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Being Without Trace


At Dai Bosatsu Monastery and Choboji Dai Bai Zan Zen Temple, those entering with the intention of training and practice are constantly invited, encouraged, and guided to "leave no trace." Small signs serve as reminders of this key Zen teaching.


How can we not leave traces? We walk and leave footprints. We talk and leave echoes. We live and create karma, that’s also known as DNA. We seem to tag the walls of the universe, leaving traces of ourselves everywhere, all day long. Many of us leave thoughtless messes for others to clean up. This is an extremely difficult koan for most. Why? The ego craves leaving its mark, letting itself and others know "I was here." As Steve Jobs said, "I want to make a dent in the universe." Did he?


Zen Master Obaku Kiun said,


"Use your mind like a bird,

flying all day without leaving any trace.

When you think, do so dynamically

like swelling waves, then release those thoughts

and leave no trace.

If you turn one thought around,

all will be as it is, unmoving."


What is it to turn this "one thought" around? Zazen - not giving time to thoughts coming and going, but resting in original presence. Our actions could be less selfish, more selfless.


In the Buddha's time, a criminal saw him on a forest path, thinking him an easy victim. Though the criminal ran and Buddha walked mindfully, the criminal couldn't catch up.


The criminal shouted, "Stop! Don't move!"


Buddha said, "I stopped long ago - I am not moving. You are the one moving. I have no motivation, so how can I move? You stop!"

Zazen is a traceless, trackless path. A deadly assassin known as the untrained mind chases after us, seeking to take us down with thoughts. How are the thoughts doing at wounding us, draining us of joyfulness? We could sit, breathe, listen, and notice what is traceless... what is non-thinking... humble... loving... clear... tender-hearted... leaving zero trace. That said...


Geese fly, motionless,

Leaving no trace, thought stream stops,

True self emerges.


一We Are the Practice Itself


Calligraphy Note: The kanji for "no trace" is "無痕" (Mūkon). The first character "無" (mu) means "nothing" or "non-existent," and the second character "痕" (kon) means "trace" or "mark." Together, they form the word "無痕" which means "no trace" or "without a trace."

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