Layman P’ang was taking leave of Yao Shan, who asked ten monks to escort P’ang to the front gate. P’ang pointed to the sky and said, ‘Wonderful snowflakes, yet they do not fall apart from each other.’

~ The Blue Cliff Record, Case 42

For some reason, always around this holiday season, I recall from decades ago a New Year’s Eve in Kyoto, the old capital of Japan. It was late in the evening, and it had begun to snow lightly. I was walking through the small back alleys of the neighborhood around Daitoku-ji , when its massive temple bell began a cadence of 108 rings before midnight. The snow, the bell, the alley way; they were wonderful.

Recently, I finished reading a book received from a friend called, Pure Heart, Enlightened Mind, a collection of the letters and journals of Maura Shoshin O’Halloran, a young Irish-American woman who found herself without much of a plan studying Zen at a couple of small temples in Japan for three years in the early 1980s. In the deep of winter, she went out for takuhatsu, ritual begging in neighborhood. As she described it, I could see her trudging through the deep and bitterly cold snow in flimsy straw sandals, reciting sutras. A few months later, she was killed when her bus driver fell asleep on the road to Chang Mai, in Thailand.

Another friend recently gave me a translation of a note by Harada Sogaku, one of our distant relatives, now gone nearly 60 years. Practice, he said, is not about achieving a calm or exotic state of mind. If that is what you believe, he says, try some other way. Zen practice, he said, is understanding that this very mind ~ even the one that writes a note 19 stories above Pine Street in San Francisco a few days before the New Year~ is a snow flake not separate. We do not fall apart from each other. How wonderful indeed.