Tracing the heart of the Heart Sutra – Tokyo 2019

Towards the end of the year as the dry leaves rustled across the pavements, Blair practiced Shakyo Sutra tracing at temples in Tokyo, working mainly from Genjo’s version of the Hannya Shingyo – Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra.

You can see the hanging scroll of Genjo / Xuanzang in the Soto Zen shakyo hall, he is beautifully pictured sitting and beginning work.

Macha tea and a snack are given to practitioners at certain temples, a lovely way to settle, connect with your senses, as well as give some much appreciated energy. There are different sutras and versions of each that can be traced or copied in the temples.


Painting on paper with artbrushes of suffused shapes

After zazen when we chant the Heart Sutra we are chanting the short condensed version – heart/essence – of the massively longer Great Real Wisdom Perfection Sutras (an early Mahayana work begun around the 1st Century). The Japanese title is Maka hannya haramita shin gyo. What we chant is the most common version chanted in China and Japan, translated by Xuanzang (Jp: Genjo) into 260 Chinese characters.

The first lines in our chant copy is an introduction to the sutra and expresses our zazen practice.

In the title –

Maka is vast or great. Hannya is prajna or intuition or wisdom, beyond what can be intellectually discriminated (the sutra is about this, encourages us to investigate the way things really are, to explore our experience and existence), haramita is paramita or perfection, shin is heart-mind but in this case essence, gyo is sutra, which as a kanji character expresses spaciousness (eg can also mean longitude).

The start of the Hannya Shingyo –

Kanjizai bosatsu – Kannon/ Guanyin/ Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva – gyo jin hannya ha ra mitta ji – through (or going/ impulse) the deep prajna paramita practice time – sho ken go on kai ku – sees with illumination the five skandhas empty – dou issai ku yaku – with a single cut saves beings from pain/ suffering.

So zazen practice is dwelling profoundly in and dynamically enacting prajna.

Limitless – Kusen collaboration


John Fraser’s Kusen No. 197

“A teacher and his student were standing by the shore. In the distance was a boat. The teacher said to the student ‘forgetting about your mind for the moment, point to the boat’. The student pointed to the boat. The teacher then said ‘forgetting about the boat for the moment, point to your mind’. The student pointed to the boat again”

In dualism, we imagine the mind comes first, occupying an unspecified space, within which the world then appears. But truly, mind and world are the same illumination. But it is not the great illumination.

Dogen said that when we see water, fish see shimmering palaces. Demons see blood. Gods see strings of pearls. But the eyes seeing ‘water’ are without limit, and so the powers of expression of ‘water’ are without limit. This is the great illumination. Likewise, ‘mountains’. Likewise, ‘thinking’.

More zen articles at Kusen & Notes from John

Reworking Dogen’s white mountain poem from Sanshodoei

From the Sanshodoei poems, I have been working on the English translations with John Fraser –


waga iho wa
koshi no shirayama
kouri mo yuki mo
kumo kakari keri

my hut
in the white mountain of Koshi
enclosed in winter’s
ice and snow
wrapped in cloud

Eihei Dogen

Waves breaking through light – Kusen collaboration


John Fraser’s Kusen

Master Dogen’s poem ‘Zazen Practice’:

The moon mirrored
By a mind free
Of all distractions;
Even the waves, breaking,
Are reflecting its light

We have a primitive idea what a symbol is. Usually, we think it’s like a code. So, in this case, ‘Moon’ will mean ‘Enlightenment’, or ‘Buddha Mind’, something like that. But a symbol is like a real person: it has infinite expression.

In his commentary on the Heart Sutra, Dogen said that “the bodhisattva of compassion, practicing zazen with the whole body, sees the five skandas are empty, and relieves all suffering”

So, we can see that one face of the symbol of the moon is Avalokitesvara, whose ‘whole body’ is the whole Universe, whose hands are the moonlight, whose eyes are the space above and the ground below, both holding the mind waves, enabling each wave to break, not through stillness but

through light


Zazen Practice:

at peace
within the heart
the clear moon
even the smashing waves
reflecting light

(translation by Blair Shogen)

More zen articles at Kusen & Notes from John

Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me – Contemplating the inward and outward journeys of the self

In Buddhism we awake to the dream and realise we are still within the dream – helping us be much more aware and open. In transcendental meditation effortless concentration is practiced, moving deeper into new levels of consciousness.

The world of Twin Peaks, from the pilot to the Missing Pieces of Fire Walk With Me, explore many things. These include the journey of selves and the parting of the self into wider dimensions. There is a clear sense of the vast mystery – beyond notions of good and evil.

The spectrum of actions of the town’s residents and visitors range from extremely selfish – Ben and Catherine’s entertaining subterfuge for example – to genuinely caring – even Harry and Albert are looking out for each other after a rocky start to their relationship. The red room’s characters too seem to encompass contrasting aspects of a being’s possible ways of behaving towards others. Trust – deception accompany wholeness – fragmentation.

Bob and Mike complement each other in this way. Even Dale’s pure innocence is balanced by Bob’s intervention into his body and mind. If there is no such thing as a fixed essence or unchanging soul – these character transformations seen particularly within Leland Palmer, magnificently portrayed by Ray Wise, and Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle ‘Kale’ MacLachlan) are not unnatural perhaps but part of the wider planetary and worldly magic Mark Frost and David Lynch delve into.

Open heart-mind

Near the end of the second series Dale is seen coming out of meditation. He is sitting cross legged on a cushion in his room at the Great Northern, before beginning his regular dictation to Diane. Lynch is a practitioner of transcendental meditation. TM – carefree absorption aided by a mantra personal to the individual, which through regular practice connects to higher levels of consciousness and states that blissfully drop the immediate noise of the self.

It can be visually and multi sense stimulating, taking a self into a different place. We see Dale is vulnerable, but with an increasingly open heart-mind is gradually connecting to the mystery of the woods and the the owls.

Fire darkly or brightly

Dale Cooper deflects any symbol of heroic yogic meditator though or fearless FBI agent. He reveals his uncertainties and his fragility. The ‘good’ Dale and the blackness of the Black Lodge are smeared together, will the fire burn darkly or brightly through him?

Missing Pieces offered glimpses of future and past moments, with a humane and soft exploration of the relationships and states of the various characters of the intertwined Twin Peaks extended family. It balances the earlier film. The emerald green owl glyph ring circles on.. the broken heart necklace a reminder of throbbing hearts.

Other David Lynch related posts
“Tokyo Art Exhibitions – MOT and David Lynch at LAFORET” and other notes. →

Awakening flooding through us – Kusen Collaboration with John Fraser

John’s Kusen 131

In these days, it often feels as if we are living in a dream. But whose dream?

Awakening is one of the three meanings of Satori, Enlightenment.

So what is Awakening?

It isn’t waking up into a different world. It isn’t, asleep, imagining that the world is flat, and waking up, realising that it’s round. We have to get out of our fixation on truth and falsity. It is entirely useless.

It is just letting the ceaseless expression of life, flooding through us from moment to moment, be.

We awaken from the small dreams of ‘Me’: self and world, truth and falsity, hate and fear, clinging and so on.

But awaken into which dream?

More zen articles at Kusen & Notes from John