October 2, 2017


The foundation of Korinji's residence is done! From here things will move quickly. We're on track to begin our first ango - monastic training period - in March. See www.korinji.org for more information on residential practice opportunities at Korinji.

September 19, 2017

Phase two

The site of Korinji's residence was cleared today.

Here's a shot looking downhill from just above the future house site. Those of you who have been to Korinji will recognize how much clearing has been done.

Excavation and pouring of the foundation soon...

September 9, 2017

It's official

Although not due for release until March, the book has been listed on Amazon for more than a month; apparently this is not uncommon, as word of upcoming publications propagates through various distribution channels.

So I'll go ahead and announce it officially: the book is available for pre-order on Amazon.

The inscription on Hakuin's self-portrait gracing the cover reads:

Within the meditation hall
I am hated by the thousand buddhas.
In the company of myriad demons
I am despised by the myriad demons.
I crush those who practice false Zen,
and annihilate those blind monks
who can't penetrate Mu.
This evil, worn-out shavepate
adds one more layer of ugliness to ugliness.

September 8, 2017

Next year

Korinji has released the tentative schedule for its 2018-19 monastic year (subject to on-time completion of construction there).

The monastic year that will be observed by residents at Korinji is divided into two four-month practice periods called ango. There are three sesshin - one week periods of especially intensive meditation practice - in each ango. Between ango there are shorter periods of less strict practice called seikan. During seikan the residents have more freedom, and may travel to visit their families.  ​

Here's the schedule. For more information, see www.korinji.org.

SUMMER Training Period (Ge-ango)​​​
March 14: Beginning of the summer training period
March 15: Commemoration of Shakyamuni's parinirvana (Nehan-e)
April 8th: Commemoration of Shakyamuni's birth (Hanamatsuri)
April 15-21: Sesshin
May 20-26: Sesshin
June 17-23: Summer Solstice Sesshin
July 15: Ceremony for the deceased (Urabon-e)
July 16: End of the summer training period​ ​ ​

SEIKAN (interim period of less formal practice)
July 17 - September 30​​
[August 23-26: European Sesshin in Laufen, Germany] ​ ​

WINTER Training Period (Setsu-ango)​
October 1: Beginning of the winter training period.
October 5: Memorial for Bodhidharma (Darumi-ki)
October 14-20: Sesshin
November 4-10: Sesshin
December 2-8: Rohatsu O-Sesshin
December 8: Commemoration of Shakyamuni's enlightenment (Jodo-e)
December 31: Year-end Ceremony
January 1: New Year Observance
January 10: Memorial for Rinzai Gigen Zenji
January 17: Memorial for Hyakujo Ekai Zenji
January 31: End of the the winter training period​​ ​ ​

SEIKAN (interim period of less formal practice)
February 1 - March 13

Sesshin in Laufen

We met once again this past August 24-27 for our sesshin in Laufen, Germany. This was our 8th annual sesshin there at the Kapuzinerhof, a restored 17th century Capuchin monastery. The last Capuchin monks left in the 1970s and the place now hosts events like ours, as well as weddings and the like. Yet something of the old atmosphere clings to the place: fruit trees tended by the monks still fill the walled grounds, and the old choir where they chanted serves as our zendo. Sanzen takes place in a small chapel formerly used for solitary devotions. During yaza in the evenings, we sit outside among the monk's graves.

This sesshin was remarkable for the degree of energetic unity the group displayed, right from the first moments of the opening tea ceremony. Of course most of these students have been training for some years, and many have attended all eight of our Laufen sesshin. We know each other. Yet still, this sesshin was different, and the transformation becoming evident in some of the trainees was truly beautiful to see.

Many thanks to everyone, and especially Rev. Tendo Schrรถder and Rev. Anzan Stahl, the organizers. Looking forward to next year...

July 19, 2017

Zazen posture

One of the students at our retreat this past weekend at Korinji kindly gave me permission to post the photos below. The point they reveal is extremely important for meditators.

In a nutshell: most meditation practitioners sit with excessive lordosis (curve) in the lower back. This is partly due to our modern habits of using chairs, of not doing much physical labor that integrates the body, and so on. But it is also due to downright poor instruction that many teachers give, or to misunderstood instruction.

As an example of the latter, it is common to read in Zen texts that one should "push the hips forward." "Hips" is often used to translate the Japanese word "koshi." But this is a a misleading translation, since koshi refers to the entire lower trunk, not the hip joints alone (or, the iliac crests, which most folks seem to think are their hips). The result: many Zen students after reading such things "push their hips forward" by tipping their pelvises such that their lower backs curve excessively...precisely the opposite of what "push forward with the koshi" means (if you think of how the entire lower trunk engages when, say, pushing a heavy object you will catch the intended meaning). Many Zen teachers, in fact, advise their students to do precisely this.

Unfortunately, this causes the breath to be cut off at the solar plexus, since the diaphragm cannot move freely at all in that position. Because of this, the meditation depth and refinement cannot develop. Even after decades of sitting in such a way (something I have seen some folks do) there will be little transformation, since upper and lower body are not structurally integrated. A body like this will be unable to relax, and so cannot serve as the vessel within which the breath power may circulate. In other words: the samadhi condition cannot deeply manifest. 

Playing into this somewhat, perhaps, is also the odd belief these days that one needs to increase the curve in one's back to remedy back pain, since "the back should have a natural S-curve." Of course, the back already has a natural curve without one trying to make it so....this is not a problem for modern people. Rather, the cause for much low back pain is precisely an excessive amount of this curve, leading to disc compression. All of this makes for good business for "lumbar pillow" makers, of course, but bad advice for people who are in pain.

Zen teachers who advise their students to arch their backs excessively have good intentions, I am certain. The damage done by such bad advice is not excusable, however.

In any case, the first photo shows a common meditation posture. The energetic feeling in this body is moving upward rather than grounded in the earth. Someone who sits this way will experience heat, tightness, or pressure in the head. The breath will be shallow. Thoughts will proliferate.

The second photo shows a natural back position. The body in this photo is settled, and can sit without difficulty for long periods because its structure is aligned. Nothing special is being done here, except that the student has allowed the low back and sacrum area to release, along with the stomach and solar plexus area. This body is integrated, and a deep, dynamic diaphragmatic breath can manifest.

If you practice zazen, please take a look at the alignment of your pelvis. And if you wish to put the above assertions to the test, I invite you to curve your low back as much as you can...and then try to take a deep breath to the belly.

July 17, 2017

Discourse on the Inexhaustible Lamp

One of the most important texts for Rinzai Zen students: Torei Enji's Shumon Mujintoron. This translation, which includes a teisho commentary by Daibi, is an invaluable resource serving not only as a map of the entire Rinzai path, but also as a basic primer of Mahayana and Japanese Buddhism.

It had been published by Tuttle, but eventually went out of print; copies, when found, are around $100. But the Zen Centre in London, UK holds the original copyright and still makes the work available at an affordable price. I ordered this last week and it shipped promptly.

If you'd like a copy, do support the Zen Centre and their good work. I should mention that they have also kindly allowed me to use quotations from this in my own book...much appreciated!

 You can order online through this site: http://www.rinzaizencentre.org.uk/

June 24, 2017

June 17 groundbreaking at Korinji

On Saturday June 17th, we came out from our Solstice Sesshin schedule to conduct a ceremony consecrating the ground where Korinji's future residence will stand. This summer the excavators will come in, and our slab should be poured by the end of August. Construction will begin in earnest in the fall, with completion scheduled for February 2018...just in time for our firstango to begin in March.

We were joined at our ceremony by community supporters, members of the Korinji board, and several Soto Zen colleagues from Madison. For an hour or so after the ceremony we enjoyed refreshments and conversation together, before our sesshin trainees dove back in to their training. Thank you to everyone who came!

June 8, 2017

Regarding Buddhist online forums

Online Buddhist forums are interesting things. I personally have found that participating at places like Zen Forum International and Dharma Wheel has been useful for my own practice: it has allowed me to absorb the perspectives of a few other senior practitioners in several traditions that I might otherwise never have encountered. These perspectives have in some cases been instrumental in shaping my own.

Forums do have their downsides, however. I wrote the following to address one of these: the proliferation of self-taught or self-certified "teachers," whose chief activity on forums is to hold forth - usually anonymously - regarding Zen practice, mainly according to their own half-baked understanding. Since this seems to me an important point in general, with usefulness beyond the world of the online forums, I'll share it here as well:

There exists an oddly common idea that one can read a few books (or forum postings) about a tradition or practice - or practice some particular method for a few months or years - and more or less "get" what it's all about. 

The truth, however, is that even the seemingly simplest practices are extremely profound. The courses of practice mapped out in different lineages arose only from the truly (at times inconceivably) severe training those lineage forebears did, and therefore contain vast reservoirs of human experience plumbing the depths, so to speak. 

For these reasons, no one should talk about practice with any authority or certainty without having brought it to fruition for oneself (meaning first of all that one is clear what such fruition entails for the methods one is using, then that one has no doubt the fruition has manifested, and finally that one's teacher agrees). Even in such cases, it is still best to preface talk of practice with "In my experience," recognizing that different practitioners reveal different facets of Zen training more strongly or weakly according to their unique conditions and characters. 

As an example: koan practice as it exists in Rinzai Zen. The manner in which this method functions means that one really doesn't see the whole course of the practice - its full logic and ramifications - until one has completed the formal practice completely. In other words, one could only really speak about it accurately from a "top-down" place, seeing the entire "system" after having passed through it. Before that point, much is hidden. After that point, also, a great deal of ripening still has to occur. In fact, we could say that the real meat of Rinzai practice takes place after one has completed koan training...even, after one has received inka from the teacher. 

And yet, everywhere you go online, you'll find folks confidently telling you what koan practice is, how it's done, what it means. The same also for other methods and traditions. It's really a very odd thing, isn't it! 

It's fine for someone who has done many years of practice, whether they be lay or ordained, to speak about their experience in some manner. But even such people should be very careful not to talk much about practice in an authoritative way. Within the course of practice there are many instances where one realizes how myopic and shallow one's attainment has been. Even someone of very deep and sharp ability like Torei says that at the end of his practice under Hakuin, when he finally was able to grasp the master's functioning, he laughed when he considered his previous efforts and understanding. How much more likely is this to be so for practitioners of fair-to-middling ability, such as we mostly are?

I hope that all of us in our community, starting with teachers and senior students including myself, will repeatedly come to feel the surprise that Torei did, as we clearly see how shallow our own understanding truly is. With that humility and great care, we should then be able to support, guide, and counsel one another effectively.

March 31, 2017

Living at Bright Forest Temple

I am pleased to announce that we have released preliminary information regarding opportunities to reside and practice at Korinji Rinzai Zen Monastery. Our new residence is on track for completion in time for the first ango (period of intensive monastic practice), beginning in March 2018. We are therefore now beginning to take applications from interested persons.

The Korinji website now offers information on the following:

1. RESIDENTIAL ZEN TRAINING: general information for persons wishing to reside at, or visit, Korinji for any length of time.

2. ORDINATION INFORMATION, for persons interested in the training for Rinzai Zen ordination at Korinji.

Information regarding these things may be found here:

Additionally, we have released information regarding

3. FOCUSED INTERNSHIPS IN BUDO OR THE ARTS: these are opportunities to reside at the monastery and do Zen practice, while also devoting time to the mastery of a specific art or discipline. There are three internship tracks, including self-created programs focused on one's existing art or discipline, a traditional martial arts apprenticeship (uchideshi training) under my guidance, and training in forging/metalwork, also under my guidance.

Internship information may be found here:

A final note: recommended donations for stay at Korinji are specified in the information. These are necessary so that we may fund our monastery. However, sincere practitioners will not be turned away, and scholarships are possible in cases of need or for those who commit to longer periods of residence.

Please contact me with any questions via the Korinji site (serious inquiries only please, and do read the information on the site first since almost everything you need to know is there).