Posted inDogen, Henry's Messages

Message from Henry: Let it Burn

March 22, 2016

Do your practice. Whatever it takes, learn to sit in the fire of the Three Treasures. Pick and choose no more. Whole Ox Zen. Let it burn.


Last week I talked about “stealing the Dharma:” the student must steal the Dharma from the teacher. How do you do it? You come to dokusan. As some masters advise, any time dokusan is offered, go. Don’t miss a chance. It’s the chief privilege of becoming a student: the door of “the room” is open to you. So you slip into the teacher’s room and see whatever jewels you find lying around, and snatch them.

What does it mean, to steal the Dharma?

It means: you lose your footing, you stumble, you trip, and tumble into the same abyss that all the masters have fallen into. The abyss that returns you to the heart of your very own life. That takes away our life entirely, only to give it back just as it was, yet so that we know if for the first time.

* * *

To find our way to practice, in the shelter of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, is a precious thing. To whatever extent we don’t find it precious, that’s valuable. It shows us something is coming up for us that is asking to be acknowledged and welcomed so it can release itself. Anger, distaste, boredom, ill-will of different kinds, carelessness masking sadness or disappointment or frustration — whatever it may be, it’s the new lesson, the lesson of now. So let it win. That means: don’t be driven by it. Rather, sit still in the midst of fire and let it burn you up. Let it burn you to a crisp.

* * *

The intention of Zen is not to rescue us from life but to bring us into the midst of our human experience. The closer we get to life, to our core humanity, the closer we get to Manjusri’s great sword. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form: this is no recipe for withdrawal, but rather for total immersion. That’s why in the last three or four ox-herding pictures, that long-sought ox has vanished altogether. He’s not needed. He was only ever a way, a means, a decoy – a way of ferrying us right into the heart of our existence.

Don’t be deceived. Do your practice. Whatever it takes, learn to sit in the fire of the Three Treasures. Pick and choose no more. Whole Ox Zen. Let it burn.

* * *

We are opening up the possibility of life without language. When language drops away, so does self. Then we find that there are other languages in which things speak. Breath speaks the language of breath. The heater speaks its language. Wind speaks its own language, sight speaks the language of seeing. And so on. So many languages, so many worlds.

As Dogen said, “When you sail out in a boat to the middle of an ocean where no land is in sight, and view the four directions, the ocean looks circular… But the ocean is neither round nor square; its features are infinite in variety. It is like a palace. It is like a jewel. It only looks circular as far as you can see at that time…. In order to learn the nature of the myriad things, you must know that although they may look round or square, the other features of oceans and mountains are infinite in variety; whole worlds are there.”


Message from Henry is from our March 22 Newsletter.

Image: Candleburst, by Christopher Craig, CC-by-2.0, from

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