Heave To —- by Lao Di Zhi Shakya

Heave To

Dogen’s Second Awareness: Be Content

For those of us who have forgotten, the first of the eight awarenesses by Dogen is Have Few Desires. A short discourse on it can be found here. Before I launch into the second awareness to be content, I want to encourage us by pointing out our challenge. It may seem odd to think a challenge is an encouragement, but for the spiritual seeker challenges require us to be courageous. This hot spot event of the global epidemic challenges us to use our courage to be content.

In order to shed light on this awareness and bring clarity to it, I have taken the liberty to change Dogen’s wording to: HEAVE TO. I think you’ll understand as I tell my story and the story of Voss.


My Confession

I have little to no experience with boats and sailing. What I do know can be said in one sentence. The stern is the back of the boat and the bow is the front. That’s it.

I recently learned what HEAVE TO means while reading the The Adventuresome Voyages of Voss. If you know about sailing, you know what it means and how to do it. If you are like me, you don’t know the meaning and need a brief explanation. Here is a sketchy explanation.

Heave To

Heave-to is a sailing maneuver used to slow a boat down in heavy seas. It is done by adjusting the sails and dropping the ships anchor in a storm. This maneuver keeps the boat from traveling with the high winds. For if the boat goes with the wind, it can be sucked down by the force of the water and capsize. The winds, you see, move faster than a boat can move. To the inexperienced and ignorant, heaving-to seems counter intuitive and dangerous!

Heave To is the same as Be Content while in life-threatening winds.

The Story

It is allegedly a true story of two men in a retrofitted canoe on the open Pacific Ocean during high winds. To say the least, many of us feel we, too are in high winds in a retrofitted canoe in unknown waters. If so, it is time to heave-to! Now the story.

In 1901, in Victoria, Canada, a young journalist asked Voss an experienced sailor if it was possible to sail around the world in a small boat.


Not every captain would be able to do it. But, yes I can captain such a journey!

The journalist, I’ll call him the mate, offered to pay the captain $2,500 dollars and half the profits from a book he would write about the trip, if the captain took up the challenge. The mate, who had no sailing experience at all, saw the impending voyage as an exciting adventure with minimal danger. Turning his experience on the high seas circling the globe into a best seller was his motivation.

The captain purchased a 38 ft dugout canoe carved from a single tree which he skillfully turned into a vessel capable of sailing on the open ocean. There was plenty of work and preparation before they set sail. When the canoe was finished, it included a one-berth cabin, tiller and three masts. Very tight quarters.

Making the effort to sail around the world in this canoe brought many difficulties. Gales, storms, high winds and rough waves on the open sea can dangerous for all boats and are even more perilous in an ocean going canoe!!! But the captain, trusting his sailing and navigating skills enough knew that the venture had a possibility of succeeding.

The first few weeks the weather was calm. The mate, the journalist, entered into an easy routine with the captain, learning the skills required for living on a small boat: cooking, cleaning, raising and lowering sails, steering and doing night watches to keep the boat on course.

During this time the two men worked and lived on board as friends. The mate didn’t feel he was obeying orders, he was just learning the ropes of sailing. The captain did not feel the need to assert his authority because the mate was a willing learner.

They encountered rain, choppy seas and thunderstorms but nothing that proved dangerous. Until one afternoon, the captain noticed the darkening clouds and that the winds and waves were stronger and it started to rain. He knew a gale was almost on them.  

At this point, the roles of the two men, take a drastic change. The mate, never having been at sea in a gale, was terrified and feared for his life. He did not trust that this amiable man who taught him how to cook could manage a storm this dangerous. He lost confidence in the captain.

As the storm got closer and winds got stronger and the rain started, the captain had to yell over the wind to his mate.


You have to go to the stern of the boat and drop this anchor overboard. I will tie this rope around you, so if you get tossed out, I can pull you back. I’m going to steer the boat and set the sails. We are going to heave-to.”


Terrified, the mate let the captain tie a rope around him and fighting the wind struggled to the stern carrying the anchor. When he got there he saw a huge wave coming straight at him. In sheer panic he dropped the anchor in the boat and climbed up the nearest mast. The captain yelled again, louder.


“Climb down and drop the anchor overboard right now!

Shaken, the mate climbed down and threw the anchor overboard. Fighting the wind and rain he struggled back, frightened, angry, defensive ready to argue with the captain. The mate felt that dropping the anchor was wrong. The boat should be going with the wind, not stopping in the middle of it. Didn’t the captain know how big the waves were? The mate saw the size of the waves and knew he was going to be drowned.

As the storm raged, the captain knew the power of heaving-to. He knew from experience what actions he had to take, and what actions he had to order his mate take to make the boat, his mate and himself safe. And he took them.

Having done all he could do, and knowing the space was too small for disagreements, he welcomed his terrified, angry mate into a surprisingly dry and steady cabin. The rain and wind and rough waves hadn’t stopped, but dropping the anchor, slowed the boat and it was no longer fighting the wind and waves. The captain helped the mate untie the rope and dry off. He offered him a cup of coffee and a seat to ride the storm out.

The Twofold View

Notice how similar this story is to our being asked to drop everything and slow down. To withdraw from the stormy winds blowing this virus across the globe, to have a cup of coffee, to calm down, to trust that dropping everything will keep us safe.

That is the material realm safety.

This applies to our spiritual life as well. Drop every fear-mongering thought – heave-to right in the middle of what comes into your life. Face the challenge without fear; trust, be confident in spiritual fortitude to get up and keep going. Study the teachings in a disciplined way – be reasoned with knowledge of spiritual teachings, take action when required, offer devotion and praise in silence and meditation. Give like the captain who knew the fear of his novice mate.

The novice seaman thought he knew more than the captain and almost lost his life. Take to heart the teachings – heave to and have few desires; two of Dogen’s life jackets in the storm’s of life.


Humming Bird

Author: Lao di Zhi Shakya

Old Earth

Zen Contemplative Priest of the Order of Hsu Yun


ZATMA is not a blog.

 If for some reason you need elucidation on the teaching,

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



Featured Images: Lying a Hull

Who is in Charge?

Spiritual life is a battlefield. 

Over time, the battle worsens for the serious spiritual adept – threats along the path are more ominous. The path narrows. The dangers more perilous. Hazards multiply. The demons of ignorance, of lust, hate, self-doubt, of pride, power, envy, jealousy assemble against the spiritual adept. The climb to the summit appears out of reach. The world of ignorance becomes enticing. Practice weakens, pleasures arise and the adept believes he is more awake, more powerful, more knowledgeable than others. He claims to know – claims to be a leader – ignorance claims jurisdiction of the adept’s mind.

Assumes power over others. Asserts himself as important. Disguises himself as superior. Becomes the ranking official. The demons have vanquished the adept. He becomes unreachable. Smug. Certain. Above others. No longer able to hear or listen. Blows off the Truth. He becomes certain. Assured and out of control. Lost in ignorance.

The adept has become unreachable and unteachable. Hardship is his only hope. Thinking he is in charge is his worst enemy. Being a spiritual seeker is not a career, a hobby, a secondary interest – it is all and everything that matters. There is nothing else.

Often, we find ourselves playing tiddlywinks with spiritual teachings – not realizing that spiritual teachings are potent in a way nothing else is. There is no aim of winning, no aim of getting ahead or getting anything at all. There is nothing to get. Nothing to lay claim to as the “me” and “my” so insistently try to do.

It seems the odds are stacked against us – that one lifetime is not enough time to defend our spiritual life and destroy the battalions of ignorance, lust, pride, greed, envy, jealousy and the many hindrances that we seem to face again and again and again. The enemy of our own desire seems to be upon us before we are able to stop it and vanquish it in such a way that we are free.

But all is not lost.

The spiritual gods assemble in the form of hardship. The ignorance becomes anxiety, the lust, dry and empty, the hate requires more and more harshness and self-doubt is bolstered by sycophants and drugs. The demons relish their victories and amass their forces while the spiritual gods seek help.

Defeated, the spiritual gods confess they need a higher power and a return to order; a return to discipline and practice. They need the energy to slay the demons that have taken them over. They need a powerful weapon against ignorance in order to see how they have capitulated to the fleeting pleasures of impermanent things.

For those who want to reach the summit, there must be a willingness to renounce greed-of-attachment and hatred-of-aversion. And this requires heavy lifting – a thirst for the Boss, the One beyond understanding. The thirst is big – big in the way one fights for a breath when drowning. YES. That’s what it takes. A fight for the face of the True Self as one fights for life. The Divine Eternal – Godliness – THAT which never was born and never dies. THAT. Life offers each one of us a chance at liberation – to find union with THAT by whatever holy name.

We need weapons. Yes. Weapons. Those things or ways that give us an advantage over the demons of greed, hate and delusion. AND, we need training on how to find and use the weapons – from a Master. It is as simple as that.

Let us for a moment return to The Bow & Arrow. Please read it as spiritual instruction. It shows the action of a Master; one who trained with a master archer. Trained his mind in discipline and practiced.

Did you read it?

Spiritual life is demanding and we have to be willing to give it time to master. You may ask, “How is the tale of the Bow & Arrow an instruction for me in my spiritual life?”

Actually, I hope you do ask that question.

The basic answer is twofold: The Bow & Arrow exemplifies the use of a weapon and a weapon that requires commitment and discipline in order to master it. The weapon needs to strengthen the student in such a way that it is an advantage against the demons of ignorance, greed, hate & delusion. The weapon does not need to be deadly in a worldly sense; it does need to be able to destroy the sloth & torpor of disinterest which means it must be challenging to the sloth & torpor of ignorance. AND…it must be able to slay the resistance to giving up ignorance.

Choose your weapon wisely. The Master in The Bow & Arrow,  selected the Bow and Arrow and all that goes with it. He found a Master to hand down the ways of the bow & arrow. In order to learn, he had to commit himself first and foremast to the work. The commitment must be there.

Your weapon need not be a weapon such as a bow and arrow, but it must be challenging and greater than ignorance. It might be gardening, the tea ceremony, sewing, writing, spiritual study or one of any number of actions. Being father, a mother, training a dog, a marathon athlete and such. What is important is that the chosen weapon is able to call you to devotion – again and again and again. An action that requires discipline and training. In other words, it requires a willingness to become a disciple – a follower of the discipline.

In Zen Buddhism someone does not receive a diploma stating he or she is a master; it is much more difficult because one is a master through the difficult-to-understand process of working with a master.  One does not go to a seminary for four or six years and graduate receiving a diploma; no. In Zen, one lives the teachings and realizes THAT Truth spoken about above.  There are many means; nothing is left out of living the teachings.

In the The Bow & Arrow, the man placed the arrow of his life on the bow of teachings and shot at THAT truth which is not a single target downfield; but is the ever-present mysterious Truth of the Tathagatha.

The man in The Bow & Arrow trained in such a way that he is called a master – not a dilettante or a spiritual shopper but a master. It’s not a casual commitment.


With this under our belt let’s take a closer look at the The Bow & Arrow.

This man, at some point in time, chose the bow & arrow as his weapon that would teach him the Truth and from the looks of what he did on the field, it did indeed teach him in a way expressed in action. The spontaneity of his action is the hallmark, the gold standard of a master. The reason is simple – we all know how to deceive ourselves and others with robes, pretty words and high-fallutin’ teachings and all sorts of spiritual paraphernalia. Our intellect, after all, can be the ally of phony baloney spiritual rhetoric.

But what action exactly shows this gold standard? Very hard to understand and pinpoint. Not looking for a reward is one. Not giving a rat’s ass about opinions of others is another. Devotion to the weapon. Offering free all the teachings to those that are sincere.

Zen is full of stories of slaps, fly swatting, sudden claps, blowing out candles given in a sudden burst to awaken you. Zen Buddhism is not trying to be nice – which is a word that comes from the French, meaning stupid – Zen Buddhism is punchy, provocative, evocative, potent, powerful, forceful, fierce training because the foes of ignorance, greed, hate and delusion are mighty. We all need a weapon in which to cut away, strip, flay, slay ignorance.

Ignorance is quite powerful. Its power has kept us cycling through lifetimes of karma. We need a thing greater than it to slay it.  Loss, some great, terrible loss is at times needed for some to awaken.

The Archer who showed up on that field was a master who did not care whether the crowd liked what he did or not – he shot the arrow in such a way it pierced the desires of wanting a performance. He sent the arrow flying into the heavens of Truth.

A true Master is not someone who is nice, but is able to strip away the ignorance of how you or I want or wish things to go. A true Master exhibits a wholeness (holiness) that no longer cares about the opinions of others but is concentrated on the Eternal Mark, the impenetrable Mark of existence. THAT. True. Self.

I ask once more, what weapon have you chosen or will you choose to master in order to pierce ignorance; to tear off the veil and see who you really are?

 I know I have said this many times, but I must say it again – a teacher is essential – a holy teacher who is willing to not give a rat’s ass about your self-centered feelings and thoughts and who has the skill to pierce the veil of ignorance again and again until you are able to do it for yourself. 

What weapon are you willing to devote your concentration, your mind, your heart to?


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


Images by Fly

Cooped Up? A Good Time for the Eight Awarenesses – First of Eight

Have Few Desires


In late winter the sugar ants arrive, uninvited.  We first notice one or maybe two walking across our counter top, scouts checking, we are not sure just what they are checking.  Then, a few days later there are a few more boldly walking on spoons and cups waiting to be washed.  A dollop of jam left on a knife is soon covered with ants.  And when at night we are too tired to clean-up the kitchen, the morning reveals lines of marching ants…going back and forth with their booty.

The arrival of the ants is very much like the arrival of desire in our mind.  We notice a small desire…wanting more sunshine, fewer clouds, warmer weather.  These are scouts that lead to more and more desire…moving to a warmer climate, which means a new house (renting or buying) and then selling or renting the one we have and finding a moving company and giving away furniture or selling it.  On and on it goes.  Our desires swarm around things, forms, feelings, perceptions, impulses, memories, experiences, fears.  This is how we think…wanting and not wanting.  Our desires just like the ants keep coming.  And soon we are miserable.

Over the past few years we’ve tried many strategies with the ants. Most of them involved killing lots and lots of ants. The ant problem eventually gets solved with great sorrow and regret at killing so many ants, which really aren’t causing any harm.

This year, thinking about the arrival of ants and the arrival of desire in the mind we are working with a practice of simplicity and persistence.  With the ants, it is obvious:  put all food away, leave nothing on the counters.  Rinse off all silverware, dishes, cups, glasses.  Wipe the counters down every time food is prepared.  Do this all day, every day.  The ants can scout around but they won’t find anything to message home about.

Simplicity and persistence can also work with desire.  We can physically begin to simplify our life, so example:  put away everything we take out.  If what we take out doesn’t have a “home” clean out drawers and closets until there is a place to simply put away what we take out.  Do this all day every day.

With mental desires, a key is to simply catch it when it comes up…see it scouting around for other desires to latch onto.  To begin with maybe we won’t see the scout desires, we will only notice desires when they become swarms…entangled thoughts.  Persistent practice can help here…when you notice a desire filled thought,  just say “STOP” and move the mind away from the swarm.  It takes persistence to pay attention to what our mind is up to.  In fact, if we want to have few desires we must pay attention all the time…minute by minute, hour by hour.



Memorize. Repeat. Practice.


Humming Bird

Author: Lao di Zhi Shakya

Old Earth

Zen Contemplative Priest of the Order of Hsu Yun


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


Study THIS – and Realize the Dharma Work.


These teachings are for your sake. Trees and weeds, tables and doors expound and exalt the Dharma for your sake. You, in turn, expound and exalt the Dharma for the sake of trees, weeds, tables and doors. This expounding and exalting is how Dharma work is. The work is not limited because Dharma work cannot be measured or comprehended. Measuring and comprehending disturb the mind. All things help you to cut off disordered and defiled thoughts and views coming from the measuring and comprehending. The Dharma work is infinitely numberless and universally performing. You might wonder what the characteristics of realization are and what are the causes of realization that lead to self-awakening and awakening others?  THe promise of cause and effect is inescapable. If you put your hand into a pot of boiling water, you burn your hand. The boiling water fulfills its Dharma. This is the nature of cause and effect. This nature is true of the mind. The teachings of realization promise and follow this law. If you put your mind on the non-essential, you will cycle endlessly in suffering and you will not be blessed with the characteristics of realization. The non-essentials are when you are given over to likes, dislikes and indifferences. Likes, dislikes and indifference are not essential causes of realization. If you put your mind on the essential, you will realize the Dharma work.


Service, Automobiles & Unselfishness

Awakening before dawn,

I cover my eyes and think of serving;

giving little services throughout the day.

I think of those who died –

over 150,000 others died during the night.

I bow before the feet of Divine Mother.

I take refuge in Divine Mother;

who reigns over birth and death. 


The image above illustrates the image of service. It says it quite beautifully in the visual image and is reflective of the bodhisattva vow. 

When, I a student of Dharma,

Look at the real form of the universe,

All is the never-failing manifestation

Of the mysterious Truth of the Tathagata.

The Bodhisattva Vow

To take refuge in the never-failing manifestation is the Way to break through the ignorance of our pervasive self-centeredness. And it is to take refuge everywhere all the time in any event, in any moment and in any place. The reason is clear – None can be other than the marvelous revelation of ITS glorious Light.  Nothing is left out. When we know and realize this mysterious truth ,we see the world as One Bright Pearl.

And, we follow the realization of our virtuous ancestors who extended tender care, with a worshipping heart – to all things.

Those services given freely, without an agenda, without strings, and yes, without cash are tender care. There is no merit to get, no fruit to ripen, no result to be cherished. Giving seeks no reward. It is empty of self-grasping. No trace of self-ego. When we take refuge in this never-failing manifestation, we know the merciful incarnation of Buddha.

But I get ahead of myself – let me go to what might seem to be a hard digression. So hold on tight as we make a sharp turn to automobiles. Yes, automobiles, especially new ones. But first a definition.




“Unselfishness is God *”  



Consider this quote. It is simple and points directly to the nature of the Divine – that Divinity which  is never apart from you, right where you are. Unselfishness is the state of being that Divinity, moment by moment by moment. One way to recognize we are not living there – WAIT – let me give an example of how we know we are NOT taking refuge in the Divinity of existence. As promised – in a short vignette on “automobiles.”


Image result for images of automobiles


The new automobiles are computerized to such a degree that the dashboard tells the driver when the tires need air. Sounds pretty good?

Stop. Be careful.

Whatever looks like a boon always comes with disadvantages; the dashboard alert is no exception. Yes, it tells the driver the tire pressure is low, get air. But this boon is filled with what appear to be many difficulties.

The driver is alerted to check air pressure, but this boon of an alert creates the problem of locating a gas station which has a functioning air pump. Finding a station with an air pump is just the beginning of the what some feel are hardships. Finding a gas station with a working air pump is not easy. It takes time. If we get the boon of finding such a gas station, we discover the air pump contraption is “out-of-service.”

But wait!

Before we are able to test the air pump for functionality, we have to deal with the weather. The signal on the dash that alerts the driver often occurs when the temperature drops to bitter cold degrees. Gone are the days when air used to be part of the service in a gas station along with filling the tank, cleaning the windows and paying in cash. They were givens. Services such as these are rare if not extinct.

Self-service-with-a-fee is the new normal. It exemplifies our current culture of we must pay for services even when we are the one who does the servicing. As most of us know, we are a culture that charges for just about everything; including AIR; even when we are the attendant.

The boon soon is seen as a curse.

The dashboard alerts require deep breaths, patience and yes, fortitude. If we are lucky enough to find a gas station that has an air pump, we button up our coat, find our gloves and climb out into the chill of winter in hopes of inflating the tires.

But the AIR isn’t free.

And those difficult machines in gas stations take coins.  Who amongst us carries coins? And – do we have the right coins? Enough of them? OK. The driver feels unlucky and needs to calm down. When the coins are gotten the air pump looks menacing.

If the coin slot is not broken or frozen or bent out-of-shape we remove our gloves and pay to turn the contraption on and hope that it actually works. All of this is done after we have unwound the frozen air hose and have taken a guess at which tire actually needs air. The boon is surely seen as a curse at this point. 

All for the want to shut off the dashboard warning icon. If we are unsuccessful, the icon turns into a compulsion because we are compelled to shut off that now glaring light. Usually this event from beginning to end is seen as demonic and the driver wants to kick the tires and to hell with the air. 

What…you ask, does this have to do with seeing unselfishness as DIvine.  The first glaring relationship is that we are taking the event personally – I sure hope you can laugh at yourself. It’s not personal. It’s — well, BIGGER than that self-interest. All along it is the mysterious Truth of the Tathagatha. Now – I hope you are smiling.


The person who reacts with annoyance, agitation, irritation to the light on in his dashboard, is apart from the Divine existence of the Buddha Self, to the never-failing of Buddha. He does not see everything as Divine manifestation but rather reacts to things as for him or against him, as good or bad, as right or wrong, as a pain-in-the-neck or as a blessing for him. Selfish interests abound. Ignorance of what to take refuge in continues. 

This reactive self is a manifestation of the selfish-ego which is what we mostly take refuge in. We want to fix, repair, correct, and get rid of what we see as a problem…and this reactive delusion thinks there is a right way to do it. I have found that impatience is often the General that leads the army of Mara (any internal demon that blinds us). The driver in the car gets frustrated and impatient to kill the dashboard light – to heed the warning.

Imagine if the driver knows and realizes the dashboard light, like everything, is the merciful incarnation of Buddha; of your Divine nature. The reaction is an illusion that leads to samsara. A henchman of Mara that leads us to split the things of the world according to our self-interest. In the case of the car – the driver splits the world between easy and hard.

As we continue to split the world, which whatever shows up in life, as good or bad  or right or wrong  we are looking at the world according to our self-interest. 





Those of us who continue to be reactive get a chance to see we are reactive and instead of arguing about it, or covering it over with “well, I am right, there is right and wrong” we get a chance to take refuge in the True Self – by whatever name you know it.  This turn requires that we study the self to such a degree we can forget the self. In other words, we practice unselfishness – not putting our self first again and again and again. Not seeking reward or credit. Not wanting praise or blame. Being free.

We respond or react to life according to our knowledge of the True Self. Until we take refuge in THAT, we continue to split the world according to our self-centered views.

May this teaching benefit all beings in every direction.

OM. OM. OM.  


Quote Unselfish is God – *Vivekananda. 

DEFINITION of UNSELFISH: “not putting yourself first; being generous with what you have; generosity with time, money and effort.” 

Humming Bird

*I was once dubious about working with a teacher,

but after a lifetime of practice, and working with Ming Zhen

I see the need and recommend to you

that you find a teacher.


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


IMAGE CREDIT: Wang zi-won; Meditating Mechanical Machinery

Car Image credit

The Yoga of the Bow And Arrow


There was a silence that came when the archer appeared. He was tall and straight and wore the robes of a Master archer. Many came to see him, to see if he could hit the mark that seemed an impossible distance away.

The wise among them knew the yoga of the bow and arrow – knew the Great Teaching of hitting the mark. Others came to see the skill of the archer; to see the arrow rise in a skyward arch towards the impractical target. Some laughed with satisfaction that this was an act of a fool.



Nevertheless, it was a large crowd – of seekers and sycophants; of bystanders and spectators. Young and old and able-bodied and disabled waited to see. Some cynical and skeptical, others hoping for the best; not knowing what the best would be.



The air was cool under a blue, brought sky. The ground damp from the morning dew. The grass smelled with growth and hope as the Zen Master moved to the furthest point from the target. A small murmur from those who watched him followed.


With anticipation building the crowd became antsy; some considered leaving; others did leave. When an unexpected, strong wind blew through the crowd there came a matching unexpected silence. Everyone turned to see this man outfitted in the regalia of a Master archer.

He walked slow, confident with a strong presence of sincerity.

No one spoke.

He strapped an ancient leather covering along his bow arm then pulled on a hand strap on his other.

The crowd turned to see him slip the arrow from the quiver and rest it on the bow.

All the movements were steady and even.

With bow in hand he pulled the bow string with arrow as far as his strength would taken it – the crowd moved closer.

There was more murmuring but a shush, shush quieted the soft voices.

Heads turned this way and that looking for the target. Some stood on tiptoes to see the target.

The bull’s eye stood still at the farthest point down field – everyone became quiet with wonder.

How could this Master hit the mark from such an impossible distance?

The Master set the bow and arrow, lifted in the direction of the target.

Drawing back the well-placed arrow, everyone saw the power and  strength.

Still and steady; he held it.

Then suddenly… he turned the bow towards the sky and let it fly.




There were very few that understood. Disappointment filled the minds of the bystanders and spectators. The cynics and skeptics were secretly sad but left in a huff, saying “I knew it was too good to be true.” The young shrugged and just didn’t care. There’d be another day to play somewhere else. There were critics who deemed the Master a failure. What do you understand?



Humming Bird

*I was once dubious about working with a teacher,

but after a lifetime of practice, and working with Ming Zhen

I see the need and recommend you find a teacher you can work with face to face.


a teacher wants to help you on your spiritual path.


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

Golden bow and arrow isolated on white background 3d rendering
Creator: koya79
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Truths


The Four Noble Truths

I am pretty sure most of you have heard of the Buddha’s four noble truths since Buddhism has been well-advertised in the West. But I wonder if you are able to recite them, in your own way of course, the way you took them in. Along with that wonder are these personal questions, do you live by them – that is, did they take root – and did they grow into a strength within you?

Just in case you’ve forgotten them – oh, don’t be embarrassed – I’ll stick them in right here just as a reminder. 


The Four Noble Truths

  1. The Truth of suffering
  2. The Truth of the cause of suffering
  3. The Truth of the end of suffering
  4. The Truth of the path to the end of suffering


I do hope they sound familiar. For those of you who have never, ever heard them or heard them once or twice and blew them off stay tuned. I am going to give a refresher.




I remember many years ago waking up in the morning and sitting on the edge of my bed thinking, “Life is so disappointing.” I hope you can have a good laugh – I certainly can. There I was first thing in the morning in a lovely house, in the middle of my career, with a wonderful partner, two dogs, a car, money enough to travel if I like, nominal health and I woke up declaring:


Life is so disappointing!


As I sat there I heard myself declare such a ridiculous pronouncement I fell back onto the bed and laughed and laughed and laughed. Once I stopped laughing I sat up, shook my head and declared:


Life is neither so disappointing nor so satisfying!


Huh. I thought to myself. Life happens without any of my declarations. Life, that is, existence of all life, goes on without me saying one way or the other what life is or not. Life rolls along, much like the waves on the ocean or the wind through the trees, or fire burning wood, or water running in a stream. Life happens. 


Ok. I hope you get this – because it has to do with the first two Truths. The Truth of suffering and the Truth of the cause of suffering. Let’s take a look.


There I was – saying to myself life is so disappointing. I was making a declaration of the Truth of suffering. Imagine living out the day of existence experiencing the day as sooooooooo disappointing. Pretty miserable. Smack dab in suffering. 


Now I was a newbie to the world of Zen Buddhism so I fell into the suffering of disappointment, but I had a fortune pocketed in my mind. I knew the Way to end suffering (this Way is the third and fourth Truths; the end of suffering and the path). Whew! 


Let me explain some of the pitfalls that many of us fall into when we think about these four Truths. The main pitfill is highlighted by my declaration which is a mistake that comes with consequences. If I had continued to live the day with the mind and body on the rudder of disappointment, suffering indeed would continue. Convincing me life is disappointing. The continuation would be long-lived because I would have seen the “world” the external “world” as the cause of my misery. That is not what Shakyamuni meant in the second noble Truth. The Truth is the cause of suffering is desire.

Wanting. Wanting. Wanting.

Let’s retrace that morning. “Life is disappointing” is the expression of an inner desire that if followed and believed would lead to more suffering. The inner desire, and more deeply than that, the seed of that desire was the cause of the suffering, not the world. As I said, “life, existence is neither disappointing nor satisfying. Life is. PERIOD. 

We, you and me, put our desire on life which sometimes gives us what we want, which strengthens the seed of suffering and sometimes cracks us over the head with not getting what we want which weakens our ability to be fearless, generous and wise. We tend to whine, sniffle, and fall into a vat of despair when we don’t get what we want. Afterall, we remain babies until we grow up in the Truth.

This scenario, one of many, shows us that we need a Way – a path on which to travel in order to end suffering. 

Now it’s true there are many paths out there – exclaiming this is the Way. It is at times like a barker at a carnival. Nonetheless, over time we, if we are lucky, we pick a path and begin the spiritual journey out of suffering. As we go along, the Path tends to incline and we tend to breathe in the heights of awareness and awakening. Let me illustrate.

The explanation above shows us a level of knowing how to end suffering. Let me repeat here before I go further. To know the world is NOT the cause of suffering is a big deal – not many see this Truth. But this cause is Truth at a particular level – where you are amongst those who see the world as existence – but there’s more to do. 


Some of you may be asking – “OK. If the world is not the cause of suffering, what is?” I think that question needs to be contemplated. Take for example the political conditions worldwide. There are those FOR and there are those AGAINST just about everything in the world making for more and more conflict. Now apply the Truth to this situation. “The world is NOT the cause of your suffering.” At this point you may ask, then if that is TRUE, what is the cause of suffering.”

Glad you asked.


The cause of suffering is in YOU….and to be honest and sincere…in ME. This is good news. Very good news. Even though you may want to continue to blame the world…the Truth is the cause of suffering is you and me. 

The basis of this cause is desire. You and I want things to go according to our desire. This suffering is our human condition and will continue on until you work on your inner attachment to wanting things to go according to your desire. 


So far, are you with me? Attachment to your desire is the clenching factor in suffering.

I can attest to this Truth. But that’s not much help. You need to experience it yourself.


It requires an honest, rather a stripping away type of honesty, to fess up to your wanting things your way. Some of us will lose this opportunity this time around and die in the suffering of wanting things our way. And…thankfully, some of us will do the work of taking a deep look into the self ferreting out the seeds of desire. 

This ferreting activity is just the beginning. There is another step which is more of a clear out like a power vac of the ego – where the ego is sucked up altogether. But that is for another day. We have to start the work with a sincere heart and examine the self until we see that the cause of suffering is in us – in you, in me. 

This is the Truth. 

Humming Bird

*I was once dubious about working with a teacher, but after a lifetime of practice, and working with Ming Zhen

I see the need and recommend you find a teacher you can work with face to face.

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

Not Giving a Rat’s Ass

Credit: Fa Ming Shakya

In Honor of My Teacher.



I remember the bowing, lighting candles, unfolding the zagu  

A distant form – empty. Done. Completed. 

Sometimes taken as salvation.

Sometimes giving curses.

Said to be, “Nonsense!”


Eventually the bowing mat disappeared.

It gave shimmering promises.

Too far away. Too close up.

The thread never known.


Everything comes and goes. The bitter and the sweet.

All being. All this. All that.


When we make it out to the current, we stop struggling and 

Sail along watching all of it appear and disappear.

Right now it is best not to speak. Not to talk. Not to go up and down along words.

Nothing to say. IT is beyond compare.


Doing things right or wrong is an endless trap – a hamster running on the inside rim of a wheel.

IT is immeasurable. Uncountable.

Only the Bigness of the Unsayable satisfies the bottomless hunger.

But it can’t be made or taken apart.


All else are waves on the surface of the eternal ocean of bliss.

Inner desires are the waves.

For or against – wanting satisfaction. 

Getting it or not. Troubled waters come.


The smallest desire blocks the Way.


No giver. No receiver. No gift.

OM namo guru dev namo. 




Humming Bird

*I was once dubious about working with a teacher, but after a lifetime of practice, and working with Ming Zhen

I see the need and recommend you find a teacher you can work with face to face.


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


These Bones!

After the test showed that my bones now officially qualify as osteoporotic, (bone density low enough to cause potentially serious hip and vertebral fractures) I sat with a nurse to learn my options. I asked many questions, took notes.

Then I walked home, my mind spinning with so many questions. What should I do? How will I treat this new threat to my well-being as I age? Was there a natural way to increase bone density I could trust? Or should I follow the medical model of treatment using powerful drugs? Drugs promise to increase bone density but at such a high cost with their numerous down-sides. On the other hand are my memories of my grandmother in acute pain from spinal fractures, she who did not have drug treatment options for her crippling osteoporosis thirty years ago.

I stayed up late, reading online to learn more. Sleep, when it came, was not restful.

Gratitude abounds for the morning practice of sitting meditation. Once again, out of the silence and stillness: Wisdom. I recognized that I was picking and choosing, my mind adrift in a sea of potential options I must evaluate, eliminate, advocate. The aversion to past and future pains and sufferings fell away. So did the desire to know the perfect strategy that would protect me from harm.

It all let go into the here and now, such a relief. From HERE, I could rest into the great unfolding. I could trust that the next right step would emerge, one that wasn’t up to this picking and choosing “me.” HERE, there is trust that each step in this new journey of osteoporosis is taken without attachment to the outcome, without clinging to any particular direction, every choice, every move emerging from a unique moment in time and space, no static correct treatment to hold on to.

The only unchanging truth is this: these bones and the body that houses them will ultimately fail completely. No treatment options for that medical truth.

We take care of the bodies as well as we can. Our hearts and minds however are where the real work lies. There, the most effective treatment is spiritual truth. We remind the mind over and over to realize the changing nature of all things, to remember its own impermanence and to submit to the light of impermanence. We remind the mind to submit every experience of change, aging and sickness to the wise scrutiny of no picking, no choosing. No right, no wrong. No wanting, no knowing. Trusting each moment to show us the way.

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: Howie Hearn from Flagstaff, AZ.  Sculpture:  “I Told You We Would Win That War.”

Playing at Paste…Until Qualified for Pearl – PART 2

Notice – Two Points.

  1. Please read PART 1 first, then come back and read this, PART 2. Thank you.

2. Before we jump in further, it is important to ask a question. Don’t skip the question. And I advise, don’t advance without knowing your answer.

Here’s the question: WHAT DO YOU WANT?

A simple enough question, but it determines the whole direction of your life. It turns your ship towards whatever answer you put forth. The reason the question, as well as the answer is important, is that for the most part we get whatever it is that we want. It is true, even though it may not be exactly what you wanted, but it is some form of what you wanted. Look at your own life. You’ll see that you do get what you want – or some facsimile of it.

If you did not answer the question in some way that suggest you want liberation, I wouldn’t bother reading further. This is not what you want. But, if you did answer, I want to be liberated, then carry on. If you are not sure of what you want, continue to spend time with yourself in solitude and see what bubbles up.


The Story of the Monk Running for His Life

This story is about ignorance. Although, it is often a story about being in the “now” – picking the strawberry, enjoying the sweetness of ignorance, it is ultimately about ignorance. The central ignorance of not knowing who you are. 

It is essential that you understand this central question: WHO ARE YOU?

For most of us, we identify our self as a character on the world stage who has a body and mind and a life. In other words, we identify our self according to the body, the mind, and all the constructions of our family and culture and zeitgeist. As an example, I am a man, middle-aged, balding, brown eyes, six feet, a pharmacist, married 2 kids, educated, Spanish, and need to lose a few pounds. On and on this list may go. This list exemplifies the relative, impermanent conditions of the world and it is who this man thinks he is.

If you identify yourself according to the world, you are guaranteed suffering. Suffering’s root is not knowing WHO YOU ARE. It is as if you have identified yourself as a table or a cup, or an automobile which many actually do. The house they live, the car they drive, the clothes they wear, the hairdo, their height, their profession, their history make them who they are. But all of these things disappear and POOF! you lose them and it feels life-threatening because you think these things are YOU.

This YOU comes about through ignorance. And in this story of the monk we see him running for his life out of ignorance.

A Brief Recap

This spiritual adept, (those who want liberation) is said to have escaped the man-eating tiger and the devouring lion, but is soon to be done in by a few hungry mice. We meet him in a rather desperate moment. But despite his facing an impending death, he reaches for a sweet strawberry. Ming Zhen points out that going for the strawberry is playing with paste and that there is more work to be done especially when the monk realizes Layman P’ang’s truth – “the present doesn’t stay – don’t try to hold it.” Nothing lasts, not even the taste of that sweet strawberry.

When you begin to recognize all those things you identify yourself as will not last – and you decide you want liberation beyond the momentary sweetness of a strawberry – you dig in and start the climb up towards the Summit.  In Dickinson’s words, you practice until you qualify for pearls.

Sweet Ignorance

Wanting the sweetness of the strawberry is wanting the sweetness of ignorance. How do we know that? The monk is running for his life; defending against his impending death. We all tend to opt for the sweetness of ignorance rather than do the higher work of putting our foot into a cranny and getting out of ignorance altogether.

The direct path is to know and realize birth and death are illusions. Yes. That’s right. They are illusions. The tiger chasing the monk, the cliff, the branch, the mice, the lion and yes, the strawberry. The monk is fearful. He does not want to lose his body and mind and all the sweetness of ignorance. Yes, the sweetness of ignorance as in the old saying, ignorance is bliss. To some degree, ignorance itself is blissful – for awhile. Not in an eternal sense. For awhile – we enjoy the sweet honey of life until we realize otherwise. Often we get stuck in ignorance. Taking the ups with downs in stride and sing that very old song by Peggy Lee, Is This All There Is – if your answer is YES, this is all there is then, you’ll go along with her refrain – then bring on the booze and let’s keep dancing. This is being stuck in the honey of ignorance until you suffer change enough that you scream for help.

When we mistake the body and mind to be who we are, we are in ignorance. We suffer from fear, loss, and every imaginable form of suffering when it comes. The Heart Sutra is an antidote to this ignorance, especially when it is taken in and contemplated. We chant the emptiness of every aspect of body and mind as a reminder of these things are not who we are.

All of the things in the world are subject to decay and death. When you identify with this illusion you get scared. Who wouldn’t? What do you mean I AM SUBJECT to decay and death? You struggle, struggle, struggle with doubt, fear, hopelessness, helplessness and many, many other miseries that come.

The Truth is simple. You are NOT the body. You are not the MIND. YOU are not all those conditions and constructs you put together which you say you are. They are part of the role you play in the illusion like a costume – put on and then taken off.

Ming Zhen suggests getting out of there. Get out of the illusion; if you don’t survive, you can’t prevail.  Prevail for the spiritual adept requires you face the beasts – the tiger, the mice and the hungry lion. You face the illusion of the body and mind. You see through it. You face the momentary enjoyment of sweet ignorance and look to know who you are.

The Path

First, find out where you are. Are you a pleasure hog? A monger of the commodities of the world? Going after things for pleasure, pleasure, pleasure, comfort, comfort, comfort?

Most of us have been conditioned to seek comfort and pleasure in the things of the world. Look around you. What do you cherish?

In order to get onto the path, you need to have a glimpse, to see through the illusion. Suffering is your greatest ally to make a hole into the veil of ignorance ;allowing you a glimpse through the illusion. This takes time.

It is no wonder Eastern religions claim rebirth and reincarnation as our lot. We need time to see through this illusion. Along with the notion of reincarnation comes the ever-present encouragement not to waste time. Life and death are of supreme importance. This story shows us the importance to dig in and climb above the illusion.

You are born this time as a human being – a great boon – a platform on which to climb upward to the Summit. Don’t waste this opportunity. Don’t let the piddly, petty things of this world distract you. Fight off the demons of the ego. Find a teacher.* Climb upward.


Humming Bird

*I was once dubious about working with a teacher, but after a lifetime of practice,

I see the need and recommend you find a teacher you can work with face to face.


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



Playing at Paste…Until Qualified for Pearl – PART 1


Welcome Dear Friends.

This piece may be longer than most of what ZATMA posts. But it is hot off the heart – heated up by the Divine Mother of Time – of Birth and Death – and the Truth. It may be for you and it may not be. You get to decide whether this work is for you. The Work being:  “if you want to be free” or “if you don’t.”

I know a choice is obvious but i must add that there is always the possibility for a breakthrough – a breakthrough out from behind the veil of ignorance.  With that possibility in mind, read it. What do you have to lose?

I wish each and every one of you good luck, the good luck of hearing the sound of the high bird that waits patiently to sing to you.


Order of the Work. Read this first.

I am tempted to go in many directions all at once but I know that will be too confusing. I don’t want to add to your confusion. We are confused enough. The Order is offered as a way to help you hear what is told, understand what is given and to see where you go with it on your own. For the sake of clarity and utility, I recommend you print this out.

  • We’ll begin with a poem by Emily Dickinson, titled, We Play with Paste. 
  • Followed close behind comes a teaching of Layman P’ang. A Ch’an master of great esteem. He, like most of you, was not a monk, but he encountered two Ch’an masters upon whose shoulders he stood. The key word in his history is encountered; meaning faced the difficulty of working with a Master. He wasn’t a monastic and yet, his teachings went beyond the two he encountered. One does not need to ordain, but one does need to face the difficulties and deliberations of a master.
  • The third teaching comes from a novel by Anthony Wolff (aka Ming Zhen Shakya). It is a very familiar Zen Buddhist story. Read it several times. My guess is you’ll have heard of it and may even decide you know what it is saying. Hold off with your thinking you know what it means. Don’t decide beforehand.


We Play with Paste by Emily Dickinson 1830 – 1886


We play at Paste

Till qualified, for pearl.

Then, drop the paste

And deem ourself a fool.


The shapes- though- were similar,

And our new hands

Learned Gem-tactics

Practicing Sands.


I hope you have read it several times and thought about it as well. In this context, both Ming Zhen and I agree that for an indeterminable amount of time we spiritual seekers play at spiritual practice. As you’ll read later we enjoy and find the Zen stories entertaining, amusing and light. But as in all things, we cannot stay there although we may get stuck there. Getting stuck tends to look like dogma, doctrine and concrete. It is often laiden with judgement as in I know and you poor fool do not.

Don’t lose heart if you find yourself still playing with paste. It’s part of the training. Afterall, we have to start somewhere and learning fanciful Zen tales is an appealing place to start. This happens in all spiritual practices. Ancient stories and parables are taken in at the level of the listener or in this case in the hands of an unskilled but willing seeker. A spiritual kid, if you will.

What determines whether or not we’ve given up our childish ways with paste? A sense of being a fool. Yes. That is it. A sense that you have been playing around with spiritual pearls all the time thinking you were cool. In the know. Some think they are awake. At some point, a spiritual adept confesses being a fool. I know exactly when I confessed to my teacher. It was that part of the poem that says, deem myself a fool. I still laugh about it. If you can’t laugh at yourself, well – that’s a sure give-away you’re still playing around with paste. Remember, however, that’s a place most of us begin. Whatever you do, don’t try to fake being a fool, or fake laughing at yourself. This is why you need a teacher; because a teacher can spot this stupidity and chicanery – and that my friend’s is a priceless gift.

As the poem goes on it portends to give a hint at what comes next. NEW HANDS. Yes, something happens and we realize what we have been given is a gem; a precious jewel that we play with skillfully – with wisdom – in the shifting sands of this impermanent realm. We take it seriously, but not too seriously. Notice I say take it seriously first…and you do this for a long time until you realize you are after all playing with sand. But don’t try to reverse these. Don’t think you’re playing with sand first. That will lead you to despair and even nihilism. No. First, take the teachings and practices seriously – and at some point you’re likely to see it is all sand. Always has been.


Layman P’ang’s Teaching on Ultimate Reality — 740-808

This teaching by Layman P’ang impacts how you might understand the Zen parable in the next section. Layman P’ang’s teaching is so lucid I feel as though I do not need to add anything except to encourage you to read it and take it into your life practice.


The past is already past.
Don’t try to regain it.

The present does not stay.
Don’t try to hold it from moment to moment.

The future is not yet come;
Don’t think about it

Whatever comes to the eye,
Leave it be.

There are no commandments
To be kept,
There’s no filth to be cleansed.

With empty mind truly
Penetrated, nothing remains.

When you can be like this,
You touch ultimate reality


The Thorn Crown Murder – Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

“We play at paste till qualified for pearl,” noted Emily Dickinson. The observation also applies to instructions about Zen’s attitude toward life. We begin with parables that seem, to the beginner, to be such pretty little jewels. Later, when we deepen our understanding, we see them as the glass substitutes used to acquire in the ‘gem-tactics’ needed for handling real pearls.

Early on we learn about the monk who, while fleeing from a tiger, clings to a loose sapling on a cliff’s side and sees death whether he goes up or down. Yet, he picks a wild strawberry and savors its sweetness. Yes, we say, we should all live in the ‘now’ moment. But once we grow in Zen, the story loses its charm. It is no easy task to live in the now – to be able to concentrate and focus right where you are with what shows up, but Ming Zhen goes onto to write…we call out to the monk, “instead of picking a strawberry, scrape out a foothold for yourself!” And I add climb up, get out of there because…There are degrees of advancement in Zen’s regimen…

Yes, there are degrees of advancement but it does not mean to skip this work of being in the present moment. Work there – work with a decision to concentrate and focus and when you are stable in doing that then, and only then, go to Part 2 where we will take up the task of advancement.

Humming Bird

Image Credit: Fly, 2020 From the Bottom UP

The image depicts the chakra energy.

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

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