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Upon Reading My Teacher’s Book

Updated: Mar 21, 2021

Living in the guidance of my teacher for nearly twenty years, I have now read his book, The Original Frontier: A Serious Seeker's Guide to Zen. You can find a more thorough review available on the Silent Thunder Order website:

In speaking with Taiun Elliston-roshi recently I mentioned that I had read his book and was going to write a brief commentary for our sangha. Oh, he said and asked what I thought. I said well now I know what you were talking about. He replied you should have listened in the first he tells me!

My understanding of Soto Zen is that teaching is always taking place, while learning may take a little longer. I learn from Sensei every time we are together. We can’t know ourselves if we don’t share the Dharma.

Elliston-roshi has been teaching from a “non-book” of his memory compiled, codified, and instantly accessible to him. This “non-book” is entitled (by me): My Teacher Would Say. This is equivalant to the phrase often translated as the preamble to words uttered by Shakyumuni Buddha...thus it was said and I have heard,

Some 2500 years ago teachings were transmitted from one person to another through conversation and/or chanted, which is an interconnected feedback-loop. This is heart-to-heart sharing of the Dharma

I never met Sensei’s teacher Rev. Soyu Matsuoka. I do know him though, as he too is teaching me through Elliston-roshi. Guiding teachers teach his/her teacher’s way of sharing the Dharma through compassionately saying”... I would only add.” Elliston-roshi says, we teach each other the Dharma. This was brought home to me when one of my students said he had only read through the first chapter of the book and already saw my teachings. I can only add gassho, bowing to this compassionate point.

Last October I mentioned to Elliston-roshi that our sangha would be studying his new book during 2021 and we will, starting in April. The Falmouth Soto Zen Sangha will be one of many sanghas to do so. His book, along with his two compilations of Matsuoka-roshi’s writings, form the core of the Practice Path Training in the Silent Thunder Order.

This new book is remarkable in that it will be marked-up, underlined, highlighted, quoted, and readers like me will find Sensei’s effort and offering Dharma gates yet to open. Here are a few remarkable points:

  • It has taken over fifty years to write from the early 1960 to the second decade of the Twenty-First Century.

  • It has had many eyes watching its development as Sensi’s notes in his acknowledgements.

  • Peers applaud the freshness of Ellistion’s “yet another book about Zen.”

  • It starts at the heart of the matter and goes deeper.

  • It is a demonstration of Upaya or skilful means.

  • Everyday events are presented before using jargon while offering Buddhist and Zen terms wisely as needed while clearly explaining each one.

  • Everyday life is Zen, as in what else can it be?

  • Classical and contemporary teachings of dozens of ancestors and living Zen practitioners join the chorus.

  • By the use of couplets (dualities), a subtle sense of harmony and his “try-this” teachings, Sensei is reaching out to the reader saying...come on, here is another place to look, do you see it now? And it might help you get there (defined as here).

  • The breath of the arts, science, family experiences, and fifty years of teaching enliven the writing.

  • It is not another zen book so I can call it a Zen book.

  • So, read the book, enjoy the experience, and share the Dharma.

  • The original frontier is now.

In his book, The Discoverers: A History of Man's Search to Know His World and Himself, Daniel J. Boorstin distinguishes between an explorer and a discoverer. The former finds and looks around, while the latter comes back and helps others get there.

Dr. Boorstin probably didn’t know he was describing a Bodhisattva...I do.



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