by Joseph Walker
25 min read

Date Read: January 2019
Rating: 10/10

I. Beginnings

We all hope to change, to get somewhere! That in itself is the basic fallacy. But just contemplating this desire begins to clarify it, and the practice basis of your life begins to alter as we do so. We begin to comprehend that our frantic desire to get better, to “get somewhere” is illusion itself, and the source of suffering. -p24

Practice is about breaking our exclusive identification with ourselves. Purifying the mind. Stripping away that which keeps a person from functioning best.

II. Practice

The Fire of Attention

Hard coal - anthracite - burns clean. This is what we strive to “burn” our attention like.

Soft coal - lignite - is the reality of how we utilize our attention. Distracted, messy and impure, often wasteful. It simply means the burning in our life is not clean.

From the bible:

He is like a refiner's fire -p31

Attention is rthe cutting, burning, and our practice is to use that word as much as we can. p32

Remain dispassionate and fundamentally unaffected by your thoughts.

Quiet the mind, increase the air intake, allow the fire to roar.

Pushing for Enlightenment Experiences

Be patient. Having an “enlightenment” experience too soon is not necessarily healthy.

On a withered tree, a flower blooms -p39

The longer we practice, the more minimal this need becomes. The love becomes greater, and the need, less. We can’t love something we need” -p.39

As we identify ourselves with less and less, we cam include more and more in our lives. -p39

The Price of Practice

When life is unpleasant or unfulfilling, we use subtle escape mechanisms to avoid feeling pain or discomfort. In this way, we attempt to find somebody or something to handle our difficulties for us.

“As long as we see our lives in this dualistic fashion, we fool ourselves and believe that we need not pay any price for a realized life. We will continue to resist practive until we understand that only we cvan pay the price of realization.” -p40

We never have a real practice until we realize our unwillingness to pay any price at all. Paying the price of practice is a privilege and we see this more clearly as our practice grows. In this process we discover that our own pain and others’ pain are not separate worlds. The delusion of separateness diminishes.

The Reward of Practice

To have a self means we are “self-centered”. Rather than moving from unhappy self to happy self, Zen practice can help move one from unhappy self to no self, that which is joy.

We must, however, have some degree of happiness and stability to engage in serious practice. In the next stage we begin to see the patterns, desires, and addictions that the self is composed of. We can then work to dissolve them.

A life of joy is not in seeking happiness, but in experiencing and simply being the circumstances of our life as they are; not in fulfilling personal wants, but in fulfilling the needs of life; not in avoiding pain, but in being pain when it is necessary to do so. -p.45

III. Feelings

A Bigger Container

“The gateless gate”

The overriding quality in any quarrel is pride. -p49

On being angry: The first step is to back away, say little. -p50

Pride out of which anger is born is what separates us. -p51

What we want is not to be right, but to be a bigger container. The container is an analogy for how much life we can hold before the container overflows. As we strengthen our practice, our container grows.

What must be increased is our ability to observe. “If I can observe my mind and body in an angry state, who is this ‘I’ who observes. It shows me I am other than my anger, bigger than my anger. And this knowledge enables me to build a bigger container to grow.” -p51

Opening Pandora’s Box

The Princess & the pea

Practice allows us to become more sensitive, but more edgy too.

Practice can be like opening Pandora’s Box. All of us feel like we are separate from life. That we have a wall all around us. As we practice, that wall becomes thinner and thinner.It’s like a lid slowly being lifted revealing the chaos that is life which we are connected to. The chaos is our ego and all its desires, wants, needs, etc… In this way, practice is not easy, but it is transformative and necessary.

The most painful thing is to think that there’s something wrong with me, and that nobody else is having the trouble I am. That’s not true, of course. -p56


Our encounters in life, with other people, events, are like being bumped with an empty rowboat. -p57

That’s the fun of being with another person. Life’s little moments, squabbles, trials and tribulations, are hilarious and perfect. But we don’t alwys see it that way. We all have our cut-off point, the point at which our container begins to flow and we just can’t deal with it. This is the point of our practice, to grow that container so that the things that bother us no longer do. We come to accept them as they are, perfect.

The experiencing of anger is very quiet. Not anything noisy at all -p63


Fear exists because we misuse our minds, because we see our self or “I” as a separate entity.

No Hope

It’s a precious opportunity we have, to be alive as human beings. It has been said that the chance of having a human life is something like being picked up as one grain of sand out of all the grains on the beach. -p66

A life lived with no hope is a peaceful, joyous, compassionate life. All hope, of course, is about sizing up the past and projecting it into the future. There is no past and no future execpt in our mind. There is nothing but self and self is always present. -p66

Dogen Zenji’s text: Tenzo Kyokun “Other people are not me.” “If I do not do it now, when else can I do it.” -p68

Nothing is wrong with dreams and fantasies. Just don't hold onto them; see their unreality and turn away. -p70


Practice is about clarifying how emotion thought melts.

If you think you have cutoff illusory thought, the emotion thought will come up again, as though you have cut the stem of a blade of grass or trunk of a tree and left the root alive. -p71

If we're in a close relationship, from time to time we're going to be in pain because no relationship will ever suit us completely. There’s no one we will ever live with who will please us in all the ways we want to be pleased. Always we must practice getting closer and closer to experiencing our pain, our disappointment, our shattered hopes and dreams. When we experience the suffering directly, the melting of the false emotion can begin and true compassion can emerge.

IV. Relationships

We’re all looking for an ideal life. But we have to know where to look, to know what it means to look. Underneath all the looking/searching is distress, unease. These are the motivating factors of our searching.

Nothing is perfect so all of our searching is ultimately bound to end in disappointment.

Desires are inexhaustible. But you won’t exhaust desires by searching; you will exhaust them by experiencing that which underlies them.

Two questions: Do I understand the necessity for practice? Do I know what practice is?

Most people, when they get angry, act out of their thoughts; and so they nearly always have to return later and go into the experience of the upset because they’re not skilled enough to do that at the time they feel threatened. -p81

Practicing with Relationships

Action based on confusion and ignorance leads directly to more confusion, upset, and ignorance -p84

This life of ignorance is linear: past, present, and future. It is a hostile wold created by our own thoughts. And when we try to find these thoughts we dwell upon, we find it impossible because they reside in the past. They no longer exist, they are ungraspable.

TV channel analogy - he/she is a channel 4 person. I’m calm/comfortable with channel 4. But then at some point, our partner becomes a different channel and we’re not used to it. We don’t like it. So we find another channel 4. But we don’t ask ourselves who changed the channel in the first place. What is the source?

Sometimes people live out a lifetime and never meet. As long as our buttons are pushed, we have a great chance to learn and grow.

For those who practice paiently, there will be more and more a taste of the joy in a relationship in which no self meets no self. And when it happens, I don’t even know if we can use the word “relationship”. Who is there to relate to whom?

Experiencig & Behavior

We know, to a certain extent that our behavior and our experiencing are connected. However, we constantly judge other people by their behavior without knowing their experience.

Who I am is simply experiencing itself, forever unknown. -p91

Behavior then, is what we observe.

When we live a life that is not dominated by personal opinion but is instead pure experiencing, then we begin to take care of everyone; ourselves, and others. -p92

All of our practice is to return ourselves to pure experiencing.

Relationships Don’t Work

In everything we do in relation to other people, there is a subtle or not so subtle expectation. We all want something from the people we are in relationship to.

Love expects nothing.

A good relationship gives life more power. It has nothing to do with what you or your partner wants.

Practice, like being in a relationship, is to be selfless. This is what it means to be strong. And strength requires flexibility.

Relationship Is Not Each Other

The true self knows no separation. It is nothing at all, yet it is the only master.

When we are nobody, no self, the right action is obvious.

Your life is none of your business.

The true self is something like instinct. It serves not to benefit myself, or someone else, but life.

Practice brings us into that undramatic space where things are just as they are - just functioning.

V. Suffering

True Suffering & False Suffering

Suffering comes from the latin “suf” - sub, under. “fer from the latin verb “ferre” to bear. So suffering is literally to bear under something. False suffering is a product of conceptualization. When we form opinions about something and fail to realize that these opinions are not absolute truth, we suffer. This is false suffering.

Complete opennness, complete vulnerability to life is the only satisfactory way to living our life. -p108

Our practice is focused on being in the present moment. Accepting things for what they are, being in the suffering.

Life is Suffering -Buddha


It is not about giving things up, but accepting that they go away.

Life is impermanent. Impermenance is perfection. Yet we are constantly resisting change. We do not see life as it is; we resist practice. We are blinded by the illusion of what we want, slaves to our emotions, holding on to what we think life should be.

Practice is detachment from this perception so that we can see things as they truly are.

What keeps us from practice?

  • Unawareness that all practice has a strong element of resistance
  • Lack of honesty about who we are
  • Being impressed and sidetracked by our little opening as they occur
  • Little understanding of the magnitude of the task we have embarked upon ~ it is unending
  • Saying but not doing

      He who knows does not say, and he who says does not know. p114

It is Okay

Okay is the enlightened state - being okay, even in a terrible, undesirable situation. To live with the circumstances that life brings to you.

… we often wonder how we will die. The key is not to learn to die bravely, but to learn not to need to die bravely.

The paradox of life: being okay with, and accepting the things that are difficult, uncomfortable, painful, and not okay with.


Life is a moral struggle in which we are the protagonist.

The buddhist parable about the man being chased by a tiger ~ Every moment is our last moment, so appreciate it.

Practice is more and more about detaching ourselves from this exclusive identification.

The Observing Self

The describable self is composed of the thinking self, emotional self, and functional self. Then there is the observing self. It can not be found nor can it be described. We must observe all aspects of our life through our practice. To observe is to know, and when we know, we can be in control; fully conscious.

3 ways of practice:

  • Concentration in which we take a koan and push hard to break through
  • Opening ourselves to life through observation ~ meticulous attention to the anatomy of the present moment
  • Substituting a positive thought for a negative
    • this is helpful but ultimately misses the point of practice (all thoughts are empty, temporary)

Who we are has many faces, but these faces are not who we are -p126

There is no observer. Only observing. The aim of practice is to increase that impersonal space. The space of compassion.

What makes life so frightening is that we let ourselves be carried away in the garbage of our whirling minds. -p127

VI. Ideals

Running In Place

We only know our lives when we experience them directly. When we escape from what is given, we cannot learn, we cannot grow. Running in place is being in the here and now; accepting your life for what it is.

Aspiration & Expectation

Aspiration is always satisfying. It is our own tue nature seeking to realize and express itself. Expectation is the search for satisfaction from something outside ourselves.

Place no head above your own, and add nothing extra to your life.

Seeing Through the Superstructure

We build an encasing around our lives like a strawberry dipped in chocolate. This extra layer is opaque, it dims our lives and we think to ourselves we must get rid of this superstructure. But that’s not what practice is about. The structure is not real and it is up to us to see through it, as if were a dream.

It's hard to get that we don't have to get rid of calamity. The calamity is fine. You don't have to like it, but it's fine. Discipline is the light we use to wake ourselves up.

In this moment, what do we see, and what do we not see? The question is always the same. Our responsibility is to experience the reality of our life as it is. And eventually to blame no one. If we blame anyone, we know we’re caught.

We’re like scientists, working, experimenting with our own life.

Prisoners of Fear

We are prisoners of our own accord. The door has always been unlocked but we don’t recognize our own freedom because we are blinded by desire. Rather than moving from unconscious selfishness to conscious unselfishness (desire 1 to desire 2), we must observe our state of being.

When we experience ourselves as we are, then out of that death of the ego, out of that withering, the flower blooms. On a withered tree, the flower blooms.

Great Expectations

Let go of and forget your body and mind. Throw your life into the abode of the Buddha.

Wisdom is to see there is nothing to search for.

VII. Boundaries

The Razor’s Edge

When we are embedded in life, there is simply seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, thinking. There is nothing to realize because we are life itself, we have no questions about life. -p155

Practice is about learning to walk the razor’s edge. It is the experiencing of what the moment is. Not being searated by the thoughts that occur.

There is no past apart from right now. The past is who we are at this moment.

New Jersey Does Not Exist

We think not in terms of work that needs to be done for life, but in terms of how we can serve our separate self, an enterprise that never occurs to a white blood cell.

We draw boundaries in our lives separating you from me and everything else. I’m New Jersey and you are New York. From a bird’s eye view, there are no boundaries. In reality, we are the same. And we go our whole lives like this, pasting maps over reality, living life muddled and confused at times, questioning who we are, our purpose.

Paradoxically, this confusion is the clarity itself. To be conscious of your confusion, your questions allow you to be in the moment and to slowly get back on track to living and not questioning life. The white blood cell does not question its purpose. It goes right on cleaning your arteries with all its energy for its entire life. It has a function; it knows what to do.


The definition of religion ~ to bind back, to bind man to the gods

Sadly enough, some of us die without ever having lived, because we’re so obsessed with trying to avoid being hurt. We are caught within the barrier of emotion thought. Reactions that separate us from the rest of life. We vacillate between two poles. Conformity and non-conformity, each a form of slavery.

Until we understand the riddle, we are caught in it.The strength of our practice and the ability to communincate our practice to others lies in beinng ourselves.


It is not a picture, but a shattering of all our pictures.

We are little baby birds sitting in their nest waiting for mommy and daddy to put food in their beaks… except that we hide our greed, the baby birds do not.

When we begin to realize our styles of attachment, we can begin to free ourselves from them. Our view of how life is vs. how we expect it to be shatters so that reality can present itself. Only then are we truly free to observe, to be present in the very moment.

VIII. Choices

From Problems to Decisions

Life from morning to night is nothing but decisions. But we see life in terms of problems, not decisions.

As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.

The problem isn’t out there, it’s here, with who I am.

The knowledge of what needs to be done slowly clarifies with practice. Decisions become just that, decisions.

A tenth of an inch of difference, and heaven and earth are set apart.

From an absolute point of view, nothing could set it apart, but from a relative standpoint, something doesn’t feel right. There is a separation.

Turning Point

We often feel that for our lives to have a new start, the old one must be renounced. There are many misconceptions about renunciation. It is nothing but non-attachment.

To study the self is to forget the self.

Shut the Door

Freedom is the willingness to risk being vulnerable to life. When we are in a n unpleasant and restrictive situation, we leave a door open so that we can escape. But we must shut the door and face things as they are.

Pain is a direct experience of life itself. But suffering is experienced when you try and avoid experiencing the pain.


Commitment is a capacity. And it grows as muscles grow; by being exercised.

True love and commitment have no what-ifs. They are not shaken by passing circumstances. Shakespeare:

Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds

Commitment is shutting the door, not leaving room for escape.

IX. Service

Thy Will be Done

Before I can understand thy will, I must begin to see the illusion of my will; I want, I want I want.

Work vs. Vocation

Vocation is a summons or calling upon

All of our lives bring problems - or are we given opportunities?

No Exchange

When action is backward, it becomes manipulative. It is based on a concept or internal thought. We must have concepts in order to function. The problem occurs when we believe they are the truth.

We are always expecting an exchange for our actions. This is an error. What we expect, we rarely get.

Disappointment is our one true friend on the path of the Dharma. It presents itself everytime one’s expectations are failed to be met. This is an opportunity for learning and practicing how to be with that disappointment.

Action that comes from experience - sensory input - is non-manipulative. A life of compassion is non-manipulative. A life of no exchange.

The Parable of Mushin

Joe - lived in a town called hope. His buddhist name, Mushin. He was stubborn. Eventually he gets fired from his job. His wife leaves him. But he was not one to give up. On the contrary he was even more convicted to find the path of enlightenment.

Joe goes to the bookstore and find the book “How to catch the train to enlightenment”. So he follows the books directions and goes to the train station. Day in and day out he tries to catch the train but it never stops. Soon, others come to the train station with the same notion.

Overtime a community forms at the train station and Joe realizes that many are neglecting their children so he begins to care for them. At first he is annoyed because they are taking time away from himself, trying to catch the train but he knows that caring for the children is the most important thing. So it goes on for Joe, caring for the children for years and years. Over time he begins to stop asking the questions that once plagued him. He begins to love all the others at the train station.

One night Joe decided to sit, all night. He hears the whooshing of the train and as he opens his eyes, the train stops in front of him. In this moment Joe realizes he had been on the train the whole time. In fact, he was the train.

There was no need to catch the train. Nothing to realize. Nowhere to go. Just the wholeness of life itself. 
All the ancient questions that were no questions answered themselves. 
And at last the train evaporated, and there was just an old man sitting the night away.