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what’s needed?

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I recently embarked on a chaplaincy training program under the guidance of Dr. Joan Halifax Roshi at Upaya Zen Center. In this excerpted article Roshi addresses the age-old question of what is important in our life. 

About a thousand years ago in China, the interactions between Zen teachers and students began to be collected. These interactions were called koans which means “public case.” [Koans] are a means wherein people can contemplate an interaction from a thousand years ago that points to a quality within the human psyche, which has the capacity for deep discernment, for clarity. We’re in an indeterminate time when discernment and clarity are useful.  …

basho[Today’s koan] is from Basho, a 17th century monk-poet and teacher who ended up eschewing the so-called social life. He walked around the countryside in Northern Japan and composed many wonderful haiku that we continue to appreciate many years later.   

A monk once asked Basho: “What is the essence of your practice?” Basho replied: “Whatever is needed.” 

I live with that koan inside of me, not that I always actualize it. But it’s absolute plain-riceness, which is typical of Basho, is something that I have come to deeply appreciate. What is the essence of this practice, our practice, whatever our practice might be, and the response by Basho, “Whatever is needed.” Because the practice is not about Basho, we understand.  It is not even about the practice, it is not about Zen, it is not about Buddhism. It is about just one thing and one thing only and that is what is needed.  

To read the full article visit the Upaya newsletter.

One response »

  1. I think Zen can be contrasted with the modern culture of presumption. You might enjoy the short Zen tale I just posted at


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