Millennial Zen

So the millennium came upon us. I cannot say I felt any excitement or anticipation. I was in fact distinctly underwhelmed. All Christmas some hundred people sat miserably bound and gagged in a shit-stinking aeroplane slowly freezing on an Afghani airfield, innocent Indians caught in the continuing inability of India and Pakistan to sort out their confusions over Kashmir. The Russian army, true to a reputation for brutality, destroys Grozny with excessive bombardment forgetting that even the heaviest bombing hardly ever produces the results expected. Against these tidings the glitz of fireworks on the Thames and the splendour of The Dome and the Eye seemed merely the trivia of capitalism’s controversial successes. Probably only a few revellers consider what this 2000 years represents.

Two thousand years ago Jesus the Christ was born. We Westerners dispute his historicity, we treat God as dead, we are left with the ruminations of the Don Cupitts of this world doing their best with this century’s loss of conventional Christian meanings. Underlying this is severe disorientation. With no external source of meaning, self-identity loses value. We are prone to subtle depressions from which we run as if from hell - into sexual hedonism, a crudity of humour that even lovers of ancient bawdy must disdain, the administration of 400 brands of psychotherapy and the nonsense of uprooted religious ethics carelessly grafted on unsuitable roots. Even so the cheerful energy of London swinging into the new millennium yet beguiles. There is a careless joy here, like a sort of fiddling while the stock exchange keeps rising.

The excitement of the crowd on the Embankment as Big Ben toiled towards midnight was a thrill. The immense crush of good-natured, friendly, Christmas-spirited people showed what human good will could comprehend. Around us were smiling faces of many nations, many cultures reminding us of the amazing mix that is now contemporary Britain. How to use this good will, this creativity for the good of us all? Here lies the deepest question.

The Millennium is like a baby. Babies are born in many circumstances but whether these are of comfort or dislocation the baby always needs first attention. Whatever our view of our time the Baby needs help, needs love, needs our care. As time runs forward, babies are born every minute. What is our responsibility to them? Perhaps one responsibility is to look again at what Christ said. There are deep parallels with Buddha’s way, his existentialism; and the Dalai Lama himself has been looking over the similarities of these two great religions of compassion. The secret must lie in a re-evaluation of which the churches themselves seem incapable. We should do it. Who else?

Our extraordinary century, now ended, leaves us in a state never before experienced. A global integration of economics and information means that the whole planet is now networked into a mix of complex opportunities and risk that is totally new. On the one hand, the steady spread of democracy makes the possibility of world war increasingly remote, yet the likelihood of internal strife in unstable states more probable. The danger of some confrontation between the West and an authoritarian China that fails to moderate its flouting of human rights in Tibet and other minority regions increases rather than decreases with time. Yet, we have to remember that, in spite of their discrete racial arrogance, the Chinese are not a people prone to war. The dangers of ever fewer transnational companies of immense ecopolitical power imposing their commercial wills upon the planet without thought for the benefit of the human race and indeed life on the planet as a whole, remain great but is at last being confronted- as the Monsanto affair and the events at Seattle have shown.

I have faith in the voice of people-power. Unfortunately the character of people power depends on people education. In many parts of the world it is an education in the meaning of global affairs that is lacking - witness Iran, witness Burundi, witness Afghanistan and what of Russia? - a country that needs to resolve an understandable and dangerous paranoia.

Zen means mindfulness of the everyday. The issues of our time concern us all - especially as lay practitioners who avoid the relatively unconcerned luxury of monasticism. We need to know clearly what we stand for - we need to have our definition of humanity and human needs always before us and informing our practices. While Buddhism is a ‘refuge’, it is also the basis for movement outwards into the world, the source of ‘right livelihood’. We are not Prime Ministers or Presidents. We are ordinary members of the body politic and we need to get our values straight. For this reason buddhistic social criticism is an important aspect of our ‘witness’.

Buddhism is not merely a source of togetherness in an alienating world, nor a source of comfort in a world lacking external meaning, it is a challenge to enquiry based on ancient insights and values that are demonstrably workable in our time. The koan of our time is to live from generated meanings that come from empirically verifiable experience in life. In a world of ethical confusion dominated by markets rather than persons this project becomes the enlightenment project of our time.

Ch’uan-Teng Chien-Ti

January 2000


A Ch'an Hall meditation

Out of the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbharaja seated upon the offering table in the Ch'an hall. As usual his serene countenance glows quietly there. I take a closer look. His expression of peace and tranquillity begins to enter and then to flood my mind. Time becomes motionless yet the soft wind gently moves the branches beyond the window, the distant rustle of the stream goes on. I am once again amazed at the power of this little statue to induce so profound a shift in attention, in awareness.

Whoever carved this little figure seems to have been able to place his own inner equanimity in the carving of this face. The inner peace emerges again and again from this iconic expression and becomes transmissible to those sensitive enough to receive it. The Bodhisattva enters the problematique of our minds and shifts something there. Time falls still, it seems.

The statue may be seventeenth or eighteenth century or possibly not so old, the iconography is not unusual and there are many such carvings on the offering tables of Buddhists in China. I have seen many of them but in most of them the face, even if well carved, does not radiate anything special. The genius of this carver was to create an expression that penetrates. How? I do not know. Perhaps it is not true for everyone. I am eternally thankful that this little statue came my way and now adorns our Ch'an Hall.

But what is it telling me? Whenever I carry through this communion I have an opening to stillness, a falling out of time. My thoughts of past and future fade away and there I am on my cushion hearing the breeze, seeing sunshine or rain and aware of the tranquillity emanating from the figure before me. And a thought comes to my mind, a single line quotation from the Hsin Hsin Ming - “one thought for a thousand years”!

A thousand years ago, maybe someone had that thought. What was it? No-thought in fact. Simply the dropping into the present moment, the moment that being timeless has no past or future in it. It seems not to move. One seems to have entered the eternity of the present continuum. Outside time indeed lies eternity. But the Bodhisattva here is not outside of time, rather he is within the timeless moment as it moves, the continuity of the timeless moment as it flows like a leaf borne on the current of a river. The leaf is still, in itself it has no time, yet it flows on the current of time. It rides the wave of time like a motionless fly on the inside of a train window doing a hundred miles an hour. Surfing the wave of time the figure on the board is motionless, it is the wave that moves. The wave and the surfer are one and in unity they flow towards the shore.

The continuity of the present moment arises experientially only when one flows with time in time. This is what Dogen meant by “Being Time” in his wondrous fascicle ‘Uji’. This is not the timeless outside time, the eternity in which time happens, a void that has no continuity. Rather this is the flow of the universe itself. To enter that timeless moment of flow, this continuous present, is the same whenever one may do it. Within a thousand years one may enter the same ‘thought’ again and again. There is only one moment flowing in the timeless present, a movement synonymous with the expanding edge of the universe itself. Only as the mind drops into past or contemplates the future is one outside this moment. Yet for us samsaric beings that is for most of our existence. We categorise time to make it so.

This moment is the only moment one ever has. It is the only real. To be outside the present is to have the mind engaged with the past that is dead or the future that has yet to come. Such a mind is not alive to the living present where it actually resides. As soon as the rider dismounts the moment is lost, the surfer is stranded on the bank of time, the continuity of the present flows on without him. He has lost nirvana and is back in samsara’s threefold time.

Finding this moment is when Ch’an begins. All the rest is preparatory, stage setting for the moment, seeking a way to it. The preliminaries of Ch’an fill most of our life on or off the cushion. Only the one who surfs the wave of the timeless present knows the continuity of time, being time.

Our practice is rarely thus. The World Honoured One climbs the seat. He appears about to speak. Manjusri strikes the gavel and the World Honoured One descends from his seat. Nothing can be said in the timeless moment flowing with the river. One word and one falls back into the three times, their divisiveness, their apparent movement from birth to death. All of that indeed is death. Only on the ridge of the wave is life. And to say a word is to dismount.

We train in Ch’an to be able to enter this moment. There is no other. Ksitigarbharaja enters our world of the three times to bring us out as surfers. Only then does meditation begin. Only in that one thought for a thousand years does meditation deepen. The rest is preliminary. In entering that thought, that moment, one enters the same moment the carver knew as he carved this icon. No past, no future, simply the present continuity of the wave’s crest moving always onwards as the universe itself evolves.

This is what Ch'an as a way, as a practice, is all about. This is why Bodhidharma said, “Direct seeing, no scriptures, no words”. And why Hui-neng knew there was neither mirror bright nor stand and nowhere for the dust to alight.

Do not be mistaken about Ch'an. Most of what we do is merely preliminary, a clearing of undergrowth on the way to the beach to find a wave. Riding the steed of time, surfing the wave, flying in a thermal like an eagle: these metaphors point the way. Our koan is to turn such reflection into the continuity of the living moment, old yet ever young.


Everybody’s back

everyone is singing

willow warbler, chiff chaff

flycatchers, redstart

and even the cuckoo too.

Hares are running in the April showers

the brook churns rounded stones

downhill, shafts of sunlight

crafting the green-grass view

late daffodils bent by an Easter snow.

Deep clouds obscure the moon,

it’s chilly yet in the old hills

and hearth light glows warmly in the coals,

lamplight falling in yellow pools

the open book mirrors words in silence.


This reading list is for the guidance of those wishing to acquire a relatively comprehensive understanding of Buddhism, its past and its future in a global world. Naturally any choices from the vast literature available merely reflect a given individual’s preferences. These are books that I have personally found useful. If you begin with these then you will soon go on to make your own reading personally creative.

The introductory list is intended for those attending retreats for the first time. The other lists are for those who want to study an issue in greater depth. All works are readably accessible for anyone with a O/A level education although naturally some texts are more demanding than others. A few of the more demanding, academic items are bulleted but many of these are important if you wish to gain a deeper perspective and some are difficult only in part.

The majority of these books are or will be available for consultation in the Maenllwyd Library. Arrangements for a study or reading retreat for fellows may be possible on request. Books may however NOT be borrowed nor taken from the library under any circumstances. A number of the titles listed have been contributed to the library only through kind donations from fellows. Most of the works stem from my own collection.

Books from more obscure publishers in print are often available from Wisdom Books. Some titles have been republished by other publishers. Amazon Books UK on e-mail is often an easy source of many titles

Introductory reading for Beginners in Ch'an/Zen

Batchelor, M. 1998. Principles of Zen. Thorsons. London.

Beck, C. J., 1989. Everyday Zen. Harper. San Francisco.

Cleary, T. Instant Zen. North Atlantic Books. Berkeley.

Crook, J.H. (ed) 1991. Catching a Feather on a Fan. Element. Shaftesbury.

Humphreys, C. 1949. Zen Buddhism. Heinemann. London.

Kabat-Zinn, J. 1994. Wherever You Go There You Are. Hyperion. New York.

Kapleau, P. 1965. The Three Pillars of Zen. Beacon Press. Boston.

Kennet, Roshi J. 1972. Selling Water by the River. Random House. London (reissued as Zen is Eternal Life)

Kukushi, M. 1996. Dream Conversations on Buddhism and Zen. Shambhala. Boston/London.

Lu Kuan Yu 1960 et seq. Ch'an and Zen Teachings. Three Series.

Sheng-Yen, Master. 1982. Getting the Buddha Mind. Dharma Drum. New York.

Stevens, J. 1993. Three Zen Masters. Kodansha International. Tokyo/London.

Suzuki, S. 1970. Zen Mind, Beginners Mind. Weatherhill. New York/Tokyo.

Thich Nhat Hanh. 1974. Zen Keys. Anchor. New York.

Uchiyama, Roshi K. 1973. Approach to Zen. Japan Publications Inc. Tokyo.

Watts, A. 1957. The Way of Zen. Thames and Hudson. London.

Study texts in Indian Buddhism and Theravada

Bunnag, J. 1973. Buddhist Monk, Buddhist Layman: A study of urban monastic organisation in Central Thailand. Cambridge University Press.

Carrithers, M. 1983 The Buddha. Oxford Paperbacks.

Dutt, S. 1962, 1988. Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India. Motilal Banarsidass. Delhi.

Gombrich, R. 1988. Theravada Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Banaras to Modern Colombo. RKP. London.

Humphreys, C. Buddhism. Penguin. London.

Ling, T. 1976. The Buddha. Pelican. Penguin Books. London.

Ling, T. 1981. The Buddha’s Philosophy of Man. Early Indian Buddhist Dialogues. Everyman. London.

Nyanaponika, Thera and Hecker, H. 1997. Great Disciples of the Buddha. Wisdom Books. Boston/London.

Ch’an and Zen - Further studies and more advanced reading

Blofield, J. 1958. The Zen Teaching of Huang Po. Buddhist Society, London.

Blofield, J.1962. The Zen Teaching of Instantaneous Awakening (Hui Hai). Buddhist Publishing Group. Leicester.

Braverman, A. 1989. Mud and Water. A collection of talks by the Zen Master Bassui. North Point. San Francisco.

Buswell, R. E. 1983. The Korean Approach to Zen: The collected works of Chinul. University of Hawaii Press. Honolulu.

Buswell, R.E.1992. The Zen Monastic Experience. U.P. Princeton.

Ch'ang, G.C.C. 1972. The Buddhist Teaching of Totality: the Philosophy of Hwa Yen Buddhism. Allen and Unwin. London.

Cleary, T. 1997. The Five Houses of Zen. Shambhala. Boston/London.

Leighten,T.D. and Yi Wu. 1991. Cultivating the Empty Field. The Silent Illumination of ZenMaster Hongzhi. North Point. San Francisco.

Dumoulin, H. 1979. Zen Enlightenment, Origins and Meaning. Weatherhill. New York/Tokyo.

Holmes Welch, 1967. The Practice of Chinese Buddhism 1900-1950. Harvard U.P. Cambridge, Mass.

Kasulis, T.P. 1981. Zen Action-Zen Person. University of Hawaii Press. Honolulu.

Kraft, K. (ed) 1988. Zen Tradition and Transition. Rider. London.

Leggett, T. 1978. Zen and the Ways. Routledge and Kegan Paul. London.

Loorie, J.D. 1999. Teachings of the Insentient. Dharma Communications. Mt Tremper, NY.

Lu Kuan Yu. 1964. The Secrets of Chinese Meditation. Rider. London.

Nishiyama, K. and J. Stevens. Dogen Zenji: Shobogenzo. The Eye and Treasury of the True Law. 4 vols. Nakayama Shobo. Tokyo.

Sheng-Yen, Master. 1987. Faith in Mind: a Guide to Ch’an Practice. Dharma Drum. New York.

Sheng-Yen, Master. 1997 Complete Enlightenment. Dharma Drum. New York.

Schloegl, I. 1975. The Wisdom of the Zen Masters. Sheldon. London.

Schloegl, I. 1976. The Zen Teaching of Rinzai. Shambhala. Berkeley.

Sekida, K. 1975. Zen Training: Methods and Philosophy. Weatherhill. New York /Tokyo.

Suzuki, D.T. 1949-53. Essays in Zen Buddhism. Three Series. Rider. London. Victoria, B. 1997. Zen at War. Weatherhill. New York/Tokyo.

Waddell, N. 1996. Zen Words for the Heart: Hakuin’s commentary on the Heart Sutra.Shambhala. Boston/London.

Koan manuals etc.

Sheng-Yen, Master. 1987. The Poetry of Enlightenment. Dharma Drum. New York.

Cleary, T. 1990. The Book of Serenity: One hundred Zen Dialogues. Lindisfarne. New York.

Shaw, R.D.M. 1961 The Blue Cliff Records. The Hekigan Roku. Michael Joseph. London.

Tibetan Buddhism

Ch'ang, G.C.C. 1970. The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa. Harper Colophon. New York/London.

Ch'ang, G.C.C. 1963. Six Yogas of Naropa and Teachings on Mahamudra. Snow Lion. New York.

Cozort. D. 1986. Highest Yoga Tantra: An Introduction to the Esoteric Buddhism of Tibet. Snow Lion, New York.

Crook, J and Low, J. 1997. The Yogins of Ladakh. Motilal Banarsidas. Delhi.

David-Neel, A. 1967. Magic and Mystery in Tibet. Souvenir Press. London.

Gyatso, P. 1997. Fire Under the Snow. Testimony of a Tibetan Prisoner Harvil. London.

Harrer, H. 1953. Seven Years in Tibet. Hart Davis. London.

Lama Anagarika Govinda. 1959. Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism. Rider. London. Lama Anagarika Govinda. 1966. The Way of the White Clouds. Hutchinson. London.

Lama Anagarika Govinda. 1977 Creative Meditation and Multi-dimensional Consciousness. Allen and Unwin. London.

Low, J. 1994. Simply Being. Durtro. London. (Also republished elsewhere now ) Mackenzie, V. 1998. Cave in the Snow: A Western Woman’s quest for Enlightenment. Bloomsbury. London.

Rangdrol, T.N. 1989. Lamp of Mahamudra. Shambhala. Boston/Shaftesbury.

Samuel, G. 1993. Civilised Shamans: Buddhism in Tibetan Societies. Smithsonian. Washington.

Snellgrove, D. 1987. Indo-Tibetan Buddhism. Serindia. London.

Snelling, J. 1990. The Sacred Mountain: The Complete Guide to Tibet’s Mount Kailas. East-West Publications. London/La Hague

Sogyal Rimpoche. 1992. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. Harper. San Francisco.

Wallace, B.A. 1980. The Life and Teaching of Geshe Rabten: A Tibetan Lama’s Search for Truth. Allen and Unwin. London.

Buddhist History and Contemporary Culture

Batchelor, S. 1994. The Awakening of the West. The Encounter of Buddhism and Western Culture.

Parallax Press. Berkeley.

Bishop, P. 1989. The Myth of Shangri la. Athlone. London.

Ch’en, K. 1964. Buddhism in China: A historical Survey. Princeton.

Crook, J.H. and Osmaston, H. (eds). 1994. Himalayan Buddhist Villages. Motilal Banarsidass for Bristol University.

Fields, R. 1986. How the Swans Came to the Lake: a narrative history of Buddhism in America. Shambhala. Boston.

Friedman, L. 1987. Meetings with Remarkable Women: Buddhist Teachers in America. Shambhala. Boston/London.

Gernet, J. 1995. Buddhism in Chinese Society, an economic history from the fifth-tenth centuries. Columbia U.P. New York.

Goldstein, M.C. and Kapstein, M.T(eds). 1998. Buddhism in Contemporary Tibet. University of California Press. London.

Goyal, S.R. 1987. A History of Indian Buddhism. Kasumanjali Prakashan. Meerut. Kitagawa, J.M. and Cummings, M. (eds). 1987. Buddhism and Asian History. Macmillan.

Lopez, D.S. 1999. Prisoners of Shangri la: Tibetan Buddhism and the West. University of Chicago Press.

Shakya, T. 1999. The Dragon in the Land of Snows. Pimlico. London.

Snelgrove, D. and Richardson, H. 1968. A Cultural History of Tibet. Prajna. Boulder, Colorado. Suzuki, D.T. 1938. Zen Buddhism and its influence on Japanese Culture. Eastern Buddhist Society. Kyoto.

Tworkov, H. 1989. Zen in America: profiles of five teachers. North Point. San Francisco.

Warder, A.K. 1980. Indian Buddhism. Motilal Banarsidass. Delhi.

Williams, P. 1989. Mahayana Buddhism. Routledge. London.

Philosophy, Psychology and Modern Issues

Abe, M. 1985. Zen and Western Thought. Macmillan. London.

Batchelor, S. 1983. Alone with Others: an existential approach to Buddhism. Grove Press. New York.

Batchelor. S. 1990. The Faith to Doubt: glimpses of Buddhist uncertainty. Parallax Press. Berkeley.

Batchelor, S. 1997. Buddhism Without Beliefs: a contemporary guide. Bloomsbury. London.

Collins, S. 1982. Selfless Persons: imagery and thought in Theravada Buddhism. Cambridge.

Crook, J.H. and Fontana, D. (eds). 1990. Space in Mind: East-West psychology and contemporary Buddhism. Element. Shaftesbury.

Eppsteiner, F. (ed). 1988. The Path of Compassion: writings on socially engaged Buddhism. Parallax Press. Berkeley.

Epstein, M. 1996. Thoughts Without a Thinker. Duckworth. London.

Faure, B. 1993. Ch'an Insights and Oversights. Princeton. NJ.

Faure, B. 1991. The Rhetoric of Immediacy. Princeton. NJ. Jones, K. 1989. The Social Face of Buddhism. Wisdom. London.

Faure, B. 1993. Beyond optimism: a Buddhist political ecology. Jon Carpenter. Oxford.

Murti, T.R.V. 1955. The Central Philosophy of Buddhism. Allen and Unwin.

Naranjo, C. and Ornstein, R.E. 1971. On the Psychology of Meditation. Esalen Book. Viking. NY.

Peranjpe, A.C., D.Y.F. Ho and Rieber, R.W. (eds). 1988. Asian Contributions to Psychology.

Praeger. New York/London.

Revel, J-F. and Ricard, M. 1998. The Monk and the Philosopher. Thorsons. London. Watts, A. 1961. Psychotherapy East and West. Ballantine. New York.

Wright, D.S. 1998. Philosophical Meditations on Zen Buddhism. Cambridge.


Some Sutras and Classics in English


Bhikkhu Nanamoli.1972/92. The Life of the Buddha according to the Pali Canon. Buddhist Publication Society. Kandy.

Bhikkhus Nanamoli and Bodhi. 1995. The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha. Wisdom. London.

Cheng Chien, Bhikshu. 1993. Manifestation of the Tathagata. Buddhahood according to the Avatamsaka Sutra. Wisdom. London.

Cleary, T. 1993. The Flower Ornament Scripture (Avatamsaka Sutra) Shambala. Boston. Price, A.F. and Wong, Mou-lam (trans) 1969. The Diamond Sutra and the Sutra of Hui-neng. Shambhala, Boulder.

Suzuki D.T1932. The Lankavatara Sutra. Routledge and Kegan Paul. London.

Walshe, M. 1995. The Long Discourses of the Buddha. Wisdom. Boston/London.

Introductory Books for Children

Hope, J and van Loon, B 1996 Buddha for Beginners, Writers/Readers Publishing Inc Republished as 1999 Introducing Buddha, Icon Books

Blackstone, J and Josipovic, Z. 1986. Zen for Beginners. Writers/Readers Publishing Inc.