Zen Through the Camera’s Lens


The film 1917 tells the story of two British soldiers in the trenches of France who are ordered by their superiors to travel on foot to a distant part of British-held territory with written instructions from the General in charge of operations to not attack the Germans the following morning. The Germans have set a trap. If the British attack, it will be a slaughter and a defeat for the allies.

The two soldiers leave immediately and travel overland, through an encampment the Germans only hours previously abandoned, through disputed territory where lone German soldiers hide and skirmishes between bands of Germans and British are a constant threat.

The audience watches as the two men negotiate many dangers, from rats to explosions to enemy bullets. We see them stumble, run, fall, creep and claw their way through varied terrain, all of it scourged by the horrors of war. As day becomes night becomes morning, the men continue on, their primary objective to keep going, in the right direction.

This ever-changing panorama of challenges and dangers was filmed in one continuous camera shot. The camera never stops rolling through the two hour drama, the lens never breaks from its singular focus on the two soldiers moving, always moving. It is a breath-taking feat of cinematography and film production. This no-stop approach to filming gives the story an essential and potent immediacy. Along with the camera itself, neither the audience nor the two young soldiers ever shift focus from the moment they are in. There is no time for such indulgences, there is only NOW…NOW…NOW…and NOW. There are no flashbacks to the childhoods of the characters, or to the families that wait for them, no cutting forward to old men as they remember their long-past heroics. No secondary story takes place in some other part of the war-torn landscape. The ever-changing scenery through which the two men travel in their quest to complete the given task the only truth.

The effect of the film on this student of Zen was to highlight and honor that which can be easy to overlook as we walk through the varied terrain of our lives: Each moment of time and space we inhabit is a dynamic creation in which everything is arising and falling away. The continuity of time and space are an illusion and 1917 shows us this in stark relief. When we keep attention

focused on this universal principle, as does the film, we can see more clearly that nothing stays the same, nothing lasts, every moment is new, brand new. Everything the two soldiers experience dissolves to make way for the next experience. They can only remain present, keep moving in the right direction and keep their wits about them.

Our minds, not nailed to the present by life-threatening dangers, can grow complacent, causing us to grasp at experiences to opine about them, yearn for more of them, get angry at them, evaluate our performance of them, grieve for the losses within them—and in doing so, we lose the moment that has newly arisen before us. We, like the soldiers and like all sentient beings, exist solely in the present, but our internal camera lens looks backward and forward, at this and that, here and there, always veering off, stealing our attention and veiling this truth. Over and over again, we find we are no longer here.

1917 shows us life being fully inhabited in the now. Through its continuously trained camera lens, it offers a view of life as a journey in which the imperative is to see the threats and opportunities arising in this moment with a singular focus so that one can navigate them with wisdom. To indulge in reactions to that which has come before or that which lies ahead are delusions and as such they lead us toward dangerous distractions. The young Brits know their lives and their mission depend on this such clear concentration.

Zen students too are on a quest to complete a given task; we too are running for our lives. We too must remain aware of the dangers lurking everywhere as we encounter life, for we also have enemies that threaten our task’s fulfillment. Our enemies are not sentient beings but conditioned beliefs and feelings, old habits of body, speech and mind that can catch us in their cross-fire, that hide in dark corners to kill and maim. We too must keep going in the right direction, toward the possibility of freedom and safety, paying full attention to the moments when these internal enemies show their shadowy faces. They lie in wait for our attention to flag. Inattention creates the perfect conditions for the traps they set.

Emotions and thoughts, all conditioned behavior thrives on our mind’s undisciplined flights of fancy into yesterday and tomorrow, likes and dislikes, distant lands and dramas. It is so easy to forget! It is so easy to relax into self-satisfaction that feels like peace. Before we know it, some deep discord within us is exploding forth and we are again at war. Our inner world and the outer

world it reflects are both battlefields where the delusions of winning and losing, love and hate play out their dark story of opportunity lost and truth mired and muddied, buried in the trenches of suffering and ignorance.

Like the two young Brits in 1917, our task is to keep going, pay full attention and remain vigilant, knowing that our lives depend on it.


Humming Bird

Lao Huo Shakya

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

Image Credit

What Do You Turn to When You Need Help

Bleary Doubled 2020 by Fly


This is often known as your source of refuge. It comes when you are at your wits end and you need to refer to something or someone wiser than your ego-self. It comes with power, a power to decide between one thing or another. In spiritual life, it comes through the realization of renunciation.

Stop and ask yourself: “What do I rely on?”

In science and business and all the many things of the world we call it a “reference.” What do I refer my will to when I need assistance?  The question itself determines action – what action you will take with body, speech and mind.

When something occurs, some event or series of events in your mind – which is where all events are reflected – what do you do? And, where do you go for help?

Let me relieve any anxiety that this question may bring up by adding – there is no “right” or “wrong” answer. The answer, whatever it is, is illumination. The answer tells you what you have “faith” in. It will tell you your reference. And knowing your reference will tell how you measure and evaluate your life. It may even help you see how your reference hinders your spiritual journey.

So, let me ask the same question in another way.

What for? When you do something what do you do it for?  You get to fill-in the blank.

This particular practice is preliminary, but it nevertheless may yield gold if you are sincere in your quest to know that which is ineffable.

Another way to understand this “reference” is to look at a habit since habits are actions for something or for another. The bedeviled alcoholic shows us in bright painful lights how a habit works. The person is in pain and takes action for some pain relief where alcohol is the reference of choice. It is available, convenient, and offers a false degree of reliability. It works. But, as we know, over time this reference turns into dependence and then turns into a demon. With this in mind, notice how what we turn to as a reference follows this pattern of a habit. We want an available, convenient and reliable reference. One we can trust.

Dare I say that all habits built on things that fall apart are unreliable. Despite this truth we often continue to turn to them as though they are not unreliable. I note this as an encouragement to seek a “reliable” reference; one that is ever-present, ever-powerful, and ever-reliable.

In Zen Buddhism, it is called the True Self – or your True Nature. IT is called by many names but has the same nature across traditions. IT is who you are and not the other way around. You are not IT. We proceed from the unborn, undying, eternal being.

In short, watch what you put your faith in.

God alone is real. All this is apparent and proceeds from God, the unborn, undying, eternal.

“When a Saint was practicing deeply, the teaching of Wisdom, she perceived that all this – name, form, body & mind, feelings, impulses, perceptions, and consciousness are empty of an abiding ego-self…and realized the Truth.”

Om Namo Holy Mother God

Humming Bird

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

Image credits: Fly, 2020

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com


The title of this essay  is a line from a novel, The Death of Vishnu, by Manil Suri. It comes early on in the novel from a man, a Mr. Pathak who feels beaten down by the everyday demands and complaints from his wife. She, Mrs. Pathak, is in a constant, many year battle with her neighbor, Mrs. Asrani. The battlefield is twofold; a shared kitchen space and a landing (the place between staircases in the building). The conflict is rooted in fairness. Both the Pathak’s and the Asrani’s feel as though they are doing and paying more than their fair share. The treasury at stake is water in the kitchen and revenue and expenses regarding the landing.

Water is scarce and is a sought after commodity collected and distributed in the kitchen. The landing, which was a source of rental revenue is currently occupied by a dying man named Vishnu who is in dire need of human kindness. Vishnu, amongst the poorest of the poor, is an alcoholic. No longer able  to tend to certain small things in the building  or pay his small rent for sleeping on the landing he has become  a medical liability to the Pathak and the Asrani families.


As we might imagine, squabbles abound from both sides. Both couples want an even-handed distribution of water and a fair-minded, equal payment for Vishnu’s care. Neither seems to be possible.

Not only do the couples dispute the unfairness between the pairs but the partners find themselves bickering over who will tell the other couple what they need to do or not do. With Vishnu’s greater need for assistance, skirmishes between them ensue on a regular basis. Common enough.  We might even say, to be expected. Whether you live in a shared apartment building in India or in a two-flat in Europe, getting along with others is often difficult. 

When we first hear of Mr. Pathak’s desire for peace, he is sitting in an Iranian Hotel drinking tea and eating a biscuit. He goes there to escape the conflict. This scene gives us a glimpse into what he does that keeps him far from finding the peace that he seeks. Initially, he feels good. He’s gotten away from the bickering. He enjoys his tea and biscuit. Soon enough, however, the noise of the recent quarrel with his wife is defended against with two flamethrowers; fault-finding and blame. He defends himself to himself with these against the others only to descend into self-pity.

His tea and biscuit are no match against the secretions of his mind.



It was not his fault that Mrs. Arani was so unreasonable. It was not his fault that Vishnu was sick. It certainly not his fault Usha (his wife) had arranged the kitty party for today. Nothing was his fault, yet he knew he would be blamed for everything. A wave of self-pity swept over Mr. Pathak, and the Gluco (biscuit) turned chalky in his mouth.



He can’t help it. His mental formations come up in his mind much like a well-developed habit of checking a sore on the inside cheek in the mouth. The tongue curiously checks the sore again and again only to make matters worse. Mr. Pathak’s peace is swept away, leaving him bereft of the peace he wanted.

Sadly, Mr. Pathak is unable to realize how he contributes to his misery. Blinded by the flamethrowers of fault-finding and blame he falls into the vat of self-pity opening the door to despair leaving him prey for his instinctual side to take charge. With his instinctual side he plans to retaliate against his wife. The retaliation, unbeknownst to Mr. Pathak’s wish to satisfy himself,  fuels the flames of the household discord, setting him on fire. 

The importance of Mr. Pathak’s ever-seeking hunt for peace is he is us. Mr. Pathak represents our mind state before enlightenment. He is ignorant. He shows us, so very clearly, that he contributes to the discord leaving him longing for peace. Yep. He ain’t found it, yet. Mental gymnastics is not the Way. 

I hope you are laughing. Not at Mr. Pathak. But at seeing his mental deliberations as hindrances which negate any chance for lasting peace. 

The work is not with Mr. Pathak or his wife. Or the other couple. Or with the situation of scarcity of water or the dying man on the landing. The work is with ourselves.

We need to be able to recognize the ego-self and how it calls upon various aspects of the mind to get control and keep it. We need to be able to see how we hoist our mind on our own petard (small exploding bomb). If we just get this first step, we will limit and avoid doing harm to others and ourselves by stopping the plot against another or our self before we blow ourselves up in double suffering. 

If we examine this short paragraph, we see that we, too ,defend ourselves by finding fault with others, the situation, ourselves. We enter into the wicked realm of the unreasonable. We mark others as unfair. Life itself is seen as unfair. We criticize and judge whatever we deem as the problem. None of this helps us get free enough to find peace; to limit and end suffering. As Mr. Pathak we fall into leaking any good sense we might have and take no responsibility for our acts. With a final sachet we declare ourselves “innocent.” Oh what a fool we make of ourselves. Thinking and hoping these tactics will set us free we come to find out, if we are lucky, that we have detonated our selfishness of our ego and bombed ourselves with self-blame. Without drawing blood or even raising a stink, we have succumbed to the enemy, and the enemy is “me, my, mine.”


And so, we and Mr. Pathak continue to

ever want peace…

spending time trying to find it in all the wrong places and things.

Humming Bird

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

Image credits: Fly, 2020

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com


Below is a link that I wholeheartedly recommend watching;

especially for advanced students.

It is both brilliant in its execution and spiritually illuminating.

It may take some illumination to see the wisdom –

but the wisdom is there.







Humming Bird

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

A personal note from Fashi Lao Yue.


The video link was sent to me by a dear friend in the UK.

A devoted Franciscan brother who is steadfast in his work. I thank him for his constancy of devotion and for this hilarious link. My dear, late teacher is laughing with joy.

Monk to Householder, Householder to Monk


Thoughtful to Thoughtful


When spiritual energy arises we need substantial direction.

Long Ago

Long ago spiritual travelers sought out some community or some solitary place to find their spiritual heart. It may have been a monastic group or a desert which offered the opportunity of time and freedom from household responsibility.

Householder responsibilities of getting an education, earning a living and rearing offspring requires enormous commitment of time, energy and monies. Solitude and silence are rare and spiritual practice seems to fade into a secondary place. The householder may feel so burdened by everyday responsibility and dismayed by the steepness of the climb. They may give up. It may feel unfathomable.

Those in monastic settings where structure and rule surround the spiritual traveler receive the benefits of guidance and constant watchfulness. Though different, the spiritual traveler in a household needs structure and rule that offer guidance and allows the spiritual traveler to be watchful within commerce, family and the world politick. Nothing is hidden from spiritual practice.

The spiritual burden of a householder is the same today in the 21st century as it was 2600 years ago. The same load is required for the householder as is required for a monastic. The yoke may be different, more complex but the same afflictions of ignorance bear upon all human beings. The same view of dividing the world lives in the mind of the human being.

Time and place do not alter this truth.

The overburdened life, whether it be within a structured spiritual community or in a household, hampers the structure and rule needed to awaken. Lessening the burdens of life and placing the mind on the spiritual journey is what is required.

The requisites or fundamentals are the same for all those who seek spiritual awakening whether one is a monk or one is a householder. The belongings are different.

The Fundamentals

  • All need to provide for shelter, food and water, clothing and medicine.
  • All need to study and practice.
  • All need to receive the bits and pieces of teachings.
  • All need a daily practice routine.

Excerpted from an Upcoming FREE E-Book

Humming Bird

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

Image credits: Fly, 2019

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com


World Wide Xenophobia


All One Cloth

Our death and rebirth come in every moment but we may miss it because we attend to silly things. We hurry and worry about in reckless wishes that we will go on here forever. We flop into a hazy, laziness unbidden by the Holy One simply because we forget to listen to the beckoning. We condemn the differences and want to claim some rightness that will not, does not hold. We think the pieces, those bits of differences that divide us, are worth dying for.

Arguments of every sort and kind fly up into harmful skirmishes and we bang about loudly with pots and pans and trumpets of victory that we have beheaded the difference forever. We want, after all to be victorious over others. We like to stomp our feet and pound our fists against something and something different certainly seems threatening enough to make it a perfect enemy.

And all of this foolishness happens over and over again. The repetition makes it look real. It’s a drama played on the screen of the real.

Humming Bird

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

Image credits: Fly, 2019

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

Ulterior Defenses by Ming Zhen Shakya


Janus, the Roman God


FOREWARD by Fashi Lao Yue

When I would grumble about something to Ming Zhen, she would inevitably get to the point where she reminded me “everyone has sinned, and has been sinned against.” It was her way of telling me to be quiet – to stop complaining or thinking I am better than or less than any other being. This knowledge, although simple to read and even memorize, is not easy to practice. In this essay, Ming Zhen asks us to study the ego-self before the ego-self grabs hold with either attraction or aversion. A hard task indeed! For a very long time, we spiritual seekers find ourselves in a mess after we have grabbed something with the energy of attraction or aversion. These two energies are the harbingers of the three poisons of the soul – namely, greed, hate and delusion and all the various concomitants; the endless array of associated collateral. (i.e., worry, resentment, pride, envy, jealousy…)

Ming Zhen calls it being buried in our egos. I understand her to say as she says in Beckett’s quote, a dead mind. Dead in the sense its shape has taken on a name and form of becoming a such and such which we all know is deadly for any spiritual adept. To continue to see the sins of others is a fool’s view – and to worry about the other’s view of you is equally foolish. I can hear Ming Zhen laugh as she once again reminds us, “everyone has sinned, and has been sinned against.” Amen.

I have taken the liberty as editor for ZATMA to edit this essay towards a focus of helping us all to look at our ulterior defenses and to remember her way of telling us to be quiet.


Everyone has sinned, and has been sinned against.”




Say what you will, you can’t keep a dead mind down.”
Samuel Beckett, More Pricks Than Kicks

People buried in their egos – victims of their own poisonous anger, lust, or ignorance – find release only when they can spew that venom onto others. It’s the only catharsis they get. We hear them on moonless nights, stalking the land, targeting anyone within spitting range.

We need to remember this is us each and every time we find ourselves spewing venom.

To avoid the mess during these Nights of the Living Dead, the rest of us have to find a Refuge – and wait for sunrise. We are able to avoid the mess when we stop ourselves from discharging our own poisons. Then, if we are disciplined, we are able to seek Refuge. The Big Spiritual refuge of turning towards the Precious Buddha Mirror of our true image.


It helps to understand – if not the source of others venom – at least the display of it. Sometimes we encounter it “in kind” and sometimes “in degree.”


The “degree” is easier to see. We all feel that we’ve imposed ethical limits upon our behavior, limits that constitute a boundary between acceptable and unacceptable actions. “He is a terrible man. He beats his wife for no reason at all. (Pause) I beat my wife, too, but I make sure she deserves it before I strike her.”

In prison ministries we often see a rationalized hierarchy of crime. “I may be guilty of armed robbery, but I’ve never raped anybody!” Sometimes the hierarchy stumps us. A man who is serving three life sentences for multiple murders can say, with perfect equanimity, “If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a thief.”


Often, we find ourselves declaring such nonsense, as “I’d never do such a thing.”

No, it is difference in “kind” that gives us trouble. It is a matter of identity. Identification with a false self; a made-up identity. A change in kind is an apparent change in genus and species. We think we’re seeing one kind of animal, but in reality, we’re seeing its natural enemy. This is not quite the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” motif. The wolf knows he’s a wolf and the woolly garments are a conscious disguise. If caught with his toes or his tail showing, he knows he’s been busted. The wolf is not deluded enough to growl and bare his fangs and insist that his accuser is a vicious sheep hater – the only reason he could possibly have for calling him a wolf. This kind of response is a purely human one.

In such a self-absolving defense tactic, the person unconsciously assumes an identity opposite to that of his true victim, i.e., the person he can righteously accuse of having the very same faults as those that got him buried in the first place. If he is a fearful coward – one that would betray his country at the slightest inconvenience, he may emerge from his interment as a martinet, swaggering with stick and sneer, exhorting his subordinates to commit acts of cruelty upon some ‘cowardly’ enemy, deriding his men as wimps and unpatriotic pansies, and punishing them harshly if they are in any way reluctant to inflict such injuries. If there’s one thing he hates, it’s a coward.

Have any of us ever made such statements – in a ridiculous piety. Or perhaps its opposite?

Again, it is in the exaggerated response that we find a clue to the nature of this inversion.

It is when we do take time to reflect upon moral issues that we need to consider the motivation of those who so vehemently question other people’s morality – and this includes our own outcries as well.

Buddhists who’ve been buried in their own egos often get their disinterment passes by shouting that somebody in the vicinity is violating a Precept. It never occurs to them that they are shifting a burden of guilt onto someone else. Whether the transfer is hissed or shouted, the theme is always the same: the assumed superior stance of one person over another.


Everyone has sinned, and has been sinned against.”

Pointing accusingly at other people’s offenses requires scrupulously clean hands. This is a universal principle in law except, perhaps, in the judicial proceedings of the Cosa Nostra. When two men rob a bank, intending to split the loot, and one of them runs off with all the money, the victimized robber cannot charge him with theft or seek redress of his grievance in the civil courts.

Seeing that our hands are dirty requires a degree of self-awareness that we usually don’t possess.


As the Buddha said,

The faults of others are easily seen, but one’s own faults are seen with difficulty. One winnows the faults of others like chaff, but conceals his own faults as a fowler covers his body with twigs and leaves.”` (The Buddha, Dhammapada, XVIII, 252.)


Reminds us of Adam and Eve who made a poor effort to cover their shame with a leaf.

Ordinary flaws, those convenient hypocrisies we devise to get out of uncomfortable positions or to gain personal advantages, are far easier to recognize than the ones that are not just covered by twigs and leaves but are buried beneath them.

If we haven’t yet used a defense mechanism to dig ourselves into a pathologic hole, we can try routine Buddhist self-help techniques. Success depends on luck and on having attained a certain proficiency in meditation. There is a line that is crossed when fascination becomes emotional involvement. Whenever we notice that we are aroused – by either attraction or aversion – we can try to analyze our response. Unfortunately, by the time we are emotionally “hooked” we have passed the point of disinterested observation and our conclusions are likely to be prejudiced.


Hsu Yun noted that the best time to become aware of our connection to a person or object is at the very beginning, when fascination has not yet progressed to emotional involvement. Initial actions and reactions are rather like the experience of seeing a dog pass a narrow window. By the time we’re aware that a dog is passing, we note only the dog’s body and then its tail. In order to identify the dog, we have to put a head on it… to go into our subliminal data banks and retrieve information of which we originally were not quite conscious. This task is referred to in the mondo concerning the master and the novice who asks when he will achieve enlightenment.


When you came here tonight,” the master asks, “on which side of the door did you leave your slippers?”


Naturally, the novice does not have the meditative proficiency necessary to recall details that his brain recorded, but which he made no conscious attempt to remember. Just as a journalist learns to ask the relevant questions, “Who?”; “When?”; “Where?”; “Why?”; “How?” and so on, we have to try to connect various stimuli, to establish a causal link, and try to determine the critical point – the point at which our interest was aroused. We often find that we make the same kind of mistake over and over. We can never “catch” ourselves before we fall into the trap. We need to be able to reconstruct the chain of impulses, the actions and reactions, the events that led us into the troublesome situations.

It’s only when anger, lust, and ignorance progress, unimpeded by constructive and corrective review, that we find that the defensive foxhole becomes a trench, and the trench a spiritual grave.



The Take-Away by Fashi Lao Yue

In order to clarify the teaching, we need to call upon the Roman god, Janus. As many remember, Janus is the god of many things: beginnings and gates, transitions, time, duality and endings symbolized by having two faces.

When conflicts arise, Janus is the god involved; when conflicts end, he is the god involved. Making him the god of war and peace. It is safe to say that he represents the god of all duality which is the heart of this teaching. We have a tendency to split things along the classification of good and bad.

When we set ourselves in a position for one-side, we have lost half our face.  We act out one side of Janus’s faces, forgetting the other side is true as well.

Most of the time we do not want to be reminded that we are dualistic; we hide one side of the face in favor of the other rather than recognize we have two faces. We dislike this so much we find it a real insult to be called ‘two-faced.’

We want to be single-faced – pure. Not knowing that purity is our real nature, we wish for it and pretend we are it. But time and time again we split towards a preferred tendency.  Some of us prefer, for example, to begin something rather than end something or the other-way-round. There is an endless slough of how this plays out in our daily life.

In order for us to realize our real nature, we must recognize our tendency to split and make efforts to integrate our awareness. When we are far enough along on the spiritual path, we see the oneness in such a way that everything is our real nature and we surrender our human tendency in humility.

Humming Bird
Author: Ming Zhen Shakya

If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact the editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com


Demons in the Garden, Weeds in the Mind



“Demon” is an old word, an ancient idea conjuring up images of devils and other fiercely intimidating embodiments of the forces of evil. Perhaps you, like I, instinctively recognize your own demonic nature. We all have within us the capacity to think speak and act in ways that are harmful. What we do with these demons, our demons, is a central project of the spiritual path.

Many of my demons thrive in the growth medium I nourish with generous doses of pride and arrogance. In this fertile soil, judgement blossoms like the first green clover in the open fields, popping up everywhere right now, no additional cultivation needed.

Other of my demons also find homes in soil enriched with arrogance: Resentment, strong opinions, angry impatience. Noxious weeds, every one.

Noxious is a word that sounds like what it describes: Anything toxic and harmful. Noxious weeds, like my demons, aggressively multiply, are harmful to the environments they inhabit, were introduced by ignorance or mis-management and are difficult to eradicate.

The very first of Buddhism’s Three Pure Precepts is, “Do No Harm.” My demons are the blossoms on the plants that orient toward more and better, toward like and dislike, push and shove. These are noxious weeds I use to over-run whatever seems in “my” way. Such poisonous, aggressive demons tend to rub off most painfully on those with whom I am the closest. Like stepping on a thistle plant in bare feet, or getting the juice of a wild parsnip flower on one’s skin, my demons HURT.

It is heart-wrenching when I see clearly the harm my toxic negativity has caused to the environment, to beings both near and far, those who I love and even those who I barely know. My

poisonous words and actions spread out in ever-widening circles from their origin in my tight, grasping heart/mind. Why do I choose to add poison to this world? This negative energy like invasive garlic mustard, steadily taking over the fields and woodlands, choking out native wildflowers and grasses.

My son once worked on a 400-acre biodynamic farm in New York, a farm which is legendary for the enlightened practices of its farmer-owners which have all but completely eliminated the insect and plant pests that typically plague farmers. This feat was accomplished not with herbicides and pesticides but with decades of environmentally thoughtful farming practices: organics with the addition of spirituality, a cosmology with nature at its heart.

Similarly, my stubborn demon weeds invite me to cultivate the spiritual purity of uncritical satisfaction, humility, kindness and self-control. I wonder what stops me from choosing that? I recognize that with this question, couched in horror at my failings, I risk falling into the ego’s shadowy underbelly of self-blame. Like seeding a new invasive species, this is an additional form of mis-management. Harmfulness, like garlic mustard, thistle and purple loosestrife will not be eradicated through the application of additional forms of harm.

My gardening mentor teaches that the gardener’s way involves some sharing of the land. We accept that for now, some noxious plant varieties will be our neighbors, but in the meantime, we work to create spaces free of these harmful varieties for crops, flowers and indigenous species. To share my world with my demons, I can take my remorseful heart into the garden of my life with clear eyes, an open heart and all my tools, intent on making more space for harmlessness.

The peace and beauty of a garden in mid-summer belies the hard work that begins in early spring

as plants, both wanted and unwanted, thrust themselves forth into a new life cycle. With spring now warming our world, I will direct my own quickening energies toward noticing the poisons emerging from my pushy small mind. In every step, in every thought and in each interaction, I will attend to pride and judgement with my caring and curiosity and with my deepest love for the Buddha Way.

This Way asks of me that I surrender, that I bow down to a path through my life that I do not control or shape, except with my commitment to follow the truth of the Dharma. Buddha-Dharma asks of me that I get out of the way, that I put behind me all the likes and dislikes, all the judgements. Thus, I make way for that which is naturally arising, the indigenous plants, species, circumstances, events and unfoldings of this time and place. The natural arising, the flow of existence through time and space, all of it emerges from vast purity, from the eternity of creation’s deepest truths. Even thistle and wild parsnip have a place in this great unfolding. Finches gorge on the seed of the thistle flower, bees hibernate in the hollow stems of the wild parsnip plant. My demons also have their place, here in the vast Mystery, as they teach me how to share my life with all beings, how to stay open and caring even towards the poisons I cultivate in my own craving heart.

Humming Bird

Author: Lao Huo Shakya

ZATMA is not a blog. If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact the editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

Image credit: Fashi Lao Yue

Spring Forward

Vows by Fly 2019


This week has been particularly difficult. The daemons of the mind sometimes take us by surprise – trouncing our good sense and our eyesight that sees the danger always creeping outside the door. We go blind. Then, we get in trouble.

We must be constant in our vigilance or risk being taken captive by the patterns of selfishness that come disguised as wounds, history, psychological mumbo-jumbo, rights and privileges – any one of a numberless set of costumes that come to deceive us. But there is THAT which is beyond compare – beyond all the nonsense of the mind constructions, THAT which is ONE and the main principality of existence, THAT which has no second. Some call it love, others emptiness, or cosmic consciousness – by whatever name, it is present even when our selfishness crouches at our door and we get sucked into it with open arms. 

What must we turn to?  What must we know and practice to protect our wily coyote mind? What must we do to protect the play of the road runner who is always ready to lure us into a chase – a chase that always ends in harm.? Foolish harm.

A foolish harm that, fingers-crossed, leads us to remorse and forgiveness; if we are lucky (winds of grace). The luck that aids our awareness enough, that we realize we were caught in the road runner’s race and that we need to stop our coyote mind. Stop running after lures in the mind that harm ourselves and others. If we are able to stop, we are lucky.

Stopping provides time for reflection. Reflection to forgive ourselves. Courage to ask for forgiveness from others who were in the wake of our dust. 

And then – we take refuge in THAT – the singular principle that sustains the universe. We take refuge as a student of the Dharma in the knowledge that we are the ever-present manifestation of the mysterious expression of the Truth. Not by a clinging path of having and getting; of trying to rearrange the external material world, but by our realization that all that we are is the expression of this Truth. The sureness which illuminates all of existence. The illumination that helps us realize we share the same consciousness.

THAT, the existence of all the myriad things is strung on the same thread. If the thread is cut, all the myriad things experience the lacerated wound. Our practice is to practice for the entire world – knowing THAT and not me, not the selfish little me, but THAT which is beyond compare. THAT which is birth and death, the cause for all effects, the light and heat of the Sun, the power that generates all things.

As I sat this morning, aware and humbled by my mistakes, I looked for THAT – for God – for all the Buddhas in the three worlds, for all those who surround us in the ten directions – for all the myriad things that are given in unimaginable generosity. 

I realized this Presence of the high bird comes in the form of heat from the fire that warms my legs, the Sun’s light that shines through the doors on my back, the sound that never goes away, the strength that comes in the form of a Peace Lily. Whatever intelligence I may have, I realize it is not mine – but is a borrowed knowledge from an inexplicable Source. A gift!

My ability to walk, talk and move is not my strength – but given by the ineffable Source.  I must be watchful for the obstacles I build, like a child building sand castles, thinking and acting on them from ignorance.

When I fail to keep my mind on suchness, on this sureness,  I challenge the wild road runner to a race and uh oh harm is sure to follow.

It is a breakthrough to know my true refuge is in suchness, THAT which holds this unsettled world, beyond the temptations of winning and losing and all the opposites (worldly winds) and mysteriously rest in reality. This clear knowing comes as an answer to a menacing question – how do we settle in an unsettled world?  

The answer is – we keep our mind – all of our being – on knowing the Truth and being with expressions of THAT Truth all around us, right where we are over and over again.

How do we keep our mind on the Truth?

We don’t give up. We practice wisdom.

Where? Right where you are in the middle of life as it is.

What helps?

May you not give up. May you keep going. May you practice suchness – right where you are.

Renew your vows. Let the Truth awaken you right where you are.


Vows by Fly 2019


May we with all beings realize the emptiness (love) of the three wheels,

Giver, receiver and gift.

Beings are numberless, I vow to save them.

Greed, hatred and ignorance are inescapable.

I vow to abandon them.

Dharma gates are boundless,

I vow to enter them.

Buddha’s Way is unsurpassable,

I vow to know it.


Humming Bird

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

Image credits: Fly, 2019

ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com


LESSONS. Lesson 5. Part A. The End of Suffering

LESSONS. Lesson 5. Part A.

The end of suffering – when things of the world get tough to bear.


Make friends with the problems in your life.    Sarah Young

Everything comes to awaken you – but don’t take any of it personally.

Don’t claim it as yours.


Let’s begin by shouting Hallelujah!  Praise – the Dharma of the True Being. I am, as you truly are, the Dharma as heat and light are the Sun. It is the mysterious Truth of the Tathagata. Whether it is mysterious or not, it is true.


Our common human nature is to think and believe we are somebody other than the true Dharma. Sometimes we think and believe we are a miserable bum or a jealous friend or an envious boor – sometimes we think and believe we are a know-it-all or a better-than-everybody, or  smart-as-a-whip or a hungry ghost. When we look in a mirror, we believe we are that face whether beautiful or ugly, plain or outstanding. We have forgotten who we are – the True Being – conscious and capable of giving, receiving and being a gift. The list of mistaken identity is endless, but forgetting our true nature is our universal condition.

No matter what name we use, we fill in the blank of who we are with some attribute, an identity that teeters up and down in praise, blame, pleasure, pain, fame, obscurity, gain and loss. In this identity ranking, we are caught in the swamp of the ego and not on the ground of being. We all have done it. Those times we feel sorry for ourselves, when we judge and blame, blow up incensed we have not been heard or understood. Those times when we feel righteous in our injury – when we look at our wounds and can’t seem to stop the licking. This swamp is suffering.

And this status is our usual ‘rank’ – what in Zen is called the first rank. Known commonly by many names  ‘instinctual man, ‘ ‘material girl,’ ‘egotist,’ ‘selfie,’ ‘self-centered’ ‘full of pride’ – many names throughout history define this rank. Each depicting the universal nature of being caught in the ego and blown about by the worldly winds of suffering. (Praise/Blame, Pain/Pleasure, Fame/Obscurity, Gain/Loss). When we, for example, are not praised we blame – when we are acknowledged we look down, when we gain, we want to hang on – over and over it goes.

But don’t give up and fall into despair.

The first rank is not without wisdom. There is wisdom that is of the most obvious kind. The man on the street, meaning you and me, knows that everything changes. The fact that everything changes is the first suffering we experience in childhood. We lose a toy. It gets broken, We cry. We lost it. And then we want it back or at the very least a replacement. This is our human nature. It is where we all begin. And for many, it is where we remain.

But for those with dust in their eyes this knowing wisdom remains  a shock throughout life – change surprises us. The knowledge is not used to awaken, instead we use it to complain. Someone leaves us, death comes as a thief in the night – our feeling sorry for ourselves breaks in our consciousness and we are swamped. A sudden tsunami sweeps our family away – we lose our eyesight – an accident leaves us crippled – a stroke cripples. Any number of changes torment us – we see change as unfair, personal and attacking. We react from our grip on what we want. We feel compensation is owed to us. We march in the parade of thinking we deserve “better.” All of these concoctions are attempts to protect the ego from change. Impossible to do. Change is a constant and an inevitable, true principle of this realm. IN knowing this – there is wisdom.

But…because the world follows a replacement system when it comes to change, we fight against the worldly winds with all sorts of schemes and plans and try-agains – because we only know the knowledge of the first rank – everything changes – as a threat to what we want. The ego is center stage.

We need to know this wisdom without making the mistake of schemes and try-agains. All our schemes and try-agains towards the world result in the same lesson being taught – the lesson of knowing everything changes in the material world along with knowing we cannot count on the worldly things for spiritual satisfaction. Impermanence is a mark of being – of existence. When we are unable or unwilling to know this wisdom – we suffer.

This knowledge is wisdom – but alone, it is not enough for us to get out of the swamp. And getting-out-of-the-swamp is how we end suffering. In order to end suffering as Buddha and all great spiritual teachings tell us, we must STOP sinking our claws into the world and the things of the world. We switch from trying to change the worldly things and look inward and pull our claws out. This teaching is a shock.

To study impermanence requires a war house – a meek and disciplined mind that is supple and strong – to see  change as impermanent rather than personal. The wind blows where it will and no one can escape the wind. It is universal in nature – proceeds from the Source and comes to wake us up right where we are. 

There is help. It requires a choice – a decision – a change of mind to receive the changes as the Truth of the Tathagata – the mysterious mystery that it is. It is a practice to receive the changes as they truly are – change comes to mutually assist us to awaken, empty of a personal attack, empty of a personal prize. IT comes and comes and comes giving us all a chance to listen, study and know to get out of the swamp.


Humming Bird
Author: Fashi Lao Yue

If for some reason yon need elucidation on the teaching,

please contact the editor at: yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com

Images by FLY

Lesson 2. Aim – Boots and Feet


Lesson 2. Aim – Boots and Feet

Boots and Feet by FLY 2019


It was a hard day – like most. The ground felt as though it was on an uphill incline no matter where he placed his old toes. The leather boots helped steady his frail legs and arthritic bones. Convinced he’d fall on his back without them, he kept the pair close by his bed for his night time trail walk to the cramped but utilitarian bathroom only a few feet away.  E.M. Cairn


We are responsible for the direction we take – even though we may not get there. Our destination, it seems, is done in small steps towards some aim. The old man getting out of bed reminds me of the Zen Master who gathers a crowd around as he is about to display his archery skills. Dressed in his regalia he prepares himself. Marks off the distance and sets a large target at one end of the field. He selects an arrow and checks the wind direction. Right before he releases the arrow there is a silence of expectation – with drawn bow he steadies his gaze, looks upward and lets the arrow fly into the sky. The crowd dumbfounded. He never intended to hit the target down field – his intention was higher. The arrow shot into the sky is to remind us the target of Zen is every-where, all around us – the Master showed us that nothing is to be left out of our aim.

“When we leave nothing out, we insure success at hitting the mark.”


There is an old memory I have of a New Testament passage about being faithful in little things. I looked it up.

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much…Luke 16:10

The same message in different words.


Every little thing is the target of our practice, of our aim. Every little thing needs to be included in our intention and attention. But it takes a fair amount of practice to draw back our aim and let the arrow fly upward into everywhere – it is not a capricious exhibition. Years of practicing with a clear intention is required – otherwise we risk injury and failure.

The high aim of the Dharma is right in front of our left eye – a pinpointed direction. Right there. Everywhere. But we often miss it, because we often think it is somewhere else. We have forgotten that …all ingredients are the same….and then our attitude is blown about by the eight worldly winds of selfish interest (pleasure and pain, gain and loss, praise and blame, and fame and disrepute) and NOT the wind of refined practice (grace).

When the winds blow us around, we act wild and think crazy thoughts that we have found the Truth. If we are lucky, we get hold of our senses and see firsthand we are confused, yet again, by the self-centered winds.  The result being – we overshoot the target or come up short. Our intention did not hold and we squandered our attention. At this point we need to STOP. Examine our intention. Otherwise we remain blind to the path and miss meeting the Buddha on the Road. And meeting God? Let me quote from The Cloud of Unknowing –

How will you get to God? Do not get entangled in things that are temporary and created.


It’s a paradox. But the old man shows us how to look after the visible things of the world.

…the old man beginning his hard day – considered early his situation and took care of what he needed to make the climb – in his case, he kept his boots by his bed.


Humming Bird

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

ZATMA is not a blog. If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching, please contact editor at : yao.xiang.editor@gmail.com


Winter 2018 – Holiday Message from Old Earth Wisdom


Winter 2018 – Holiday Message from Old Earth Wisdom


Duty:  assuming all tasks can betray arrogance.  The idea that we can know

what must be done, and do it properly.  We cannot know the future. It

claims so much to assume we can.  The world is not broken any more than

it always is.


                                                                                                                                         Under Heaven, Guy Gavriel Kay


Several years ago, I read a novel roughly based on the 8th century Tang dynasty in China that speaks to these present times.  It contains a profound gem of insight that takes us beyond world we can see and touch.  The main character, Shen Tai takes on the duty to bury the tens of thousands of bones left from a long-ago battle.  He takes this duty on for one year to mourn the death of his father. I remember when I read this, I was struck that Shen Tai was so clear in doing his duty and doing it in spite of his fear of being with unsettled spirits of the long dead warriors.  During the dark nights with the spirits crying and wailing Shen Tai writes poetry.


Full moon is falling through the sky.

Cranes fly through clouds.

Wolves howl.  I cannot find rest

Because I am powerless

To amend a broken world.

Under Heaven  Guy Gavriel Kay


Broken World. It is not difficult to look around and see that this world is broken.  The question becomes what to do about this broken world. In this brokenness, must I fix it?  I have not gotten Shen Tai’s so clear a message. Going off in solitude to dig graves seems heroic—seems like something I might like to do if I only knew where to go.  Are we, you and I asked to take on such heroic actions to fix our broken world?


In order to perfect any practice, seemingly useless experience must be undergone.  Any disciple who has entered any kind of practice must begin with seemingly unnecessary futile things.  But of course, these things are part of the discipline. Without such seemingly trifling things there can be no perfecting of the practice.

Asian Journal – Thomas Merton


This seems to be more of where my duty rests.  The world is already broken. My task it is not to look only at the brokenness or to flip to see only wonder in nature or the shining of the sun and moon.  It is to turn my attention to God/the vast inconceivable source that can’t be faced or turned away from/existence-consciousness-bliss, to know this deeply within, not to think about it but to know it.


Stages of Life & Duty. A few years ago, I wrote about the four chronological stages of the Hindu view of life:  student, householder, hermit and wanderer. I said that our hermitage was moving out of the householder life and that the arc of our lives was bending toward hermit-ness.  

Here are some of the duties we’ve begun to include in our daily life:

  • Withdrawing from the busy world – as best we can in an urban setting.
  • Living simply – giving away one thing a day every day.
  • Eating good food – shifting our diet to vegetables, nuts, a little meat, an apple every day and lemon water first thing in the morning.
  • Studying – reading spiritual writing from many traditions, Zen Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita, the Psalms – listening to teachings from Zen Buddhism, Sufism, Catholicism, Christian Science, Hinduism, Judaism, Shamanism. Listening & hearing the high pitch of Truth that we swim in.
  • Silence. Solitude. Sitting. Every day.
  • Treating gently those who come for help or advice.


Bones to Bury. This hermit life requires patience and slow-going.  And the bones that must be buried come from personal battles with “resentment seeds, back scratching greed, worrying about outcomes, fear of people…” Rumi

It is solitary work; a deep patience.  It is putting one foot in front of the other again and again.

So, duty is to live in this broken world and not be overcome by it.  To know that what comes into my life is my life and that everything, everything comes to awaken.


May the merit of this practice benefit all beings.

Humming Bird

Author: Lao di Zhi Shakya

Zen Contemplative Priest of the Order of Hsu Yun