Bob Schwartz

Category: Zen

Made Simple

Made Simple

Whatever you say or do
Or are made to do
Know who
And see through
The differences

Note: To get to the essence (it should accurately be called “______ Made Simple”, fill in the blank with anything) this is fewer words than some, more words than some, and either way less skillful than many. But beyond that, the point is the point. That point is the spot between this and that (again fill in the blank: hot and cold, light and dark, man and woman, love and hate, best and worst, Jew and Christian, AC and DC, Democrat and Republican, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, etc., etc.). That point is you, and you are not between anything.

The Great Way is not difficult
for those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent
everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however,
and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.
Verses on the Faith Mind, Chien-chih Seng-ts’an 

Dirt on the Rug

Dogen-zenji said, “Shoshaku jushaku.” Shaku generally means “mistake” or “wrong.” Shoshaku jushaku means “to succeed wrong with wrong,” or one continuous mistake. According to Dogen, one continuous mistake can also be Zen. A Zen master’s life could be said to be so many years of shoshaku jushaku.
Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Dirt on the Rug

I don’t have to be careful any more
I’ve already knocked over the plant
That sat balanced on the table corner
Spilled dirt on the rug
It won’t happen again

© Bob Schwartz 2017

Recommending a Round Cushion to All People

The official story
Says to sit upright
On the round cushion
Legs crossed
Hands positioned
Breathing in and out.

But you are not a citizen
Of the land of cushions
No reason to follow
The party line.

Lay your head on it and nap
Roll it across the room
Throw it in the air
Or out the window
(don’t hit anyone)
Admire its color
Its fabric
Its filling
And its roundness.
Play with it.
Sit on it or don’t.
Remember however
To breathe in and out
With or without
The round cushion.
That’s not following
Anything or anyone
That’s just good sense.

Note: One of the most famous Zen texts is Dogen’s Recommending Zazen to All People. Dogen was in a masterful position to make such a recommendation. I am not. But round cushions, which come in many colors, fabrics, and fillings, are easy to recommend, because even if you don’t use it for sitting, there is a lot you can do with a round cushion.

The Mountain Poems of Stonehouse


From The Mountain Poems of Stonehouse (Shihwu) (1272-1352), translated by Red Pine:

Here in the woods I have lots of free time. When I don’t spend it sleeping, I enjoy composing poems. But with paper and ink so scarce, I haven’t thought about writing them down. Now some Zen monks have asked me to record what I find of interest on this mountain. I have sat here quietly and let my brush fly. Suddenly this volume is full. I close it and send it back down with the admonition not to try singing these poems. Only if you sit on them will they do you any good.


A thatch hut in blue mountains beside a green stream
after so many years visits are now up to me
a few peach and plum trees blooming red and white
a green and yellow field of vegetables and wheat
all night I sit in bed listening to rain
when it clears I open the window and doze off watching clouds
nothing in life is better than being free
but getting free isn’t luck

Alternating Current

Alternating Current

Edison said
Man was not meant
To ride a wave
To alternate between
In out
Give receive
To breathe.
The vessel will not hold
He said
If you fill and pour
Fill and pour.

Joshu’s dog
Nansen’s cat
Might still be alive
If he were not so stubborn.

Poor master Edison
Could see so far
But only in one direction.

Crow and heron, goose and crow. And fish.

“Now, about what it means to realize conclusively that what is unborn and marvelously illuminating is truly the Buddha Mind: Suppose ten million people got together and unanimously declared that a crow was a heron. A crow is black, without having to be dyed that way, just as a heron is white—that’s something we always see for ourselves and know for a fact. So even if, not only ten million people, but everyone in the land were to get together and tell you a crow was a heron, you still wouldn’t be fooled, but remain absolutely sure of yourself. That’s what it means to have a conclusive realization. Conclusively realize that what is unborn is the Buddha Mind and that the Buddha Mind is truly unborn and marvelously illuminating, and everything will be perfectly managed with the Unborn, so that, whatever people try to tell you, you won’t let yourself be fooled by them. You won’t accept other people’s delusions.”
Bankei Zen

“You, Sir, if you want to stop everything below Heaven losing its original simplicity, you must travel with the wind and stand firm in Virtue. Why do you exert yourself so much, banging a big drum and hunting for a lost child? The snow goose doesn’t need a daily bath to stay white, nor does the crow need to be stained every day to stay black. Black and white comes from natural simplicity, not from argument. Fame and fortune, though sought after, do not make people greater than they actually are. When the waters dry up and the fish are stranded on the dry land, they huddle together and try to keep each other moist by spitting and wetting each other. But wouldn’t it be even better if they could just forget each other, safe in their lakes and rivers?”
Book of Chuang Tzu

The Warmth of Zen

One of the descriptions—it might be a criticism—of Zen is that it is cold and severe. That the core practice of “just sitting” (shikantaza) and thinking non-thinking/beyond thinking is too intellectual and does not include elements of feeling and humanity found in other practices and traditions, including some Buddhist ones.

Not to refute something that doesn’t ask for refutation, but here is a thought. Zen is like building the best fireplace in which the best fires can be set to burn the most cleanly and warmly. Yes, stone and bricks are cold. And you can build fires in the middle of your room or outside, and you may. But it is also good to have a well-constructed place to bring your wood and flame. It may seem impossible to build a fireplace just by sitting. But ultimately, it is actually very warm.

Ben Zoma Inside Out

The person in the hut lives here calmly,
not stuck to inside, outside, or in-between.
Song of the Grass Hut

Gone Beyond
Gone Completely Beyond
Heart Sutra

Ben Zoma Inside Out

Ben Zoma in the grass hut
Waters above
Waters below.
What does Rabbi Joshua know?
Sekito knows
Ben Zoma is outside
Inside and in-between.
Gone completely beyond.

Note: Creating, whatever your material, can be like the proverbial dog with a bone. There is sometimes spontaneity, done and gone, and then there is the idea that won’t go away. In that case, the idea is actually the dog and you are the bone. A previous version of this poem can be found here. Who knows what the next version, if any, will look like? Not me.

Better Trifecta


Mazu asked, “Then what should I do?”
Nanyue asked, “It’s like riding in an ox cart. If the cart doesn’t move do you hit the cart or do you hit the ox?”

Some ways say
You will be better and think better
When you act better.
Some ways say
You will be better and act better
When you think better.

Does it matter
So long as you work
To win all three?

Everything Is Standing In Your Way


Thousands of words, myriad interpretations,
are only to free you from obstructions.
Shitou Xiqian (700-790), Song of the Grass Hut

Everything is standing in your way. Everything.

That would seem to make getting rid of things in your way a primary mission. Except it isn’t.

As Shitou says in his Song of the Grass Hut, getting rid of obstructions is not it. All of the words of wisdom and the beliefs and practices that go with them are only to free you from obstructions, not get rid of them. He even implies that the words and interpretations are themselves just added obstructions.

Everything is standing in your way. If you start today to haul everything off, you will be at it forever. Life as a trash hauler. If you free yourself from those things, they will still be there, but they may no longer be in your way. At least not as much in the way as it seems.