In Seoul I used to attend Saturday Sangha with Chong Go Sunim and some of the good people you can see on the sidebar here. In Bangkok my Sangha was the Seon Club and the whole Littlebang group. Here in Tokyo, I’m working so hard I’ve hardly even had the chance to look for a spiritual community.

Yet at the same time the whole community is already here with me. My Dharma brothers all blog, Dharma friends email and say hi, even postcards are exchanged (thank you again Roy!). I live with my wonderful wife, truly the most patient Dharma teacher you could imagine, and I have the whole of the Internet!

Tonight on my walk home from work I was listening to a podcast from the wonderful Tara Brach, a talk called  “Taking Refuge” from January 2010. One bit, just as I was approaching my door, really caught my attention and I thought I’d share it here. What I love is the way she brings together both the outer and inner dimensions of refuge.

The outer refuge, the way we take refuge in the Buddha in an outer way, is – we bring to mind any being that expresses to us the enlightened heart-mind. It could be the Buddha, or Jesus, or the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Kuan Yin, or any being, living or mythic, any spiritual figure that in some way represents that to us. And the way that we then take refuge is to imagine that being’s love and that being’s awareness. And then let ourselves sense how that lives through us.

The reality is that in many of our moments we live in this trance of a small and limited self. Many of our moments the idea of an awakened being is outside of us, down the road, something exotic, so when we talk about taking refuge in Buddha-nature it seems abstract. And yet this refuge is so powerful, so liberating. If you imagine for a moment how your life would change every day, many times a day, in some way you glimmer that this radiant awareness really is your very essence.  That in  a way this whole spititual path is undoing that trance. It’s stopping pedalling away. When we stop pedalling away we come home to an amazing amount of space and aliveness and awareness.

The full talk and many more, as well as guided meditations, can be found on her website So really, with all these resources, how can I ever forget that I’m always in the midst of Sangha? How can I forget, as Daehaeng Sunim says, that within myself I always have a Dharma hall, “which is always filled with light and where Buddha is always present.”

All we need now is for Chong Go Sunim to grab a microphone and master the art of podcasting too!

Inspiring Yourself to Practice by Won-Hyo: Part 1

We’re publishing the full text of Won-Hyo’s Inspiring Yourself to Practice (Bal shim su haeng jang). Written in the seventh century in Korea, it consists of 706 Chinese characters. (The English version looks much longer!)

According to the anthology Admonitions to Beginners, printed by the Bureau of Education of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, Inspiring Yourself to Practice  is one of three staple texts for all aspiring monastics. “The text stresses the need to eliminated (sic) one’s karmic bond with the world and immediately begin practice.”

Inspiring is found in Admonitions to Beginners. Currently out-of-print, this edition needs editing and revising. The following is my rewording of the original English translation, which was produced by Mark Mueller and Won-Myong Sunim.

If you’d like to see a printing of the entire anthology Admonitions, please let us know. If there’s enough interest, maybe it could be published in the future.


For countless eons all Buddhas residing in Nirvana
have discarded their desires and trained arduously.
From endless time sentient beings have cycled
within the burning house, having failed to discard desire.

The Pure Land is not blocked.
Yet few are those who enter;
most make their home among the three poisons.
Although the lower realms lack inherent power to seduce,
many enter therein.

The deluded mind values the five desires and the four elements
comprising the body as if they were jewels.
As this is the case, is there no one longing
to retire to the secluded mountains to practice the Way?

Enmeshed in desire, folks don’t go there.
Although you don’t take refuge in the mountains to cultivate your mind,
strive wholeheartedly to perform wholesome actions.

If you can renounce pleasure,
you will be as trusted and respected as the sages.
If you can undergo that which is difficult,
you will be as respected as the Buddha.
Those who greedily seek after things join the ranks of demons.
Those who give out of compassion are the disciples of the Dharma King.

(This post was also published on a blog specifically about Pure Land Buddhism)

a post from Japan

“If you don’t know that your inherant nature is fundamentally bright, how can you save yourself and how can you give light to people around you?”
 – Seon Master Daehaeng Sunim

A short walk from Roppongi, an energetic upmarket area of Tokyo, is a truly beautiful temple.  It was first established in 1598 as an expansion of a small roadside Kannon shrine, but you won’t find it mentioned in any guide books – probably because the buildings, destroyed in 1945, are all, as far as I understand, post-war reconstructions. And yet it is large, traditional, serene, and contains a couple of items that make it my favourite temple in the city.

The first is the statue, the largest wooden statue of Kannon in Tokyo, rebuilt in the 1970s but gorgeous. It is a standing eleven-headed Kannon with two arms holding a vase, a lotus plant, a staff, and beads. The wooden nimbus contains a number of Buddhas and the hall is built around the statue in such a way as to really give an impression of size and a sense of awe. It is lovely.

The other thing I love most about Chokokuji is the main hall. Unlike so many other Japanese temple halls which are more often than not locked and inaccessible, the huge tatami mat hall here is open and is infused with a real sense of devoted practice. It reminded me so much of Korean temples, and performing some prostrations and spending some time sitting came naturally and effortlessly.

It is, I believe, Soto-Zen (in fact, the Tokyo Branch Temple of Diahozan Eiheji, but I’m not really very sure quite what that means!) and I understand they have some meditation classes open to all on Monday nights (see the link below), but what appealed most to me (with my devotional approach to these things) was the Kannon Ceremony on the 18th of every month.

I went along with Ikumi and got there good and early, and good thing we did as the seats were soon all taken! The monks sat around the statue and chanted (the Heart Sutra and the Kannon Sutra were both delivered so fast that few laypeople there could match the pace) and went through various ritual movements and everyone had the chance to go up and burn some powdered incense and pray.

And at the end, before the monks filled out, the head monk talked to everyone there. It had been a tough time for Japan this year he said, with Ikumi kindly translating for me, but the essential thing was to move forward. “Remember” he said, “Kannon is not just a statue, Kannon lives within each one of us and is always with us, and so we have the power to set our course, set our goals, and move forward.”