This is why our country is filled with self-styled Zen. We try to adapt it to suit our needs and preferences. We try to make it convenient for people. It’s too harsh, or it’s too difficult. Zen teachers around the country don’t want to lose their students, so they make it less harsh and less difficult. But in the process of diluting it, they end up throwing out the baby with the bathwater and all we get is a watered-down version of a vital practice that has nourished the lives of hundreds of thousands of Buddhist men and women for 2,500 years.

Each step of the process, each step of the practice of Zen is the transmission. In each period of zazen the mind-seal is transmitted. When the time comes that the teacher and student both realize that the transmission is complete, the training’s over. The transmission ceremony is simply a formality that seals the process.

What is the wisdom that has no teacher? What is it the truth that cannot be given because it has always been present? It’s a truth that all of us are born with and we die with it, whether we realize it or not. It is the ground of being inside of each one of us, covered by layers and layers of conditioning. It is that extraordinary truth that Huangbo speaks of, that the Buddha spoke of, that countless teachers have handed down from generation to generation. It’s just this. Not the idea. Not the thought. Not the understanding or the knowing. Not the words or concepts that describe it, but the truth itself.

When body and mind drop away, we hear sounds with the whole body and mind, we see form with the whole body and mind. This is the mind-seal of the buddhas and ancestors. There is no gain. There is no loss. That being the case, what can any teacher give you? What can be added? What is lacking? That’s what we really need to see. It means trusting yourself. It means trusting the process. The process can help, but the answers will ultimately always come from you. The process will create a matrix within which you can discover for yourself that inherent perfection, but ultimately, you have do it. If you have the determination, if you have the faith in yourself and in the process, and if you have the doubt?—the questions that drive you in your practice?—then guaranteed, sooner or later, you’ll realize it. Great faith, great doubt and great determination?—with those three pillars in place, there’s no question about it?—you’ll do it. Realization is seeing the ultimate nature of all beings?—your nature, buddha nature. Beneath all the layers of conditioning we’ve buried ourselves under lives a buddha, perfect and complete, lacking nothing. Whether you discover it or not is entirely in your hands. What will you do? More importantly, when will you do it? 

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


The Blue Cliff Record or Hekiganroku is a collection of 100 koans originally compiled in China by Zen Master Xuedou during the Song dynasty (960?1279 c.e.) and later commented on by Zen Master Yuanwu. It is widely considered to be a model koan text, especially within the Linji (J. Rinzai) school of Zen.