Skip to main content

Broken Beautiful Brush Strokes

Above: My Rakusu- Bottom, 2008 NOZT-black, Top 2010 Austin Zen Center, dark blue

I have the day off to pursue calligraphy with Kaz Tanahashi. This guy is amazing! Witty as he is talented, when asked how he gets around so well, he said, "Every time I pee, I drink one whole glass of water."

I've known Kaz through his translation work on Dogen. His translations are my favorite. I had some compensation time building up here at Green Gulch and admitted to the crew head my gaining idea: one day during the Kaz workshop.

He is a very thorough teacher. The handout he provided has some very helpful links to some east Asian calligraphy sources and class is about learning a few kanji and the way they appear in traditional, semi-cursive, and cursive forms. He also details the brush techniques, stroke order, and even makes time for each student to come up and let him "hold your hand" while he moves you through the character. If you ever have the chance to work with Kaz, jump at it- the pace is relaxed, and the teaching solid.

All of a sudden, I very much appreciate my teachers work on the back of my Rakusu- I had no idea!

Lovely day to be rained in. Great to hear the water table rise!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Previous comment was just about an HTML issue, resolved. Thanks for the Kaz vignette. Inspired me to get back out my copy of the Oriental Painting Course last night, which I haven't cracked in over a decade. Have seen the Kaz courses listed at Upaya and always wanted to go. I think he was the one who helped create the giant rainbow brush they used on the floor of their hall?

  3. Really rewarding practice for a tired body and weary mind. I think I'll add it to the end of my day, as I'm too tired to read, write, or work out...

    I'm not sure about their floor, but I've always wanted to go to upaya, also. Tassajara offers an annual week long retreat with Kaz in the summer. There is also an intensive in San Fran. Rather costly, but I think worth it.

    I'm registered for a class in San Rafael at great price on the 21st of April. I just ordered supplies (have no idea when I'll get to town).

    Really inspired by this practice- these characters mean at least 3 things each and then you look at the picture and- what?! It doesn't feel like learning kanji, it feels more like participating in just one more finger pointing at the ineffable. Also, while I've worked with my hands as a mason and a carpenters helper, I've never thought of myself as artistic, and here I am, brush in hand...amazing feeling!

    Vulnerable, too. I kept thinking, "You know, I can cut a straight line down 100 yards of concrete with a 60 pound Sthil saw" as struggled to make the brush move vertically or to drop a dew drop here and there. Relevant and not so relevant.

    The elderly women who surrounded me seemed amused at my presence, urged me to smile, that smiling was integral to this process...Mostly, I chew on my lip!

  4. Wonderful--very excited for you on this journey.

    I've always tried to encourage people to see themselves as creators. The whole separation of roles is so harmful. People say "Oh I can't even draw a straight line" and I say "Great! There are almost no straight lines in nature, you should do fine."

    Kinda stunning, you may know I'm fond of Enku, I just found out Kaz did a book on him:


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

How To Become A Zen Monk (or die trying)

"Now, if you have decided to become a monk because you think that life in this world is too hard and bitter for you and you would prefer to rather live off other people's donations while drinking your tea - if you want to become a monk just to make a living, then the following is not for you." -Kosho Uchiyama
So you want to be a Zen monk or priest? Unsui, which means clouds and water? Good on ya. Me too. 
Having googled that very aspiration for the first time in 2003, I was convinced it was impossible. I'll admit I am as thick headed as they come. I was also resistant to meet some figure in a robe. I heard my father's voice when I begged him to get my fortune read in Jackson Square, New Orleans, "I'm not paying some fat asshole in a bathrobe to tell you lies." Instead, for the first four years of my Zen practice, I committed as little as possible to my local sangha, left when they started chanting, and never talked to the teacher. I was so unapproacha…

Boredom and Buddhism

To say I feel bored feels disrespectful. How could that be? I have a three month old daughter, I'm training for a demanding job in the temple, I'm a wilderness medic responding to incidents every 4 days or so, and I'm sewing my priest robes for ordination. And I have this sense of disinterest.

I have a few theories as to why I feel bored. One could be the natural come down from having the baby and becoming stable in our schedule. Another come down plays out in the adrenaline crash after responding to a medical emergency or the general up keep work I do at the temple when compared to fixing something crucial to operations. When I hear there's a fire in the area I'm pretty excited to be mobilized for stay and defend duty. I feel pretty guilty about that, too.

So I read Beyond Boredom and Depression by Ajahn Jagaro and I was reminded to be careful about looking outward by this passage:

So what is boredom? It is a subjective experience that occurs when the mind is not i…

Vows and Compass

Being in new Orleans reminds me that my way seeking mind ripened here. Maybe it was the level of maturity my father's recovery actualized. Maybe it was the Ben Wren book I found at Beaucoup Books on my lunch break. Maybe it was my step mom's copy of things fall apart by Pema Chodron sitting in the bathroom.

Later I would witness the host of suffering post-katrina offered to a young public school teacher. How could I help? I took my first set of vows not really knowing where they would lead, like the old black metal compass my dad put in my Christmas stocking when I was about ten. Beautiful to hold, difficult to understand.

Now, years later, I feel a bit subdued as form,sensation, perception, impulse, and thought tag everything, beckoning some purchase for the price of belief. I'm home, but a home leaver. People wonder when I'll move back and being a home leaver means being ready to leave home again and again, which could mean coming back.

How will I actually engage all…