Zen and the Turd Problem

Many people are more than a tad squeamish and as a consequence the notion of unblocking pipework from WC to septic tank is something which they do not like to do. They may feel it to be “beneath” them especially if they have a “lofty” status. They will call Dyno-rod or some such hero with superpowers to get the turds flowing freely. Their mind does not like turds, they are dirty and smelly. But a turd is just a turd. If one understands hand hygiene there is little to fear from a turd. Yet people can be afraid of turds.

Over the last few days, I have been busy on and off trying to get a blockage in our sewerage system moving. I have wondered if this is a metaphor. I tried a number of things and by use of a long semi-rigid probe wire, I determined the location of the blockage some 15 metres downstream of the inspection hole. My plumber’s rods, being imperial, are in total 30 feet long. The blockage was beyond their reach.

I could have waited and called out a plumber for a hefty fee.

Instead, I went around all the DIY and farm shops. I bought some metric plumber’s rods which will also serve to sweep the chimney.  With these longer more extensive rods I was able to physically reach the blockage last night. Becoming at one with the turd problem I have been able to temporarily solve it and we now have the means should it reoccur. The turds now flow.

When the house was built it perhaps had old fashioned toilets. Changing to the low flush volume eco-friendly bogs has perhaps had a hand in the blockage frequency. The system was not designed for these smaller lower gravitational potential cisterns.

I will clean up the rods and store them before getting back to the painting this afternoon.

Zazen – on the farm in Hampshire

a memory evening

forgotten in the sunset

burnishes copper kettles

holding linen gloves

performing léger de main

with destiny’s child

hidden pathways unwind

each nascent moment

ever pregnant pauses

judge and jury mind

hears not the birdsong

resenting coming dawns

a tear meanders lost

on a forsaken face

quenching desert lilies

sandcastle dreams ebb

and flow, with the

incoming tides of life

under the arch’s curve

fate shelters a while

as the earth drinks deep

raindrops softly caress

verdant carpets drawn

on canvas fields

watercolours paint margins

for the Soul to journey

a leather coracle in Dao

the profound silence of ponds

hears water boatmen

tickle trout with song

the winds play flute

a chimney blows smoke rings

beech logs in the fire

cows chanting mantra in sheds

the prayer bell chimes

a farmer brings fresh hay

the kestrel hovers hungry

seeing beyond horizons

keen for future dreams

the woodcutter’s solitude

cuts axe blade sharp

through logs mundane

spiced wine warming

the veins of golden ore

pumped only by heart

the acrobat squirrel

crosses the swaying canyon

between century’s pylons

semaphore trees

waving long naked fingers

in winter’s winds

the point before mind

waits for the ripple of

a passing thought

stardust falls silent

for those who wait

no footprints in the snow

a match scratches a back

a hint of phosphorous

fire eases the itch of cold

moss on the trees

hiding from sunrays

growing only aeon’s beards

the wise old yews

cracking knuckles in the breeze

have watched millennia

the moorhens plink

pennies in a fountain

wishing for luck at dawn

a carrion crow plucks

a hearty breakfast

at the roadside café

omniscience counts

each Autumn leaf

the actuary of Souls

how does dharma teach

the fiery core of stars

only by feathers in the heart

what lies before now

only the present sleeping

waiting for the cockerel

what lies after now

only persistent dawns

irradiated with dew

what lies in the now

only forever born eternal

in the womb of moment

singing songs in the bath

no-one is watching

a child starts to walk

as naked as spring

a flower unfolds its flag

saying only welcome

the candle shimmers

beacons burn on the hills

eyes glisten with living love

an owl hoots in laughter

at man’s busy lives

pondering on their shadows

a spider’s web tense

sees the ants commute

yearning for love

soft down in chestnut shells

beyond fish hook barbs

cradles possibility

red holly berries

write in their font of hope

amidst the thorns

wide empty paths

leading to the cosmic causeway

where bamboo bridges flex

the Dao bends the reed

to fit the clarinet

and Gabriel’s oboe

Dao tunes pianos

in the darkness of night

a quintessence is born

a river carves Souls

whilst brooks chuckle softly

over the mossy rocks

mayflies tickle the eddies

willows bowing humble

under azure skies

scent carries fragrance

of lotus blossom

cherishing tender Sakurai

a single petal floats

wafted on pillow dreams

cotton wool soothes with a tincture

cutting carrots fine

a sliver of perfection

crisp and juicy with joy

sliced ginger pervades

more pungent than any dawn

a newborn deer forages

Dharma of the Day #3

do not see apparent adversity as bad

rather see it as doorway, a garland

with which to decorate the new

within every challenge can be found

a seed which might germinate

into new experience and knowledge

all seeds whilst they are rooting

need careful care and attention

and newly sprouted stems

need to be rotated else they acquire bias

the germination of knowledge

is an act of love

which when tended, brings bounty

it is an act of receptivity to the spirit

knowledge which arrives quickly

is not so profound as that which

takes longer to mature,

much like vintage wine aged in its cask

vintage wine has more nuance

than that fresh from the vine

it has more depth and a subtle aroma

when wisdom arrives

it is like an old slipper

familiar to the foot

and slightly battered around the edges

it is not possible to attain wisdom

in the absence of trial

for all things have a price

only this one seems to be of better value

in learning to tend a garden

one learns much about Dao

and rhythm and seasoning

it makes one a better cook

in the Zen of gardening

hurry and haste are soon found

not to have any place

complete absorption in the moment


in this manner one learns much

about the present

inherent in any gift of power

and all about, economy

better to tend a small garden well

than to take on a country estate

beauty in the small

heals the heart

in tending a garden

one tends one’s own heart

this teaches one

a sense of inner love

And what could be wrong with that?

Nansen Cuts the Cat in Two

Nansen saw the monks of the eastern and western halls fighting over a cat. He seized the cat and told the monks: “If any of you say a good word, you can save the cat.”

No one answered. So Nansen boldly cut the cat in two pieces.

That evening Joshu returned and Nansen told him about this. Joshu removed his sandals and, placing them on his head, walked out.

Nansen said: “If you had been there, you could have saved the cat.”

    Mumon’s comment: Why did Joshu put his sandals on his head? If anyone answers this question, he will understand exactly how Nansen enforced the edict. If not, he should watch his own head.

Had Joshu been there,

He would have enforced the edict oppositely.

Joshu snatches the sword

And Nansen begs for his life.



The Unfettered Mind – The Sword Taia

These are excerpted from “The Unfettered Mind – Writings of the Zen Master to the Sword Master” by Takuan Sōhō and translated by William Scott Wilson published by Kodansha International.

Takuan Sōhō (沢庵 宗彭, December 24, 1573 – January 27, 1645) was a Japanese Buddhist prelate during the Sengoku and early Edo Periods of Japanese history. He was a major figure in the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism. Noted for his calligraphy, poetry, tea ceremony, he is also popularly credited with the invention of the takuan pickled radish.”

Serenity Haiku

a heron stands

one leg in the reeds

he reaches for his oboe

a contented carp

blows bubbles

puckering his lips

a lotus unfolds

her petal wings

butterflies waft incense

a busy dragon-fly

is a rainbow

who caresses time

clear crystal ponds

reflect pure light

whiter than snow

a pendant drop

hangs from the gallows

of a moment

a ripple stretches

across a dewy pond

and yawns sleepily

a reed bends

in the harsh winds

which soon, too will pass

a moorhen dives

hungry for breakfast,

a croissant with butter

the spirit churns

all of the milk

to spread on toast

a hungry falcon

hovers in the wind

seeking a morsel

the rain falls heavy

the ducks rejoice

water off their backs

a Rōnin waits

for he has no master

else his heart

he sits seiza

and watches only walls

for there, is wisdom…

The Sword of Taia – the unfettered mind.

The Unfettered Mind (不動智神妙録, Fudōchi Shinmyōroku) is a three-part treatise on Buddhist philosophy and martial arts written in the 17th century by Takuan Sōhō, a Japanese monk of the Rinzai sect. The title translates roughly to “The Mysterious Records of Immovable Wisdom“. The book is a series of three discourses addressed to samurai but applicable to everyone who desires an introduction to Zen philosophy, the book makes little use of Buddhist terminology and instead focuses on describing situations followed by an interpretation. Its contents make an effort to apply Zen Buddhism to martial arts.


Takuan died in Edo in 1645. In the moments before his death, he wrote the kanji 夢 for (“dream”), and laid down his brush. He also left behind a will stating that a “tombstone must not be built” and that he should be buried without any ceremony in an unmarked grave. His disciples promptly erected gravestones at the temple of Tōkai-ji (東海寺) and also at the temple of Sukyō-ji (宗鏡寺) in Izushi. His grave at Tōkai-ji was proclaimed a National Historic Site in 1926.

Zen – better than mine?

One day a travelling Zen master came upon a hermit’s cell. It was a bitterly cold night and he asked of the hermit; “may I tarry a while?”

The hermit agreed and boiled some rice, for them both to share.

Sat on their mats a ball of string fell out of the Zen master’s cloak and the hermit noticed.

The hermit asked the Zen master; “Why, venerable one, do you carry this ball of string?”

The Zen master replied, “Mind is a labyrinth and to enter in without a string, is to be lost forever. It is wise to carry string.”

The hermit asked the master; “Is your Zen, better than mine?”

Even though the gate was opened, the Zen master walked out into the storm, though his belly sorely missed the rice he might have eaten.

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

I am currently reading l’étranger by Albert Camus which is one of the books in his Nobel Prize citation. I am reading it in French, and he is a darn good storyteller. The other book of his I read was essays.  He is a better novelist. I am enjoying it.

The main protagonist ends up in jail and he describes how after a time he forgets life outside and gets accustomed to the rhythm of prison life. He says that the days of the week lose their meaning and that all he is concerned with is yesterday, today, and tomorrow. These comprise his temporal horizon.

It is a bit like that here on the compound. The outside world does not impinge overly and I am, for now, pretty busy taking care of things for the wife and about the house and garden. One day blends softly causal into the next. There is a sense of eternal now. But I do know that tomorrow I will go up to the supermarket for supplies and petrol for the garden implements.

There are two other external appointments next week, the osteopath for me and the haematologist for the wife. The nurses will come here twice to take blood.

This is my temporal horizon, supermarkets and medical.

Ryōkan Taigu (良寛大愚) (1758–1831) was a quiet and unconventional Sōtō Zen Buddhist monk who lived much of his life as a hermit. Ryōkan is remembered for his poetry and calligraphy, which present the essence of Zen life.”

In some ways our way of life is hermitic too. Ryōkan had his hut on the hill and would from time to time go down to the village for alms, rice.

I have heard it said that all true paths are “filled with emptiness”. I have been much influenced by Ryōkan. I have a T-shirt with one of his poems on the back.

It kind of links to a concept that I have, and the idea is what I call “liberation in and by the mundane”.

Lusting after the highfalutin, the glamorous and kudos laden, causes suffering. Concentrating and absorbing into the mundane with a mind bereft of any thinking, any internal dialogue, has much more equanimity. In reality human beings do not need anywhere near as much stuff as they imagine. Nor do they need quite so many pass times.  People are greedy and afraid.

People are very scared of the silence; this pervades here aside from the birdsong. To be alone in one’s mind with only one’s self for company is a terror for most. Some people have radios and TV on all the time for company!! What a nightmare!!

To have the ‘phone umbilical severed is terror beyond imagination.

In a couple of hours’ time, I will probably make a hot chocolate for the wife, then sort out her medication.

Now while she sleeps exhausted on the sofa I will go and dead head the ginormous yellow rose which climbs up the side of the house and which the wife has fixed to the balcony using cable ties.

Yeah, I like that: “liberation in and by the mundane”.