Sketchbook notes from the drifting spaces

Limitless – Kusen collaboration

John Fraser’s Kusen No. 240

“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

Awakening flooding through us – Kusen Collaboration with John Fraser

John’s Kusen 169

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

Bring me your mind – Kusen Collaboration with John Fraser

C-print for Kusen 168 (

John’s Kusen 168

Eko said to Bodhidharma, “my mind is not at peace, please pacify it”

Bodhidharma said, “bring me your mind and I will pacify it”

After a while Eko said, “I have looked everywhere for my mind and I cannot find it”

Bodhidharma said, “There! I have pacified it”

In Eko’s question, we might easily pass over the most important word, ‘My’ : ‘My mind’, but if we don’t pass over it, if we see the fiction of ‘my’ mind, ‘my’ experience, what is there to pacify?

We should be grateful for everything in the flood of experience, because it is that, and that alone, which clarifies the great matter.

More zen articles at Kusen & Notes from John

Shodo zen calligraphy practice

Trying out the zen enso circle, symbol of universality and the idea of beauty within imperfection.

Small to medium fude for sho on single hanshi sheets.

Working on the character nen – commonly translated as mindfulness or mindful, also attention or care. There is a balance needed between the two parts of the kanji.

The fude brushes hanging to dry – looking like they need another good rinse!

Sho calligraphy mark making

Making some marks with fude brushes and fudepen using Japanese sumi ink. Beginning practicing for a series of three Drawing and Painting Studio workshops. Experimenting with the brush stopping and flicking, speed of the marks and energy.

In the first Shodo group the Kanji characters ten – heavens/ sky and shin or kokoro – heart/ mind. I have chosen zen related characters for participants to practice.

The light will not break – Kusen Collaboration with John Fraser

C-print for Kusen 129 (

John’s Kusen

Book Of Serenity, Case 36: Master Ma Is Unwell

The Case: Master Ma was unwell. The monastery superintendent asked, “Master, how is your venerable state these days?”
The Great Teacher said, “Sun face buddha, Moon face buddha”

Commentary: “unwell” is a euphemism. Master Ma (Baso) was mortally ill, and died the following day.

Sun Face Buddha was said to have a lifespan of 1800 years. Moon Face Buddha lived only one day and one night. Baso is talking about two aspects of experience, once our egoic self concern has dropped away.

The Universe can only express itself through each thing. If there were no things, there would be no light.

Sometimes, we are very aware that we are expressing something universal through this fragile, transient body. The Moon illuminates itself, and everything it casts its light on becomes part of it.

Other times, we forget this body, and are simply part of this illuminated world.

The light can only shine through each thing, and each thing will break

The light will not break

More zen articles at Kusen & Notes from John

Body of the Ground – Kusen Collaboration with John Fraser

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John’s Kusen

“Those who fall to the ground get up relying on the ground”

Interdependent origination is difficult for us because we have an unexamined idea of time: it is like an arrow, going from past to future, yet past, present and future don’t have equal weight. The past is like an accumulating avalanche, flooding into the empty space of the future. The present is the interface between the two. The ground is invisible.

When we sit, there is the opportunity to experience time in a different way. The head of the present moment is balanced on the body of the ground, and it can go anywhere.

More zen articles at Kusen & Notes from John

Momentary State – Kusen Collaboration with John Fraser

still state, artwork by Blair Thomson

John’s Kusen

Zazen is often called the mountain still state, the balanced state.

What we need to understand is that the state is momentary. It is a quality of this moment.

Not the person, the moment.

This moment rolls in and out of balance. When out of balance, self, world and linear time all arise, together. When in balance, it is not that the self and the myriad things are negated or affirmed but, as the shin jin mei tells us, they cease to exist in the old way.

More zen articles at Kusen & Notes from John

Windswept Carn an Tuirc and Glas Maol


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

my Koshi
white mountain
cozy winter den
ice and snow
overlaid by clouds

Eihei Dogen



The voice of the valley is endlessly preaching.
The colour of the mountain is nothing but pure body.
During the night, I heard eighty-four thousand verses.
How shall I expound this to others?

Su Dongpo, composed when visiting Mount Lushan overnight (quoted from ‘The Wholehearted Way’ by Koushou Uchiyama Roshi)