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Red Hot Stove

On the red hearth, one flake of snow


I love the image of a flake of snow that’s landed on the red hot stove. Gone in an instant. This phrase is from a koan in the Blue Cliff Collection, Case 69 Nansen Draws a Circle.

Three Zen friends were on their way to pay respects to the National Teacher. At one point they stopped, and Nansen drew a circle on the ground and said, “If you can speak, we’ll go on.”  The story tells the various responses from his friends.

What I love about this story is the introduction to the koan by Engo. He says, “Patchrobed monks who have passed through the forest of prickly briars are like snow on a red hot oven.”

The briars and thickets are my likes and dislikes, my questioning of right and wrong, good and bad.

In Japanese the phrase is”Koro itten no yuki.” Here it is on a scroll.

Yamada Koun commentary:

“The forest of prickly briars” refers to our own concepts and thoughts which catch us up constantly, depriving us of our freedom. Man may be “the measure of all things” because our ability to think gives us supposed dominion over the rest of nature. But, from another standpoint, this very ability to think is the source of all our suffering.

The patchrobed monks (it need not be just monks!) who have passed through this forest of prickly briars (through the practice of Mu or Shikantaza, for example) are “like snow on a red hot stove.” If a pinch of snow were placed on a red hot stove, it would immediately melt and evaporate. In the same way, when you stand up, there is just that standing, with nothing else remaining.

All other concepts have disappeared like snow on a red hot stove.
And when you sit down, there is just that sitting, without a trace of standing left over.
Every moment of our lives is like this. Just that moment.
Each second disappears like snow on a red hot oven. Standing, sitting, eating, sleeping, laughing, crying.
The content is always completely empty.



Dai Bosatsu Zendo

Sei Shonagon wrote this poem and it makes me think of Dai Bosatsu monastery. 

“Once when I had gone to the monastery and was listening with deep emotion to the loud cry of the cicadas I thought of this poem:

“Count each echo of the temple bell
As it tolls in the evening by the mountain’s side.
Then you will know how many times
My heart is beating out its love for you.”

That’s me on the left. Morning service with the Roshi at Dai Bosatsu so many years ago. 

Because there is


I picked up a little book of poems titled The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy. After months of looking at Instagram and Pinterest and reading very little, it was a joy to discover these poems.


Its vision sweeps its one path
like an aged monk raking a garden,
his question long ago answered or moved on.
Far off, night-grazing horses,
breath scented with oatgrass and fennel,
step through it, disappear, step through it,

– Jane Hirshfield


The distant mountains
are reflected in the eye
of the Dragonfly

– Kobayashi Issa


Common things that suddenly sound special

I broke my ankle very badly 7 weeks ago. I’m in a cast and won’t be able to put any weight on my left left leg for months. 

Ken has been taking wonderful care of me. Here’s a list of all the things – simple yet really important things – he’s been doing every day to help me heal. If I needed a good lesson in friendship and how important we are to each other – this was it.

Ken with the p pot and flower

Ken brings me breakfast in bed every morning
Makes me coffee or gets it from Murray’s down the street
Helps me up the fifteen stairs to the top floor every night
Brings me Vitamin C in a small glass to drink
Shops for all the groceries
Takes me to Dr. appointments
Listens to me
Loves me (Ken added that one)
Cleans the dishes and kitchen
Puts out the trash
Finds and gets my eyeglasses from downstairs
Empties the portable potty downstairs
Cheers me up
Hammers nails in the floor
Brings me flowers from the garden
Waters my newly planted dogwood…

…and so much more.

I am also touched by all my friends who brought over food or helped water and weed the garden or took me out for lunch or just came over to chat. Simple things that mean so much.




My mother’s blanket chest

It’s late May in New York and today I switched over my winter clothes for summer ones. Soon it will be very hot. I clear out the sweaters and pants I’ve been wearing all winter from the top shelf of my closet.

I store them  in my mother’s old Yankee blanket chest.


In order to make room for the winter clothes I take out the summer ones that are  folded in with old blankets and assorted tee shirts. I wonder why I hold on to some things.  Maybe one day I’ll be able to fit into a pair of pants that are a size too small or wear the blouse that never really worked but has a wonderful fabric.

I can’t bear to throw them away.

Today I found piles of well worn, white, long and short sleeved tee shirts and three or four ripped black yoga pants. Ripped at the seams where the legs meet the seat.

These are the clothes I used to wear under my faded Zen robe when I went to Dai Bosatsu Monastery for sesshin, a seven day silent meditation retreat.

The temperature in the zendo was often in the low 60s during the winter months and I put layer upon layer of these clothes on top of silk underwear plus a cashmere sweater to keep warm. The trick was not to move during sitting because the slightest breeze would get me shaking with the cold.

I miss those days. I miss that intense practice. I burned with a love for it that went beyond hot and cold, beyond body and mind. Those clothes, all worn and ready for next time, will probably not be used again.

After over 35 years of practice at Dai Bosatsu and now in my late 60s, I doubt that I’ll ever again have the wonderful opportunity to throw myself wholeheartedly into anything as exquisite, demanding, and wild.

Except of course this life as it is right now.

I will continue to keep those old tee shirts and ripped pants in my mother’s blanket chest – in memory and with a deep bow of gratitude.






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