Mountains and Waters

Introduction: A path to walk (Sarah Webb)

Time among leaves, rock, and water can give us a way to practice. It’s not that Zen is a religion of nature but that natural settings give us opportunities to pay attention, simplify our lives, and escape the constraints of social reality. We may sense our unity with a hillside or a fish. We may walk, recognizing the sacred everywhere we look.

In Mountains and Waters, our new issue of Just This, students share how the natural world has informed their practice. It may be an experience of water, as it is for Juniper, who finds lake voyaging becomes an inner voyage. David returns repeatedly to a place that speaks to him, the Big Bend, to explore its landscape and encounter its animals. Camping alone, Sarah also prizes encounters that reveal our unity with other beings — wildflowers and pines, snakes, flickers, and her little dog. For Kim and Glenn, a river under blossoms or a garden shaped to express Zen understanding show natural beauty in a city environment. Brandon sees a city river, too, and the lives of those who shelter under its bridges, and he experiences compassion.

It would be possible to practice in nature entirely in stillness and silence, but these practitioners have taken a further step. Part of their practice is response. Photographs, drawings, paintings, and writings are the fruits of their attention. They hope their art can say what came into their hearts.

Completeness (Dogen)

“Mountains and waters right now are the actualization of the ancient Buddha way. Each, abiding in its phenomenal expression, realizes completeness.”  —Dogen, translated by Arnold Kotler and Kazuaki Tanahashi

Tookers Island (Lauren Ross)

Outdoor exploring gives Juniper (Lauren Ross) a way to practice and create. She says, "Three of the poems were written on Tookers Island at the end of a week of solo kayaking on Lake Superior.

Zen mindfulness is the ground of my solo adventures. Mindfulness and the present moment keep me safe. Much is birthed from there, including poetry."


You were perfect on the day
that I died rather than leave you.
The seas were calm.
The barest ripple
marked hidden rocks.
The sun blazed,
half-hidden by clouds.
The air was still with possibility.


There are stones of gem quality
And views to dazzle post cards.
But nothing of any value
Is carried
Beyond these shores.


I came to know a perfect moment
when it is certain that the day will bring
No more wind
Than I can handle.
I came to remember how and when
knowing arises in the belly
I came to forget a thousand neglected necessities
So as not to be distracted from what
is unimportant
and essential.
I came to watch uncountable stars
fill the night sky;
and to remember why nights without moon
I came to watch the sunrise and sunsets
of eternity.
It is only now, in leaving,
that I've remembered why I came.


If I should die upon the water;
Set off from shore
and not return,
Do not grieve for me.
I knew a hundred stony beaches
Uncounted wave-washed shores,
And the unfiltered sun on a January afternoon.


...your mother's face. (Reb Anderson)

"Walk on the earth as if it is your mother's face."  —Reb Anderson

Big Bend Zen (David Warren)

Extreme rain falling in the Big Bend. The landscape seemed to come straight from a Chinese scroll painting.

Eye of the Rabbit

“Photography is a lie!” declared my college professor. The overall scene is edited down to what the artist selects to be viewed; therefore the whole is not revealed. But places like Big Bend can push us to try to pass those limits. Few people know the ironic experience of a flooding deluge in this desert park. That’s why I took this picture. This desert is unforgiving, hot and deadly. It is not uncommon to learn of the tragic end of a visitor who did not have enough water.

Big Bend National Park is one of the few places on earth one can actually find near absolute silence. Situated in the vast Chihuahuan desert are mountains that hide a conifer/oak forest high above. There is no commercial air traffic overhead, save for an occasional tourist plane. Whether you are up in the mountains or out in the desert, you hear only wind, wildlife, and when those are still, then you can hear the pulse in your own head. There are views of incomprehensible distances into Mexico when there is no air pollution or rain.

Nature does not respect Man’s artificial boundaries or expectations. When in Big Bend, you not only watch the sunset, you become part of the sunset. You are whatever the elements make you. Embrace the dirt. Play in rain. Melt with snow. I forget how many times I have visited Big Bend. I return over and over, yet it is never the same experience. It is and always will be, yet ever changing in its own time and its own way. This is also what Zazen is for me.  —David Warren

Maligned animals are of personal interest. Rattlesnakes and vultures are not bad critters, and rabbits can defend themselves. The “eye” painting is an autobiographical piece which attempts to defy dualistic thought about animals.

See more of David's art:

Thusness (Gary Snyder)

"This, thusness, is the nature of the nature of nature. The wild in the wild."  —Gary Snyder

Holbrook (Sarah Webb)

Sarah Webb spent the last three summers on the road (half camping alone). She wanted to see if silent presence with trees and mountains might deepen her practice. This essay is drawn from journal entries at one of her camps.

Poems (Sherry Priest)

Nature presents itself in small moments for Sherry Priest, in kinhin or sitting or walking out of doors.


I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself.  —H.D. Lawrence

Crow cocks one eye
At the kinhin line
And grins

Not until winter
do we see
how many
the trees hold

You have had
some small thing,
a toy,
Or maybe an old shirt,
loved into an unsustainable fragility,
Until you knew
No longer holding was the only possibility
That is how you must let go.

Opening practice and
Just past the door of our solemn rite
A grackle altercation
Two more birds and it would have been a riot

Betting Against the House

Bargaining with God
Leveraging karma
To bank against loss
Betting against the house

Zen Poem # 2

Sitting thru zazen
cricket crawls in hakama
fucking hilarious

Notes on #2: When I first started practicing zazen with a group I found the lack of external stimulation nerve-wracking, leading to an impulse to jump up screaming and run from the room. I dealt with it in a number of very un-zen-like ways, including playing the alphabet game with myself and writing poetry in my head. This was in fact what jump-started this phase of my writing career, if you can call it that.

Our group, which practices in the Rinzai style in which people sit in lines facing each other, meets right after Wednesday night aikido class, which most of us also participate in. For that reason, many times we would still be dressed in gi and hakama. Gi are the white pants and top that one associates with martial arts. A hakama is a kind of full, pleated pants, usually black or navy, that ties on and is worn over the gi.

In late summer in central Texas there are often swarms of crickets. One evening a cricket crawled onto the mats and began steadily making its way to our lines. I became fascinated with its movements and obsessed with what I would do if it crawled up the leg of my hakama. In Rinzai one is strongly discouraged from moving even a little for anything short of sudden illness. At the last minute, the cricket veered across the mat and appeared to climb on a friend sitting across from me, who, in at least the outward appearance of perfect Zen mind, never moved. Given the way zazen messes with your brain, the whole event was one of the most entertaining things I have ever seen.

Zen Poem #3

Which is worse
zazen with caffeine
or without

Notes on #3: The first one of my flashes of insight happened while I was waiting for the coffee bartender to make me a cappuccino. I was standing in the lobby of the building where I have worked for over a decade and suddenly it looked both completely new to me and completely familiar. And I felt, not knew in my head but really felt, a sense of being a traveler in my own life. I’ve had other, similar experiences, one at the grocery store, which I lost by the time I made it through check-out. Another occurred driving on a downtown street when everything, the buildings, the road itself, the other cars, all of a sudden genuinely looked fluid, like the water in a river. Either that or it was the heat.

This poem isn’t really about that, though. It’s about whether it’s harder to deal with the dull pain of struggling to stay awake while remaining motionless in a dark room late at night or to remain at least outwardly calm while double shots of espresso course through your pounding veins.

Zen Poem #4

Dark lake
Cold rain
White swans

Zen Poem #6

How is pain not suffering?
Primroses, horsemint
Wild grass.

First There is a Mountain (Kim Mosley, Donovan)

First there is a mountain.
(Painting—Kim Mosley)

There is no mountain.
(Painting—Kim Mosley)

...dusty world of human affairs. (Gary Snyder)

“Mountains and waters’ is a way to refer to the totality of the process of nature. . . . The whole, with its rivers and valleys, obviously includes farms, fields, villages, cities and the (once comparatively small) dusty world of human affairs."  —Gary Snyder

Asian Gardens (Kim and Linda Mosley)

Suiho-en, the Japanese Garden
at the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant,
Van Nuys, California USA
Figures at Pond, St. Louis, MO
(Ceramics and garden—Linda Mosley)
Japanese rock garden, Portland, OR
(枯山水, karesansui) or "dry landscape" garden

Chinese Garden, from Street, Portland, OR

Confucius says...

Photos: Kim and Linda Mosley

As the World Surrenders (Kim Mosley)

"As the river surrenders itself to the ocean,
what is inside me moves inside you."  —Kabir
(Painting—Kim Mosley)

Kanda River (Glen Snyder)

Glen Snyder was struck by the beauty of the Kanda River when he visited Tokyo.

kanda river, tokyo,
april, 2007:

sparrows dart confidently through
this blizzard of returning warmth
nipping at cherry blossoms
and dabbing their beaks
in stamen nectar and pollen.
fallen petals drift
oblivious and silent pink
down the clear waters
past the dark channeled banks
of the kanda.
black and yellow koi look
straight up at the sky
penetrating the reflections
of all of our faces.
we are as pink and softened
as the falling petals.
our eyes are the
fish-eye reflections of the sun
drunken with
the flushed afternoon light
our eyes are the
fish tails and current
in unison with the breeze,
the breeze that is
the gentle waving motions
of flower-laden boughs.
the boughs that are like
softly flapping banners.
it is the one unsettling moment
that the pigeons and i
look for our places
circling out and in of all of it
lost in petal clouds of spring flight
still not sure quite where to light.

Columbia River Sutra (Brandon Lamson)

The intention to dedicate my actions to the liberation of all beings underscores my creative work which explores the connective tissues that bind us to each other and the world. —Brandon Lamson

Praise be the river finders
                      and their currents of healing estuary.
A yellow boombox throbs on the faux wood paneling
of the motel dresser as she straddles me,
                      her face pierced
by fish hooks and beads the color of salmon eggs.

I drive her back to the park where swaths of green
bisect the city into encampments of corporate flow.

Her Indian friend Mighty Mouse
recruits me for the tribal basketball team.
We ain’t so tall, but we got moves.

Follow the river.
                     Purchase a board and cruise to the skate park
near the Columbia Bridge underpass. She swore
I’d find them here, the homeless kids they call trolls

soliciting tribute, the goat shepherdesses
selling broken staffs
                     as Cerebus sprawls in broken light
like a duffel bag of greased barrels without triggers.

Afternoons of stunt tricks and withdrawal,
the king’s men racing above
                     from castle to castle,

office high rise to condo ensconced by mountain views,
Mt. Saint Helens visible on clear days,
her peaks flattened and smoldering at their leisure.

I am not speaking of the bridge,
rather of plywood ramps and lean-tos
                     on these river banks
the Indians shunned, calling Portland the valley of sickness.

Praise be the river finders, river of suffering,
no Ganges of burning pyres,
                     this Columbia where suicides
are peppered with cloud spray,
milky rafts thrashed by dirty fish scales.

She rides me in the motel room as Fugazi pummels her boombox,

her face the face of my cousin in pain
except he’s 6’8” and bearded,
                     same jaw line and sockets hugely distorted
by gigantism, the head of Goliath
hewn quickly from beeswax then lit from within

so the features melt and lose their fine tuning,
like the mummy costume my mother sculpted

one Halloween from layers of toweling soaked in glue,
applying them to my face until only slits
for my nostrils and eyes remained, no mouth hole

so when I vomited before school
I had to rip open the mask, a muzzle of bees flying out.

Praise be them rivered and coming.
The king’s men house aquariums in their breasts,
still water that cannot breathe for the divers in their iron suits.

Define homeless outreach
                     beyond the tribal reservations
of Rikers and Bellevue,
sex offender registries and urban campgrounds

where these river finders are uncharted and unhouseled,
afflicted with shoddy footgear so I take them to my day job
at the Doc Martens warehouse and we ransack the aisles

for boots,
           ox-blood and steel-toed, plastered with pink skulls
or green shamrocks that glow in the dark
as we march to the castle gates,
                     our torches hissing in the rain.

How can you know the way...? (Kim Mosley)

"If you don't understand the path as it meets your eyes,
how can you know the way as you walk?"
Merging of Difference and Unity 
(painting—Kim Mosley)

Progress is not a matter of.... (Kim Mosley)

"Progress is not a matter of far or near,
But if you are confused, mountains and rivers block your way."
–Merging of Difference and Unity
(painting —Kim Mosley)