#5213 – Colin Drake on Awakening – Koun Franz on Zen – Dugald Semple on Simplicity

The Dance of Awakening, by Colin Drake

Here is an email exchange I had with a reader concerning the dance (or yo-yo as she put it) of awakening:

Dear Colin,

Well, I have a small story to tell you. I’ve been on your email list but I’m honestly not quite sure how I got there. I am thinking maybe from contacting you from Liberation Unleashed two years ago. I had an awakening with them which lasted a few months I guess…hard to tell with all that was going on. Things do tend to even out a bit with every awakening.

I just read one of your books and am reading another one. I’ve had six awakenings, another one a few days ago actually. They do come quicker it seems. I’ve been practicing “short moments of open intelligence” from Candice O’Denver’s site. What was of interest for me, reading your book, is that one of the awakenings occurred from doing your practice of being “effortlessly aware of every thought,” etc. but I didn’t know where that little practice came from. I picked it up from another seeker on the internet who didn’t know the source. I was happy to discover that you were the source when I was reading your book. It was a nice little surprise.

You book has answered so many questions for me…I had no clue how to hold on to these awakenings. Or why they would disappear. I did nothing to try to stabilize them. In fact my teachers said there was nothing to do. That the momentum of the mind would disappear. They didn’t say the momentum would take over.

At any rate, here we are again. I don’t know if I need to ask you how to stabilize as it seems you are answering that in your books. Continue to stop, notice and rest in what you are and watch for red flags. I don’t know if you can add to that.

So I wanted to thank you for that one long blissful opportunity to rest and hope now that with your brilliant books, I can finally end this yo-yo!

With grateful appreciation,


~ ~ ~

Dear XXXX, Thank you for your ‘good news story’. I am glad to hear that my ‘pointings’ have been of some help to you. The yo-yo is an interesting dance which will gradually run out of steam. Considering how long each of us has been misidentified it is not surprising that we flip/flop between being (thinking that we are) a separate object and Pure Awareness. However as long as one stays alert to the arising of unnecessary mental suffering* (the red flag as you so aptly put it) and uses this to see that one is aware of this*, thus one is the Awareness in which this occurs, then this has been a boon to facilitate reawakening! An interesting facet of this whole dance is that these re-awakenings often engender a great feeling of relief (and joy) as one once again puts down the burden of the (illusory) small self. Whereas, when the dance stops then this joy, although always there, becomes more subtle … almost to the point where it can be overlooked unless one brings one attention to it. So enjoy the dance while it carries on, secure in the fact that you are Pure Awareness even while you are (temporarily) lost in misidentification, and that the rediscovery of this is always readily available and becomes easier and easier as the tempo slows … Love, Colin

~ ~ ~

Very practical and helpful advice, Colin. It certainly looks like it’s headed that way. I appreciate your response very much.

Warmest Regards,


~ ~ ~

This is a fairly typical account of awakening which gives the lie to the concept of ‘instant enlightenment’, for enlightenment indicates a permanent mode of being whereas awakenings tend to come and go until establishment (of identification) as Pure Awareness has taken place. So although the recognition of this is very easy, see the appendix, it is readily obscured by old thought patterns and our previous misidentification with the body/mind. As I say in ‘The Open Way :

So awakening needs to be established by repeated enquiry, or investigation, until one no longer ‘nods off’. This can take a long time, many life times some Buddhists say, but one need not be discouraged by this for every new awakening fills one with a lightness of being as the worldly burdens are lifted, temporarily or permanently if slumber is not resumed. This lightness is so appealing that it makes enquiry/investigation a joy and thus persistence in this can be readily attained. So one should never say that one does not have time for, or is to busy to, enquire/investigate for this releases time by making us more alert and efficient. I recommend that one should spend two or three periods of at least twenty minutes per day deeply relaxing into the recognition of Pure Awareness, as this will establish awakening and make us less likely to be tossed by the storms of worldly life.[1]

These periods of relaxation vary in their intensity sometimes feeling totally blissful, othertimes flat and all states in between, but ever since I wrote the above recommendation in 2008 for Beyond The Separate Self I have just learned to trust the process. For this relaxation will cultivate, and establish, correct identification with, and as, Pure Awareness irrespective of the feelings it evokes! I suspect that the bliss is experienced when some misidentification has been taking place and thus a reawakening occurs, whereas the flatness can be the result of feeling that one is ‘putting legs on a snake’, that is carrying out a seemingly unnecessary activity, for no misidentification is occurring … Which gives the clue that once one is completely established in Awareness, and the ‘two-step of awakening’ has stopped, then this process may not be required but is still useful for making further discoveries in the limitless field of Pure Awareness.

For, even then the ‘dance of life’ continues, as does the joy of embodiment, combined with the lightness of being. So practices such as ‘love loving itself’ and ‘loving the beloved’ can still be blissful as one sinks deeply into the enjoyment of sensation by using the body as an instrument through which Consciousness can sense, and enjoy, its own manifestation. Also, as there is always more to be discovered (for what is being investigated is limitless), further investigation, relaxation or enquiry has the potential to uncover more ‘gems’. Many of these are related to how being ‘Pure Awareness’ can enhance one’s quality of life and thus these realizations produce their own joy. For each one of them removes a ‘block’ that has been hampering the full potential of enjoyment, and appreciation, of life that is available to each and every one of us as expressions, and instruments, of The Absolute, Pure Consciousness. Other ‘gems’ that can be ‘unearthed’ are deeper meditative states, the experiencing of which enhances the peace that is experienced throughout the day.

The other consideration is that as further discoveries are made then this is Consciousness using its instrument, the mind/body, to ‘know’ Itself more when it is at rest as Pure Awareness. So to fully honour ‘ourselves’ as instruments of Consciousness we need to continue the investigation (through meditation, contemplation or relaxation) into Awareness even when this is not required to overcome misidentification.`

~ ~ ~

Colin Drakes books are available at www.nonduality.com/colindrake.htm


Koun Franz interview

photo: Koun Franz

Koun Franz
 is a Sōtō Zen priest born in Helena, Montana. He was ordained in 2001, then trained at Zuiōji and Shōgōji monasteries. From 2006 to 2010, he served as resident priest of the Anchorage Zen Community. He recently relocated to Halifax, Nova Scotia, from Japan, where he trained, translated, and taught at traditional monasteries. He currently leads practice at Zen Nova Scotia. This interview predates his return to North America.

Website: http://nyoho.com/ & http://zennovascotia.com/

SZ: How did you discover Zen practice? What was happening for you in life at the time?

KF:  I started reading about Zen in high school. After I graduated, I mentioned my interest in it to my English teacher who, as it turned out, was the organizer of a group that met once a week for zazen. The instructions he gave me in his living room were my first look at actual practice. By chance, I’d started attending karate classes around that same time—I didn’t equate the two at all, but looking back, that atmosphere of discipline and group effort probably had as much to do with later entering a monastery as did that first taste of zazen.

SZ: Who has been your primary Zen teacher? 

KF: This should probably be straightforward question, but for me, it’s not. My honshi, or root teacher, is Kōsoku Honda; he also ordained me. But as is common in the Japanese system, from the beginning, he very gladly entrusted much of my training to others. He’s the abbot of a small country temple, and he’s well suited to that life. He takes a very informal approach to every aspect of the practice—most of his energy is put into relationships with the families who support the temple, and with the local community (for example, he teaches village kids how to recognize edible plants in the surrounding mountains). But the teachers who took charge of my monastic training mostly represent the far opposite extreme—very formal, very invested in the particulars of the tradition, very deeply rooted in the monastic life. It’s through them that I was able to discover things in the practice that I hadn’t known were there.  I’m forever indebted to them. I’m also grateful to my root teacher, who really couldn’t care less what to chant when or how to hold a stick of incense, and who was confident enough in the tradition to hand me over to someone he didn’t even know. I know I’m lucky to have these various voices guiding me.

SZ: How would you describe training at Zuioji and Shogoji? What were some of the challenges?

KF: Having only made short visits to other monasteries, it’s hard to compare. But I was told before entering Zuiōji that the monks who train there are easily recognizable by (a) their insistence on precise physicality, and (b) their allegiance to the principles of nyohō, most obviously in the wearing of the nyohō-e (which all Zuiōji monks sew by hand, usually during their first year). Generally speaking, I’d say both are true. It’s a place that has a lot of its own in-house traditions—there’s a lot of confidence in those traditions, and no shortage of officers ready to explain why that way is right (or at least not wrong). But it can also be a little confusing when you get out and find that most temples do things a bit differently.

I’ll add that Zuiōji and Shōgoji are not at all the same. Shōgoji functions as a branch temple of Zuiōji; it’s staffed by a small, rotating team of Zuiōji monks. But where the population at Zuioji is in the 20-40 range, Shōgoji usually runs on a staff of 3. At Zuiōji, ceremonies are done on a large scale, and to the letter, whereas at Shōgoji, much (though not all) of the ceremonial side is done on a reduced scale, often with creative modifications. At Zuiōji, probably the primary point of emphasis is the harmony of the community, the singular movement of the sangha—the monks move like a flock of birds, dipping and turning and following seniors with group precision. At Shōgoji, however, the few monks in residence do everything all the time. You lose some of that group sense, and in exchange, you get a kind of crash course in monastery management and motivation.

SZ: What is the primary purpose of Zen meditation and formal practice, in your view? Just what are we doing?!!

KF: I know what a disappointing answer this is, but I don’t know. Zen practice can be a wonderful container for exploring engagement, and compassion, and awareness, but it can also just be the expression of those things (or of that exploration). I used to want a lot of things from Zen practice; these days, that list has mostly been replaced with a feeling that’s something like, “I don’t want to be selfish,” or “I want to offer myself up.” For me, Zen practice has given a shape to that offering, both when I’m in robes, bowing, and when I’m watching cartoons with my kids or making breakfast. I’ve come to distrust talk about what Zen “does” or how it “works.” In the past, when I saw a teacher stumble to answer the “Why do we sit?” question, I found it kind of disturbing. But it’s good. I think that many people, if they do this long enough, stop asking the “Why?” question to themselves, even if they never have come up with a clear answer. So when someone else brings it up, it feels like a brand new question.

SZ: Why are Dogen’s writings so often described as hard or difficult to understand for practitioners? Do you find reading him challenging?

KF: I find his writing very challenging. My feeling has always been that the voice of Dogen’s most poetic language comes from a nondual place, as opposed to describing that nondual place from the outside. He had a particular genius for that. But it places a huge burden on the reader—instead of explaining it to us, Dogen invites us to step in and see it through that same lens. I’ve been very fortunate to interpret lectures and take part in translation projects that gave me the luxury of really dissecting some of it—not just in the original, but in terms of how to present it in English. It’s impossible. There will never be a “right” translation of any of it. The original is steeped in layer upon layer of ambiguity; in translating it, we can’t hope to keep all of those possibilities in the air. But to attempt it anyway—what a gift. We should all be deeply grateful to the few generous people who have so bravely and patiently made the various translations available to us. We live at a great time, to have so many teachings so readily available, and in such beautiful language.

SZ: What effect do you think all of the recent scandals will have on Zen practice in the West?

KF: I don’t know. On the positive side, I think public awareness makes it harder and harder to get away with long-term abuse of students, at least on a mass scale. I hope that’s true. People will always hurt each other, and if the context is Zen, they’ll find a way to appropriate the structures and language of Zen as a vehicle for that hurt. That’s inevitable, but hopefully we can develop a greater sophistication in recognizing what’s really happening there, and maybe even develop some tools for responding to it as a larger community.

I do have a concern that many people seem very excited to use these kinds of crimes as a kind of ammunition, a way to further their argument that vertical hierarchies have no place in the tradition. There’s a lot of talk about how these kinds of abuse are the inevitable result of a strictly maintained teacher-student dynamic, but personally, I don’t think that’s true. Rather than rewrite the tradition and re-define the Zen teacher as a “spiritual friend,” I’d like to see us looking deeply into how we can cultivate teachers who are capable of sitting skillfully (and humbly) in the role of teacher, teachers who can navigate their own impulses as well as the projections of their students. One of my favorite stories is of a female student who went to Shunryu Suzuki-roshi and admitted an attraction to him—he replied with something like, “It’s OK. I have enough willpower for both of us.” When that’s real—when nothing you throw at the teacher undermines the teacher’s center of gravity—then teacher and student can really explore that dynamic to its depths. The relationship will evolve, and for some, in the end, the teacher may indeed be a “spiritual friend.” But to call it that from day one, from my perspective, is to miss almost the entire point. That’s my long way of saying that, in response to these various scandals, I hope we see an opportunity to strengthen the tradition instead of simply rewriting it to make it feel less threatening.

SZ: Why did you decide to ordain as a Soto priest? Did you have aspirations to become a teacher?

KF: When I was deciding whether or not to be ordained, I wrote to a senior of mine in the karate world and explained all my various misgivings about both sides (I was recently engaged, which made it seem all the more complicated). He wrote back: “Which path is harder? Just choose that one.” That really spoke to me. I had no idea what ordination meant, but I knew I wanted to put Zen teachings and zazen at the center of my life. Ordaining—making that public declaration of intention, and making that kind of promise to a teacher—felt like the hard path, the one where I couldn’t simply make excuses and let the practice fall away. So I guess I did it, at least in part, as a way of taking away my escape routes. But aspirations to become a teacher? No. In the West, where there are so few priests, I guess it’s natural that people assume that all priests will eventually take on a teaching role, but it’s unfortunate. In Japan, that’s not the case at all. I’m glad, honestly, that I entered the practice in a place where that idea wasn’t part of the atmosphere. I think teachers are teachers because someone wants to be a student, not because of some aspiration to take on this or that role.

SZ: What’s your favorite ritualistic aspect of Zen, aside from Zen? Why?

KF: I think it’s all ritualistic, in the best sense—it’s impersonal, and deliberate, and generous. Take those away, and what’s left?

SZ: Do you plan to return to the United States at some point to teach?

KF: I’m about one week away from moving, with my family, to Halifax, Nova Scotia, to start all over. It’s a new world, not anything I ever expected. But I’m excited, and optimistic. There are some Zen folks there already, so I look forward to meeting them and being supportive in any way I can. It’s important to me to find (or create) avenues for sharing the tradition as it’s been entrusted to me, or at least offering some semblance of that version of practice. That’s my promise to my teachers. Mostly, I look forward to sitting regularly with people—ironically, that’s really hard to do here in Japan, even though I live within a mile of six or seven Zen temples.

SZ: Are there any books you would recommend to readers on Zen practice?

KF: There are a bunch, though not all of them are specific to Zen: Shohaku Okumura’s Living by VowBuddhism for Dummies (not kidding—it’s really good), What Makes You Not a Buddhist by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse, Chogyam Trungpa’s Cutting Through Spiritual MaterialismThe Art of Just SittingZen Ritual, Kosho Uchiyama’s Opening the Hand of Thought, any of Red Pine’s in-depth sutra translations. Anything by Dogen.

~ ~ ~

Koun Franz’s videos are at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCw-qLirGpKZFfpFroomz_9A

Joy-in-Living-Facing-p24photo: Dugald Semple

LIVING THE SIMPLE LIFE – By Dugald Semple – Vegan 108 Years Ago

([The following] was written c. 1963 and was first published in the booklet – Here’s Harmlessness – compiled by H. Jay Dinshah – published by The American Vegan Society. Dugald’s article was Chapter 9 of this little book – more about this below.)


Dugald Semple

It is now sixty years since [around the turn of the century] I began to live the simple life in an old bell tent amongst the peat bogs at Linwood Moss. Soon afterwards, I added an old Paisley bus for the winter months, so I had one room with walls of cloth and the other with as much glass as wood – twelve windows in a wooden house on wheels! At that time I was working as a draftsman in an engineering shop at Linwood, and through camping during my summer holidays had a longing for freedom and a more natural mode of living. It seemed to me that so-called civilization was all wrong which compelled folks to work so hard most of the year that they could only get a few weeks’ rest at Fair time. It was “getting a living”, not “living”.

After a short stay at the Moss, I was in love with the open-air life, even though it was mostly during weekends. The birds were such friendly companions, and I believe the rabbits thought I was playing at a “wee hoose” But O dear! the crowds which came to see me on Sundays were no small problem, especially after the newspapers sent thousands to see “The Hermit Of Linwood Moss.”

Truly, it was most embarrassing, especially as I was still following my occupation as usual. Unfortunately, the crowds caused my removal to Bridge Of Weir, where I camped on the banks of the River Gryfe. Here I began my first attempts at writing to the press, largely through the influence of Neil Munro, who wrote a very interesting article about “A Wild Flower By The Gryfe”. The Paisley Gazette helped me considerably by appointing me reporter for the tanning village, and publishing a series of articles about my “Simple Life Visitors” which was later published in book form.

Soon afterwards I left the engineering and stayed at Goldenlea near the Ladeside for about nine years. Then I went caravaning and gave lectures in villages along the West of Scotland chiefly. During the First World War, I was lecturer at the Food Economy Exhibitions in London. Next, I went with my wife from Kilmarnock to work a little fruit farm on the hills near Beith, continuing also for many years as a nature writer to the Glasgow Bulletin. Now I live in the pretty little village of Fairlie, but in summer stay a good deal by the shores of Kintyre, where I take photographs and write books on my open-air life.

How I Live

I am an early riser, as the postman said the other morning when he saw me shaking my blankets outside at 6:30a.m. My first occupation is to wash myself from head to foot with cold water, then dress quickly, boil some water from the village water supply to evaporate the chlorine gas, and then take a warm lemon juice drink. Next I usually go for a little run or walk by the seashore. Of course, I look too for any driftwood which will keep the home fires burning.

My first meal is about 8 a.m., when I eat an apple or pear, finishing with a little dish of soaked raisins or other dried fruit. Then I deal with my correspondence and get busy writing until about noon. It is then time for dinner, which usually consists first of a few ounces of flaked nuts, a large helping of raw salad, baked potatoes in their skins, and to finish, a few dates or prunes with nut cream. After dinner I rest a little or read the papers, then do some work in the garden for most of the afternoon.

When the weather is fine, I make for the seashore and perhaps take some nature photos. On other days I go for long walks to study nature or to visit friends. My last meal is about 5:30p.m., when I take a light salad meal – more green leaf than root vegetables – with perhaps a baked potato and nut butter. Occasionally I take an entire fruit meal. I never drink at meals, but take a little cold water or orange juice when thirsty, as at first thing in the morning. During the evening I write or read a little, go for a short walk or tune in to the wireless. Bed time is at 9:30, except when I have to give lectures. I try to get my best sleep before midnight. The above may seem somewhat austere to many people, but I am no ascetic and hope to show that I enjoy to the full my simple way of living.

With regard to the cost of my food-reform diet, I find that this need not be too expensive, provided one can grow most vegetables and some bush fruit. One must also get to know something about food values. Personally, I began rather drastically over 50 years ago by cutting out not only all meat or flesh foods, but milk, eggs, butter, tea and coffee. Cheese I have never eaten; indeed I hate the very smell of this decayed milk. Next, I adopted a diet of nuts, fruit, cereals and vegetables. On this Edenic fare I lived for some ten years, and found that my health and strength were greatly improved. Probably this was also because I lived more in the fresh air and closer to Nature.

While I was in London (during World War I), I found it necessary to add some dairy products to my meals, but on returning to Scotland I gradually eliminated these again. During these few years I have discovered that an uncooked diet of nuts, fruits, raw cereals, and salad vegetables, is best of all. Cooked food is dead food, and leads not only to overeating – the chief case of disease – but as in the case of hot tea and coffee, merely stimulates instead of nourishing the body. The only food, practically, that I cook is the potato; and that is because I can control so easily its composted growth in healthy soil.

Health And Happiness

What, then, have I to say after all these years of living close to Nature? I have never regretted the day I tried to simplify my life by following the Light Within. It has not only brought me more health and happiness but enabled me to be of more service to others. Since I left the towns to live in the country, life has become brighter for me every day. To know and feel that there is only one life which manifests itself in the seen and unseen is the guiding star that has helped me all these joyful years.

All life is one. I would plead therefore for a more beautiful way of living, a more humane science, and a better understanding of what is meant by progress. The gist of my philosophy of living is that each one must grow from one’s own stem. The Light Within is free and applicable by all. The simple life is a principle which each one must apply according to one’s own capacity. Personally, I have no creed, system, or teaching, because I feel that I must always live by the inspiration of the moment.

As to my future, I live in faith that what has kept me so well and happy all these years will never fail me. If, indeed, we say it in our hearts – meaning it – that life is love and love is life, there can be no higher solution to all eternity.

~ ~ ~

The original article with more photos and insights may be found here: http://www.happycow.net/blog/living-the-simple-life-by-dugald-semple-vegan-108-years-ago/?fb_action_ids=10152448485369095&fb_action_types=og.likes

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