top of page
farm photo.jpg

Going to Land is Going Homeward


C. 1976-1977


Dear Friends in the Dharma,


There is a hwadu which runs: Why the hell did Bodhidharma come from the West? Simple and direct, this hwadu was one of the most practiced by Seon (Zen) Buddhists who worked on it long and hard until they got real relish from it. If you can lift it, you lift the whole world alive. If you drop it, you drop the entire body dead. If you look for it, sweat will stream down like a shower in the cold of winter. If you cease to look, heavy frost will form even in the heat of summer. The old woman on the stone steps giggled, looking up at the white cloud. The Master clicked his tongue and repeated, “Pshaw, Pshaw" in all seriousness. The student, awestricken, became separated from himself.


Bodhidharma travelled from India to China carrying his teaching through lands of tumult. A new religion that asserts itself in troubled times cannot expect any support from the Establishment. Therefore his followers went from place to place and begged food in the villages. This put them in close touch with the people and made them eat the people's coarse food and talk their crude language. Ordinary people who work in the fields and barnyards are not intellectually inclined and cannot understand the doctrines of high religion. That is why early Ch’an literature abounds in earthy expressions and pithy sayings. “What is the Buddha?” “He is a dried shitstick.” In modern parlance this would be, “He is a roll of toilet paper.” But “toilet paper” does not carry the rustic energy of “shitstick” out in the cornfield. You cannot get the unrefined taste of nature by merely sitting at home and consuming the Buddha-mind without living it.


Soen, sitting and working on Mind, is pure and active experience in simplicity of heart. Its practice is straightforward and free of attachment. Wholesome as unhusked rice in storage and as pungent as fermenting soybean malt, it had a direct appeal to un-sophisticated minds. People struck themselves against the hard flint provided by Son and Son water crashed through, washing the shores of their minds. When this people without government and this religion devoid of dogma came together, they brought home the chuckle of freedom and the belly laugh of psychic energy.


Gradually people of like mind got together. They settled down, felled trees and built houses for communal living. They stopped begging, tilled the land and raised grains and vegetables. ‘Pure Rules' were introduced to set the rhythms of daily events. The Master provided a strong hand to guide the everyday working minds of his students who were also given individual duties to attend to. They spent days in the fields and evenings in the meditation halls, working together to build a community that would be self-reliant and self-sufficient in body-mind. Working on mind combined well with tilling the soil of the land. The "soil of mind," as it is called, was cultivated and planted with seeds. With the falling of universal rain these burst into sprouts.


As the mind-soil organic movement grew, communities arose south of the lake and north of the pass. Increasing numbers of participants in community life brought on the inevitable diversification of life-patterns. Boys cut cut grass and herded oxen while girls pick-ed tea leaves and brewed them. Men worked on potters' wheels and fired earthenware while women spun on spinning wheels and wove fabric on looms. Spiritual work matched the pace of everyday life as 'ox-herding' practice and apprenticeship were introduced into the training program.


Earthy Buddhas and performing Bodhisattvas mingled freely with  snakes and dragonflies. When a fox yelped on the front mountain an owl hooted on the hill behind and the pitch-dark night reigned. The function of Buddha-nature was everywhere in evidence and the Way lay with the ordinary mind. It was natural that people should discover art, the forms of life and manifestations of Buddha-nature.


Country people are open and guileless. When they don't understand something they don't mumble in discontent or hold it in; they spit it right out on the ground! They do speedy justice to their feelings. Honest and forthright, they hold nothing back and leave nothing behind. Occasionally crackpots and eccentrics would come into the scene and entertain the people. Naked and with disheveled hair, they wandered around from place to place, gathering fruits and nuts and playing with the children.


One day it was raining hard and between the showers clouds were moving along the mountain ridge. The meditation hall was occupied by people in their usual activities—cooking, spicing, cracking and whacking. They were all in high spirits, some busily drilling holes in there sitting mats with their rumps when the door flew open with a bang. In came The Mouthless from under the Manjusri Peak, rolling his sauce-ball eyes.    "In the rabbit valley right now the python is casting off his skin in order to fly up to heaven. Don't miss it! Don't miss it!”


So shouting, he snatched the stick from the monitor's hand and  chased everyone out. When the people returned all wet after a while, the Master said quietly, "The dragon is gone. Take away his skin.” There in the centre of the hall, hanging on the clothes rack, were the rag of The Mouthless without his body. The master slipped out of the room and  grumbled, "Half fool ruins the house. Pshaw, pshaw!”


Such was the work of the free frame of mind. Mindful of the tradition but  also aware of the societal differences, I invite you to come and work with me  and build a community based on the following principles:

1. We practice the Three Great Learnings: Morality, concentration and  wisdom, and the Six Perfections, within the breadth of the Mahayana Buddhist  tradition.

2. We observe the rules and regulations laid out by Sunim in order to bring rhythm and harmony into our communal living and eventually to set us free from passions and defilements of mind.

3. We farm the land, grow herbs and engage in folkcraft in order to support ourselves.

4.  We treat each other as brothers and sisters, sharing things according  to needs.

5. We solve problems in the spirit of self-rule and self-education, including the education of children, who are natural Buddhas. (Details to be  studied.)

In proposing this community project I have nothing to offer you in the way of material. Whoever comes to work with me will have to fill needs as  they arise. When a mop is needed we become a mop and wash the floor. When a hoe is needed we become a hoe and till the land. Our mind delights  in single activities of undivided attention.


“From the beginning there has not been a single thing!” roared Hueneng. If there is nothing to clog your mind you will then be unobstructed in "coming in and out of the tempter's palace or tiger's den to turn the wheel of Dharma. Sometimes you will build a marvelous temple on the thorny thicket or set up a lofty wall of a thousand feet on the crossroads. At other times you will become soaking wet and splattered with mud on the top of a lonely peak.” But all the time purity will shine as brightly as a sparkling stream flowing in a valley and freedom will sing its own songs as merrily as orioles in the woodland.


May all beings attain Buddhahood.



*below is a Toronto temple flyer  c. 1976-77

Vegetable Gardening 1976.jpg
bottom of page