It’s raining. Soon I’ll go and poke some holes in the side of a small metal drum can and affix a chimney to the top. Then on a sunny, fairly windless day, the can will be used to make rice husk ash by piling husks around the can and lighting a fire inside, stirring the husks occasionally. Apparently the vegetable fields find this ash particularly tasty. If the rain stops I’ll also prune the fig tree and root the clippings over winter to plant early next spring.


At least that’s the plan. Things change quickly, and constantly, and one of the things I am learning – often painfully, or at least acutely – is to maintain a posture of stability and openness, ready to respond appropriately to how this current situation actually is, rather than to act out outdated ideas of how I thought things would be. Said another way: Let go! Of course, trying to let go is holding on, but better to hear the melodic sound of the falling rain than get too caught up in these worn-out Zen paradoxes.


On the other hand, nothing seems to change at all. Here I am, looking at the fallen leaves, much as I was this time one year ago. Lots has happened. Nothing happened. Some days, and months, were harder than others. Some easier. I care less about the distinction.


I’m more at home here than I ever have been and I also know that I could leave and be just as content (even amid daily discontent) somewhere else. But there’s no call the leave. I have responsibilities here and have found a gem, albeit unpolished, in Antaiji, where true practice has the opportunity to flourish. What exactly this practice is I still cannot say.


Recently I’ve been reading a lot from the Zen men of Tang Dynasty China. Their words are illuminating and familiar, like speaking with an old friend or looking at the night sky. One of the people I enjoy the most is Shitou Xiqian, aka Sekito Kisen. I’ll finish by sharing something of his.


From my grass hut,



Song of the Grass-Roof Hut


I’ve built a grass hut where there’s nothing of value.
After eating, I relax and enjoy a nap.
When it was completed, fresh weeds appeared.
Now it’s been lived in – covered by weeds.

The person in the hut lives here calmly,
Not stuck to inside, outside, or in between.
Places worldly people live, he doesn’t live.
Realms worldly people love, he doesn’t love.

Though the hut is small, it includes the entire world.
In ten square feet, an old man illumines forms and their nature.
A Great Vehicle bodhisattva trusts without doubt.
The middling or lowly can’t help wondering;
Will this hut perish or not?

Perishable or not, the original master is present,
not dwelling south or north, east or west.
Firmly based on steadiness, it can’t be surpassed.
A shining window below the green pines –
Jade palaces or vermilion towers can’t compare with it.

Just sitting with head covered, all things are at rest.
Thus, this mountain monk doesn’t understand at all.
Living here he no longer works to get free.
Who would proudly arrange seats, trying to entice guests?

Turn around the light to shine within, then just return.
The vast inconceivable source can’t be faced or turned away from.
Meet the ancestral teachers, be familiar with their instruction,
Bind grasses to build a hut, and don’t give up.

Let go of hundreds of years and relax completely.
Open your hands and walk, innocent.
Thousands of words, myriad interpretations,
Are only to free you from obstructions.
If you want to know the undying person in the hut,
Don’t separate from this skin bag here and now.