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Message from Henry: Middle Way

August 16, 2016

Far better to throw away both emptiness and all things.  –Mumon


Last time I sat with my teacher Joan Rieck Roshi she mentioned a Buddhist teaching: “Don’t be attached to Dharmas, don’t be attached to no-dharmas.”

This is a perfect statement of practice – but maybe takes a little unpacking. Our ordinary sense of things, of phenomena as phenomena, is blind to things not being things, to phenomena not being phenomena. Most of us might hear such a statement and we simply can’t believe it. We might dismiss it as nonsense. Things are things – what absurdity to say they are not.

Therefore in Zen training there is some emphasis on clarifying the reality in which things are not things. This is a “real” aspect of our experience, but so unfamiliar to most of us that we simply can’t imagine what it even means. However, through diligent practice, we can come to a glimpse of it.

But then we must not be attached to “things not being things.” That is, to “no-dharmas.” Having been entrenched in our view of things as things, we must not then incline to the glory of “things not being things,” of “shunyata” or “infinite empty oneness.”

Instead, impossibly, there is a middle way. Mumon said:

Far better to throw away both emptiness and all things.

That “middle,” where both dharmas and no-dharmas have been thrown away, is the place of freedom, of practice, of boundlessness, of infinite love and creativity. It turns out that it’s the place of our “real” life, where every being we encounter is neither a “dharma” nor “not a dharma” but an arising beyond all reckoning.

“Among beings and things there is no trash,” Zuigan Roshi told his student, young Soko Morinaga. Everything we touch and meet is neither a dharma nor no-dharma, neither a thing nor no-thing.


Saving all beings – they are not saved by, but saved from.
Freeing all beings – we are not freed by, but freed from.

From fundamental assumptions that turn out to have been delusive.


Message from Henry from our August 16, 2016 Newsletter
Image: The Middle Way, by Alistair Kitchen, cc by 2.0, from

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