And then the show starts, because when we slow things down and it gets quiet, we notice things we…

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What about Nirvana?

According to a recent Gallup poll, 46% of Americans believe God created human beings in pretty much their present form in one stroke at some point in the last 10,000 years. This is remarkable in the face of lots of data to the contrary and despite most schools teaching that human beings have evolved to…

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A different me

When you first start meditating, you meet a barrage of mental formations – thoughts, feelings, memories, and just random junk. If you have some faith and don’t give up, the formations that felt overwhelming start to feel less substantial. At first, you kind of take it for granted that the formations are you. You take…

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Working with Zen forms

In Zen we use the word “forms” referring to practice formalities – things we do together like bowing, posture, liturgy, or meal etiquette. We inherited these formalities from Japanese teachers who brought Zen to America in the 60’s and 70’s. At most Soto Zen practice places, they’ve been modified a bit, but there’s still a…

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