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Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

ZMBM cuke page -----

12-14-12 - I just returned from leading a retreat in the Alps of Switzerland. There is a lovely sangha developing there and they wanted to go back and use ZMBM as the text.  One of the great advantages is that we could have the English and the French versions available. We had a wonderful retreat, this being my fourth year.  A small photo and poem is attached, which I sent with a message to my home sangha. (see below)

Flint Sparks


Dear Sangha,

Today, Sunday, was our final day of retreat. Turning things around, I presented the participants with two poems by the Zen poet Ryokan (1758-1831), both in French. Rather than presenting my dharma talk in English and being translated, I asked the group to translate the poems back to me in English and then teach me what they had to say. Here is the final short poem and a few brief comments that reflect a small bit of what emerged.

Dans mon bol de mendiant
J'ai mêlé des fleurs coupées
De violettes et de pissenlits
Et je l'offre respectueusement
Aux bouddhas des trois mondes

My poor translation:

In my begging bowl
I have mixed cut flowers
Violets and dandelions
I offer them respectfully 
to the Buddhas of the three worlds

The poet speaks of his begging bowl in which he would typically receive nourishment. It is now a vessel for offering a gift. In it we find cut flowers, not beautiful arranged bouquets. This mixture includes both violets and dandelions—beautiful and ordinary, cultivated and weed, sweet and bitter—all parts included. This is what the poet offers the Buddhas. 

Like the poet with his mix of flowers, we can offer the jumble of our many parts, just as we are, without apology. We have the choice to avow who and what we are and come forward wholeheartedly, or remain contained in the tangle of past conditioning and karma. Making such an offering—bitter, sweet, ordinary and beautiful—is a very respectable offering, worthy of the Buddhas of the past, present and future. May we continually make this radical choice for the benefit of all beings.

With a warm farewell from these cold mountains,


P.S. This small bowl, passed down from Sophie's grandmother, contains an orchid that had been broken from its stem in transit to the retreat. It rests on a copy of Suzuki Roshi's calligraphy for "beginner's mind."

posted 12-17-12