Matsu would sit in meditation for long hours. His teacher went to him and asked, ‘What are you doing?’ Ma replied, ‘I am trying to become a Buddha.’ His teacher picked up a tile, and began rubbing it with a stone. Ma asked, ‘What are you doing?’ His teacher replied, ‘Trying to polish a mirror.’ Ma said, ‘You cannot make a mirror out of a stone.’ The teacher replied, ‘You cannot make a Buddha by practicing meditation!’

~ Transmission of the Lamp, Volume 5

I am in favor of meditation, in all its forms. But becoming a Buddha means abandoning all ideas of should or should not. It is a kind of magic that is conjured up by stepping with your whole self into the world, vast and wide.


Where we practiced in Japan, at the San-un Zendo, the floor was covered in thick rice mats called tatami. After a few years, the mats dry out and begin to throw off dust, tiny mites, and other stuff I was allergic to, causing my nose to constantly run. One retreat, my nose was running and, deciding I was deep in samadhi, rather than wipe it during the sitting period, I just let it run, building into a foot-long string of snot. As luck would have it, the Roshi came by to review the zendo and a short while later, called me into an interview. Thinking I would be praised for my ardor he yelled, ’What was that hanging from your nose? That was disgusting! You will have to improve your hygiene if you want to remain here!’ I sheepishly slunk back to the hall.

Meditation is not about having or not having a runny nose. It’s about snot separating yourself from the world about you.