The capping verse:

Deaf, mute, and blind—
            already illuminating before it is said.
Manifesting the body as preaching,
           saving all sentient beings.

Deaf, mute and blind is not only a reference to the falling away of body and mind, it goes much further than that. One old master said, “Blind, deaf, mute, soundless, without adjustments or potentialities, all your seeing and not seeing, hearing and not hearing, speaking and not speaking are swept away.” Our usual modes of communication are not applicable. In fact, he says, “Views in the terms of blindness, deafness, muteness, and calculations and judgments of what’s right to suit potentials are at once silenced and cut off. None of them can be applied. This transcendental matter can be called real blindness, real deafness, real muteness, without potential, without adjustments.” This is what the creative process is all about. It’s not about contriving. It’s about allowing that flow of energy to happen. It’s about trusting it.

Next line, “Manifesting the body is preaching, saving all sentient beings.” Ultimately that’s the whole point of twenty-five hundred years of teaching, of transmitting the dharma from generation to generation. It’s a total embodiment of the truth, which means that it is manifesting in everything we do.

I spent many years teaching photography, and then I discovered Zen practice, and I discovered the way the artless arts of Zen informed photography, and it made an incredible shift in the way I was seeing and in the way the creative process was happening in my life. I started to integrate Zen teaching into my teaching of photography. Then I began to see that as our practice and realization deepen, there is no way this won’t affect the way we see, the way we create. This is true in everything we do in our lives. If we’re practicing diligently and embodying what we’re practicing, it will show up in the way we walk, the way we listen, the way we hear and speak, the way we love, the way we raise a child, the way we drive a car, the way we grow a garden. That’s what it means to bring the teachings down from the mountain and back into the marketplace. Until they’re manifesting in everything we do, the process is not yet complete. In fact, even then it’s not complete. There’s always a little bit more to be seen.


mother and child

We need to realize that the teachings are not limited to liturgy, precepts, koans—we’re surrounded by teachings. Not just in a monastery, but in the world itself. We are constantly nourished by this incredible dharma, if we’re alive and awake enough to receive it. Week after week, month after month, we engage this dharma. We connect with it in some way, through zazen, or liturgy or study. The next time you encounter it, try to encounter it with your heart. When I say your heart, I mean not with the mind. I mean with your feelings, your emotions, not just the intellect. It has a lot to teach that goes far beyond the words and ideas that you’re going to find in any sutra—the words of the Buddha notwithstanding. But if you engage the words of the sutras with your heart, a whole different kind of dharma will become manifest to you. Please take care of it. It’s no small thing

John Daido Loori, Roshi is the abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery. A successor to Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi, Roshi, Daido Roshi trained in rigorous koan Zen and in the subtle teachings of Master Dogen, and is a lineage holder in the Soto and Rinzai schools of Zen.

True Dharma Eye: Master Dogen’s Three Hundred Koans, is a complete, modern English translation of Master Dogen’s Three Hundred Koan or Chinese Shobogenzo. This important collection of koans, translated by Kazuaki Tanahashi and John Daido Loori, is accompanied by John Daido Loori’s commentary, capping verse and footnotes (Shambhala Publications, 2005).