Posted inDogen, Henry's Messages

Message from Henry: Practice is a Mirror

April 13, 2016

That’s practice: an empty mirror… like a mirror it simply reflects what comes in front of it.


The zendo in Sonnenhof Zen Center in Germany is called “Empty Mirror Zendo.” That’s practice: an empty mirror. Meaning, that like a mirror it simply reflects what comes in front of it. It has no qualities itself. So if you feel you don’t like practice, that’s not exactly right. Rather, “not liking” is what is appearing in the mirror of practice.

* * *

At its best Zen leads us out of the hell of self-obsession, by showing us that what we took to be the seat of our self was a chimera, a mirage. At its less than best, it devolves into mindless rote, a home for control freaks, for OCD sufferers who’d prefer not to have a diagnosis. Or it devolves into a mish-mash of pop psychology, self-help, and New Age catchphrases. Or it devolves away from authentic experience, real discovery, “actualization” in the depths of contemplation and daily life, into the nightmare of conceptualized practice, of what the masters called “dead Zen,” or “skeletons in the field” — Zen discussed, even “understood” in its principles, but not actually lived.

But when we really follow the guidance and wisdom enshrined in the heart of the tradition, instead, we are released from mistaken views, and find a great life that holds us; and we are one with all creation in that holding. It is in a sense the best news. But that doesn’t mean: no grief, sorrow or lamentation. Rather, it means our sorrow is also held in that embrace. In fact, it means that as sorrow-averse beings, as fugitives from grief, who fear grief as an adversary, apparently preferring a numb nihilism to the heartbreak that lies at the back of our deeper life, we must break enough to tumble into the great space without bearings, if we are to find our way back to that greater life. Zen would like to help with that, and does.

* * *

To study the Dharma is indeed to study the self, to forget the self, and to discoer that the self is nothing but the ten thousand things, as Dogen said (slightly paraphrased). What beauty, what mercy, is contained in that statement. May we be humble enough to receive this fact, and do our best to live it out.


Message from Henry from our April 13, 2016 Newsletter.
Image: The Empty Mirror 2, by Ron.jpg, CC BY 2.0 from

footer support banner image

Support Mountain Cloud

You can show your gratitude for Mountain Cloud events, retreats, podcasts and other teachings by making a one-time gift, or by becoming a supporting member.

Donate to Mountain Cloud Become a Member