Keichu’s Wheel

Getsuan said to his students: “Keichu, the first wheel-maker of China, made two wheels of fifty spokes each. Now, suppose you removed the nave uniting the spokes. What would become of the wheel? And had Keichu done this, could he be called the master wheel-maker?”

Mumon’s comment: If anyone can answer this question instantly, his eyes will be like a comet and his mind like a flash of lightning.

When the hubless wheel turns,
Master or no master can stop it.
It turns above heaven and below earth,
South, north, east, and west.

Getsuan is Rep and Senzaki’s transliteration. Sekida and Yamada call him Gettan. The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen says Gatsurin or Getsurin. Whichever way you pronounce it it is as irrelevant as the axle being removed in this koan. Remove the axle and the cart is useless or rather the cart has lost its essence. That is the point of the koan though. What is left is Emptiness. But to see that Emptiness as Emptiness that is another thing. That is called Enlightenment, something which I do not have. And all I have shown here, much to my regret, is the ordinary of kind emptiness called intellect or concept.

Forgetting Oneself

Dogen said, “When one studies Buddhism, one studies oneself; when one studies oneself, one forgets oneself; when one forgets oneself one is enlightened by everything and this very enlightenment breaks the bonds of clinging to both body and mind not only for oneself but for all beings as well.” (From Zen is Eternal Life)

Treasury of the True Dharma Eye


Just bought this complete translation of the Treasury of the True Dharma Eye. Last year the publishers released a beautiful two-volume boxed hardcover edition of which I really regret not purchasing.

Travelling the Narrow Roads with Basho

Go where
The wind blows
Far into the interior
Of the mind
Of your haiku

Then beyond
Its borders
Through towns
Pass common folks
Over seas
And in love
With your
Only to return
To reality
That is the Edo.

every moment

every moment
is simultaneously
a small death
and rebirth


clockwise ascent

more progression
sideways, slow 

doesn’t describe you

procession of souls 


as life 

views far

beyond mountains, seas

sees before again 

gentle decline 


your anticipation

a rebirth 

before next ride

Harada Tangen Roshi

harada_tangen_roshiHere is an excellent  documentary of my master, Harada Tangen Roshi, made by zen practitioner, artist and filmmaker, Madelon Hooykaas. She practiced under him 30 years ago and made this film in 2008 or 2009.

No sound, no water.

There is no old pond.
There is no frog that leaps in.
No sound, no water.

Santoka’s Hailstone Poem

My begging bowl too
Fall hailstones

Teppatsu no
Naka e mo

teppatsu (steel begging bowl)
no naka e (falling into the)
mo (also)
arare (grain-sized hail)

A teppatsu is a steel bowl for receiving alms from begging or takuhatsu. Begging is an important part of Buddhist practice. Not only should the receiver, the monk, be thankful but also should the giver, the lay people. People often think that takuhatsu is a base practice but it is really the highest of practices in Buddhism. Takuhatsu is different from begging. The begging of the poor is seen as receiving something for nothing. But in the takuhatsu the giver is also receiving the Teaching of The Buddha from those practicing towards enlightenment. Thus the monks hard work is not only for himself but for others as well. So the receiver and giver both should have a spirit of gratitude for this reason.

The e in the second line is a grammatical particle in the Japanese language. It is possible to replace the e with a ni for the sentence to still remain grammatically correct. But there is a difference in meaning, in nuance. E denotes a movement whereas ni denotes a state of existence. With a ni the sentence would then translate to ‘In my begging bowling too are hailstones’. The cruciality of the movement thus signifies the striking of the metalic bowl by the hail, making a sound which brought probably Santoka to some kind of great realization.

For it to be hailing it must have been during the cold winter months. How hard and lonely it must have seem for Santoka. Yet his poem is full of joy and gratitude. How wonderful is the Teaching! How powerful it is! How deep his realization!

It should also be noted that Santoka is famous for his free-form haiku. While the haiku is usually 5-7-5 in syllables this haiku is 5-4-3 departing radically from the norm. Furthermore it is standard to have a season word or kigo. Here the season word is hail but Santoka may not put one in. This freedom of style is powerful and natural for him, making his poetry closer to modern verse. Indeed he lived in a time (1882-1940) of great change in Japan.

Daito Kokushi by Hakuin