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#2186 - Tuesday, June 28, 2005 - Editor: Gloria Lee  

Love the moment,
and the energy of that moment
will spread beyond all boundaries.

     - Corita Kent

...Turning the light
to shine within,
turn it around again.

you can’t face it
or turn away from it.

The root of it.

Meet the Awakened Ancestors,
become intimate with the teachings,
lash grass into thatch for a hut
and don’t tire so easily.

Let it go,
and your life of a hundred years

Open your hands.

Walk around.


The swarm of words, and little stories are just to loosen you from where you are stuck.  

If you want to know
the one in the hermitage
who never dies,

you can’t avoid this skin-bag
right here.

Shitou Xiqien (700-790)      

posted years ago by Andrew McNab, editor emeritus  



Painted Rice Cakes by Eihei Dogen
translated by Yasuda Joshu and Anzan Hoshin
1999-2000 White Wind Zen Community

When all the Awakened Ones are realized through Awake Awareness, all things are Awake Awareness. Yet, and thus, there are particular things and minds. Although from the point of view of Awareness itself there are no things or minds, they are each the expression of Awake Awareness. Thus there is nothing that can obstruct Awakening. This is the clear and direct teaching of all the Ancestors.

Still, don't just try to practice by thinking yourself into the idea that everything is Awake Awareness. There is a saying, "If you penetrate one thing, you penetrate all things." Penetrating something is not a matter of opposing or removing how something appears in its unique character. And don't try to cook up some state of non-opposition because this is just another form of grasping. When your experience occurs just as it is, then you can use each thing, as it appears, to reveal what it actually is. This is how to "penetrate one thing" and through this "penetrate all things."

An old Buddha said, "Painted rice cakes do not satisfy hunger." From all directions, monks dressed in clouds and mist, those who are opening to Openness and renunciate disciples come to study this saying and all understand it according to their various capacities and strengths, some with faces like demons, some with heavenly bliss. Some are fat and some are thin. Throughout the past and right now, the Ancestors have taught this but people reduce it to mumbling in their forest hermitages. So, some people say that it means that studying the Discourses and Commentaries has nothing to do with opening to primordial Knowing and that they are "painted cakes that do not satisfy hunger". Others say that the Narrow Path and Vast Path teachings are separate from the path of complete and utter Awakening, that they are "paintings of rice cakes and cannot satisfy hunger."

This is a serious mistake. To think that the teachings of the Discourses are something other than the Way is itself incomplete and those who think in this way cannot transmit the complete Path but are just making a career out of selling the words of the Ancestors. "Painted rice cakes do not satisfy hunger" says the same thing as "Wrong action does not arise," "There is only the arising of benefit," "What is it that comes Thus?" or "At all times, each being expresses its totality." You can really only understand these statements through practising them.

Only a few have heard that "painted rice cakes do not satisfy hunger" and none have really understood what it meant. I've asked several of these skin bags about it and everybody was quite certain about it without even bothering to look into it. They were like someone overhearing a conversation that they were not involved in. You should understand that this "painted rice cake" is the face that you were born with and the Original Face you had before your parents were even born. A rice cake, although made of rice, is neither born nor unborn, neither exists nor does not. As a rice cake, it is the moment displaying itself as impermanence; and yet what it is as such never moves. It cannot be understood if it is only understood as something that comes and goes.

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  Those who have spent ten or twenty years brushing aside the weeds looking for the way and yet have not seen the buddha nature often say they are trapped by oblivion and excitement. What they don't realize is that the substance of this very oblivion and excitement is itself buddha nature.

- Kao-feng

From "Teachings of Zen," edited by Thomas Cleary, 1998.


The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

A review by Gloria Lee

This is one terrific movie I saw last night. A documentary that does far more than tell the story of a man at loose ends who begins simply by feeding a flock of wild parrots and thereby finds a purpose for his own life.  Yes, wild parrots can survive on their own in San Francisco, so other than taking in a few sick or injured birds, Mark Bittner was not needed. But the parrots eventually bring him everything he needs to be happy.  

When Mark begins identifying individual birds and naming them, his connection with the birds is reminiscent of Jane Goodall and her chimps. Someone with no visible means of support who devotes vast amounts of time to observing and documenting behavior and relationships among the birds could easily be labeled dysfunctional by our society. Mark describes himself as a "dharma bum" who came to San Francisco in the 70's, aspiring to be a rock musician after he gave up on being a writer. His favorite poet was Gary Snyder, who commented, "If you want to find nature, start where you are." So he did.  

We learn his story in small bits interspersed between observations about the pair bonding, squabbles and divorces among the birds, who are remarkably like us in many ways. Mark came to the Hill after a period of homelessness when he was hired to be a caretaker and cleaner for an elderly lady. He stayed on in the dilapidated cottage after she was replaced by a young couple in the main house. They explain letting him live there rent free for the next three years because of his work with the parrots. People give him better cameras and a computer to document his work. The Italian restaurant cook feeds him, the local pet store gives him food for the parrots, the tourists come to watch and ask questions about the parrots. While he is a very likable and gentle man, this recognition of the importance of his work by others is a sign that more is going on here than meets the eye. People sense this and want to honor it. Mark is already locally famous and written up in the newspaper by the time the documentary film maker shows up.  

In seeing the parrots through Mark's eyes, with that wonderful connection people can forge with animals, the film brings us to a similar point of deep caring and appreciation of them as well. But the real gift is having such an intimate glimpse into the heart of Mark Bittner. Not so much at loose ends as he first appears, Mark shyly reveals that he feels he is on a path of inner transformation. And he is deeply committed to this process in a spiritual way despite not understanding exactly where it is taking him. Without revealing the surprise ending to the film, I can say that Mark became a writer after all, and is currently on a book tour.    


About the Author

MARK BITTNER is the subject of a documentary film, also titled The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, directed by Judy Irving. The film qualified for consideration in the “Best Feature Documentary” category in the 2003 Academy Awards. Mark still lives in San Francisco on Telegraph Hill. Visit the book’s website at  and the film’s at 

Listing at Amazon has a book excerpt to read at bottom of "editorial reviews": Buy the Book from Amazon 


Director Judy Irving comments on the making of the film  

This film wouldn’t be a nature film. It wouldn’t be just a portrait of a person, either. Mark’s unlikely connection to wild animals in one of the densest, most expensive cities in the world was a unique tale, bent in unusual directions because of Mark’s non-careerist path and by the avian characters who unexpectedly flew into his life.

I started shooting just in time for a dramatic story to unfold: the final year of Mark’s life with the flock. The film had its own built-in beginning, middle, and end, not unlike fiction; it had comedy, drama, silliness and depth. It also changed my life. I had no idea when I started this film that it would become my best work. Although I’m not a New Age person, I have to admit that “parrot angels” kept turning up to fly the film along to completion. It has something to do with admitting who I am, and following my own path. I didn’t really believe this before, but I think it’s the way the universe must work.

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