The Dunedin Zen Group

Welcome to the web page of the Dunedin Zen Group. The DZG is committed to supporting Zen practice and training in Dunedin, and in NZ/Aoteaora. The group supports practice by arranging weekly practice sessions (zazen), as well as offering longer half day sits (zazenkai) and regular retreats (sesshin). We also have a small lending library. If you are interested in Zen, or in learning more you are welcome to contact us at the address below, or to come along on Wednesday night to our regular practice session. We meet at 7.00 pm at St Martins Anglican Church, downstairs at 194 North Road, North East Valley.   We ask $5, to help cover rental costs. And if this is your first visit please try to email us beforehand and come at least ten minutes early .              E-mail:

The group is a part of the Diamond Sangha, and we are fortunate to have Glenn Wallis Roshi available as a Zen teacher to guide and support practice. While we practice in the Diamond Sangha Zen lineage, everyone is welcome and we regularly have friends from other traditions sit and practice with us.


For 2016 Wednesday evening Zazen is held at St Martins Anglican Church, downstairs at 194 North Road, North East Valley. We ask $5, to help cover rental costs. It’s good to arrive a few minutes early so we can be under way by 7.00pm.

2018 December Sesshin Teisho Recorded

These are 5 Teisho from our recent 7 day Sesshin on Quarantine Island by Glenn Wallis Roshi.

Wumenkuan case 3 Juzhi Raises One Finger

Wumenkuan case 25 Yangshan Takes the Third Seat

Hekiganroku case 57 Zhaozhou’s Country Bumpkin

Hekiganroku case 83 Yunmen’s An Old Buddha and a Pillar Intersect

The Iron Flute case 10 Yaoshan Holds It

2018 Sesshin Registration

The dates for our Rohatsu Sesshin this December are Friday November 30th through to Friday December 7th. Our Sesshin is held on Quarantine Island in the beautiful Otago Harbour.

We depart from Back beach Port Chalmers at 4.30pm or from the Portobello Marine Aquarium a little later. We depart Quarantine Island at 3pm December 7th. If you are arriving by air, let us know your arrival details so we can arrange or at least coordinate transport for you.

Sesshin is a period of intensive Zen meditation practice. It usually isn’t framed as a retreat as it is a practice of full engagement with current experience, whether our practice be the breath, shikantaza, or koan practice.

Sesshin on the Island is fully residential and self sufficient. Sesshin on Quarantine Island  is a unique and powerful experience enhanced by the wildlife of the harbour, the elemental nature of the setting and the strong sustaining power of Sesshin form of people practising together.


Registration form for 2018 Sesshin on Quarantine Island is available by clicking here

For further information  for our 2018 Rohatsu Sesshin in December see the links below or please email

Sesshin Orientation  is available to download. This gives a broad outline of what Sesshin is about and what you can expect.

For information on Quarantine Island itself and a great 3D modelled video by drone of the Island go to their website here.

Self and Not

Zazenkai talk August 2018


Here we are sitting zazen, not doing something. Letting breath be breath.Zazen although not something to create struggle over, still, isn’t easy.

We give up our habit of being somebody, of being a me, and exchange that positioning for a single breath. We exchange our sense of me for the quiet of the room; for the Tui’s song; the feeling of sore legs.

We take up the way of allowing what is to step forth, regardless of form, shape, colour, sensation and indeed our feeling about it and our opinion about that! We learn to trust not having to insert ourselves into the picture of perception.

When we sit with the breath, this single current breath is all. We allow the full compass of this breath, its live habitation as this very body. Taste the breath in its presence and flow as it arises in its full cycle of uniqueness.

The swell of the breath in, the non movement as the body transitions toward release, the ease of the breath escaping, the so soft urge to move to draw in. The unique movements of body expressing as breath.

When we have honed the meditative skills of being able to have attention remain on a single matter, through this sustained attention we unite with breath, we become intimate with breath having left ourselves aside. In this way we practice beneath the level of our overt concerns about ourselves and find a place of rest, of openness, of easeful arising with no need to be.

At first when we practice, and through the busyness of life, this territory can seem very far off, or indeed entirely cut off from us by our swiftly rejuvenating self concerns. After all that’s how we ensure our sense of self continuity. But with faithful practice this eases and we ease. Breath breathes, body accommodates air, we find our place with and as all things as they are.

Without Zen practice this is territory is hard to even imagine, particularly as such imagining still centers on self concern. Thus already when we set about imagining these things the image is all set wrong.

Practice brings personal experience beyond thought, beyond conjecture, beyond hope even. We simply cede to this current breath, to what steps forth as the immediate, this immediate expression of the current.

We form ourselves, as we must do in order to be viable social creatures. We must form ourselves in order to represent ourselves to others as well as our self. No one else forms the ‘me’ of myself. This is of our making through self-narration, relating to the locus of experience to this one here, to give ourselves a point of reference in our experience even our thinking. It allows us a shortcut to append whole processes of perception and orientation that occur to this me, with the outcome that we don’t have to repeat these processes every time we encounter a situation, we not only remember the outcome of how it was last time, but critically we relate it to ourselves and so we know what to do for ourselves rather than have it as some academic conjecture.

However, because we form ourselves we are also quite deluded about ourselves too. We form ourselves and then rightfully attached to this sense of self and its fictional territory of me. And this is entirely natural. As social creatures we need to be able to form ourselves to be someone, to present as someone. If we are not someone in this sense, an identifiable person, how could we live as social beings? Without created self this simply couldn’t happen at all.

Even animals (including you and me) have self, but depending on the animal it can be more or less developed. We have developed self along with other tools of intelligence to such a degree that we are also self referential and even self-conjectural, for example this very talk.

We use many tools an events to form ourselves and to continue to refine this self we form. We use identity, how we know about our individual arising; we use personality and its continuance, to reassure our own self continuity; we use memory and narration to recount who we are and to shore up the story our life and life experience.

We use sovereign events to hold to being a self; thinking, body, mood; things which we are solely privy to as individuals. All of this is like a constellation of events that dance around a central core, a core which is entirely empty; empty of anyone at all. It is this space into which we plant the ‘me’ of my self. After all who is it that experiences these matters, who is listening to this talk? Not someone else, so it must be me. We assume ourselves into being.

There is no other option here, no other punter in view, no other to clearly locate experience to. There is nothing that is solid and enduring and singularly isolate that can be subject to this experience; that we can say is having the experience of listening, or reading. I wonder why that is?

So naturally experience is allowed to be appropriated by this sense of self, the closest element to be found to stand in for me myself. This sense of self becomes a matter to continuously uphold, after all nothing else creates it but our referral and relating to it as if it is the real solid perpetuating me.

We reflexively refer to ourselves and relate to ourselves for the very purpose of maintaining a relatable image at the center of the constellation of events. An impression to make sense of experience as me experiencing. But with practice another option that is not either me nor sense of self can arise as vast as the constellation of experience itself.

As Dogen says, ‘When the self advances and confirms the ten thousand things that is delusion. When the ten thousand things advance and confirm themselves, this is realization.’

Before this matter arises personally though, we suffer the repercussions of creating and forming our selves where there is only space in the center of everything being in flow. We have self doubt, we sabotage ourselves, we hurt others, we withdraw our interest for others and our self. We even withdraw our care for ourselves and those around us; we worry about how others see us, and what will happen in the future. We try to manipulate others so we feel safe, or acknowledged, or superior or even inferior. It seems our lot to bear these things, and here we are, just trying to get by as best we can. The troubles we suffer through come from being required to maintain being someone when fundamentally there is no me to exist as the center to our life, and never has been.

Denying or trying to cut off from our self doubt, our failings our manipulations is to keep them close but unseen. Better to let them be as they are, and include them as the experience of this one here, so we can make better use of the opportunity and gift of life, whatever this is. In practice we let the difficulty be what is it, and not what we imagine it to be. When we look at pain and suffering, the real difficulty often turns out to be not what we are dealing with but the fears around it, the ‘what ifs’ of our imagination no matter how well informed. In such speculations and attempts to preempt the future we at least have ourselves, yes? Well that is exactly what such speculation is seeking to shore up in the face of a whole universe constantly pointing out that this isn’t so. And we are very very good at it.

Our full range of responses to this very upside down and unexpected situation that we inherit as life, our life, come at a cost. The cost is that we use our generated self to attach to and thus secure for ourselves a sense of separation from the world, others, and even ourselves, that assures us that we are the self that we uphold for all, including ourselves, to see.

So my point is that this is a conundrum, an upside down situation were in order to be we betray our birthright of inherent clarity and this cannot be fixed or resolved through thinking or re arranging perception, but through practice. My point is to assure you that you are doing fine, even as it doesn’t feel like it. This is a ridiculous situation…

You are truly alright as you are and with all your life’s difficulties are perfectly formed for practicing the Zen way, as you. Only as you can you find the treasure of the mystery of this one here, the one that sees and hears, with nothing but the revolving constellation of the current to show for it.

© Glenn Wallis 2018

2017 Rohatsu Sesshin Teisho and Talk

Recorded Teisho and a written Talk from our Rohatsu Sesshin last December, 2017

Teisho written – Wumenkuan: case 30. What is Buddha?

Teisho recorded – What is this? 

Teisho recorded – Wumenkuan: case 2. Baizhang’s Fox 

Teisho recorded – The Iron Flute: case 1. Manjusri Enters the Gate

Teisho recorded – Hekiganroku: case 78. Touzi’s Buddhas Voice

Teisho recorded – Kahawaii Koans: case 1. The Woman in the Hermitage 

Talk written- Orienting the Zen Landscape

The Record of Dongshan, fascicle 30

[Teisho given during Zen Group of WA Sesshin in Perth, WA. January 2017]


When Shenshan had picked up a needle to mend clothes, the Master said, “What are you doing?”

“Mending.” answered Shenshan.

“In what way do you mend?” asked the Master.

“One stitch is like the next.” said Shenshan.

“We’ve been travelling together for twenty years and you can still say such a thing! How can there be such craftiness?” said the Master

“How then does you’re the venerable monk mend?” asked Shenshan.

“Just as though the entire earth were spewing flame.” replied the Master.

Just as though the entire earth were spewing flame! A little daunting isn’t it?

Tonight’s koan is taken from the Record of Dongshan, a collection of 119 portrayals of dialogue and behaviour between teacher and student of the Way. For the first few fascicles Dongshan was the student, and later he was the teacher.

Dongshan lived in 9th century China and together with his disciple, his premiere disciple Caoshan are seen as the origin of the Caodong, or Soto, school of Zen. During Sesshin we chant the historical line of the Soto and Caodong ancestry in our first round of sutra dedications each morning and include Dongshan Liangjie out of recognition of his place in our lineage.

Caoshan Benji is remembered for his immense contribution and collaboration with Dongshan in the Five Ranks and the promulgation of that work. However the Caodong line however didn’t come down through Caoshan but through Dongshan’s other senior disciple, Yunju Daoying. Yunju’s was the only line from a total of 25 Dharma Heirs that continued through the centuries and reaches us here in this hall today.

So I want to look for a moment at what is a koan?

A koan is a direct invitation to mystery. The mystery of the juxtaposition of here you are, but who are you! Well, who are you? Really! Who are you? Beyond your story your labels your ideas, your identifications, who is that sits on your mat?

It is clear that we do. And yet when we try and find that one we seem to be able to only touch the things we seem to know about that one. This is part of the mystery that we come as, that we inherit.

Formally a koan is a point of inquiry that the Zen student wields to batter down or ease open their own delusions. Sometimes it can feel like battering at a door or a brick wall, only to find a gentle easing open rather than a shattering. Sometimes it’s a shattering. There is no fixed way here, just as there is no fixed way to you. We are organic. There is no fixed way. You are you.

So a koan is a tool to work with our delusion.

In the usual sense of delusion is ‘false thinking’ or ‘false confidence’ or at least it is in colloquial New Zealand language. “He’s absolutely deluded if he thinks he’ll make that shot”

In Zen delusion is particular. Delusion is the mistaken apprehension that I am in here and not I is out there beyond this border of skin. And that’s our genuine impression, it’s not an intellectual proposition. If I sit here and close my eyes, my kotsu sitting on the floor in front, I’m not aware of the shape and size of the kotsu, it’s independent. All the while we are utterly the body, the arising sensation events.

Even though this is normal, it’s the way we are as people; it’s also how we feel about ourselves. We feel like we are here.

There are a few very unfortunate instances were this is not the case but generally as people we have the feeling that we are here.

And we do need a border. If we are to uphold ourselves as discrete, distinct and specific, we need to be able to delineate and mark out a border to ourselves.

This isn’t haphazard, this is functional, it has purpose; we are social creatures. This didn’t just happen by accident I’m sure. We do have a border and a region that we have sovereignty over.

And that sense of sovereignty is over the aspects that we come as, that we are solely privy to. Aspects that nobody else has access to as this specific individual, you. You are the only one who feels your little finger sensation. You’re the only one who is aware of your thoughts. You may not be the only one who weathers the heat but you are the only one who feels it as your body. As we all do .

No one else feels the ache in your hands, the ache in your back, even as their hands ache or back hurts. We are sovereign in this territory.

Because this is sovereign territory, we identify with it as me. Naturally. What else are we going to do with it? We’re not going to think, ‘Oh I think this might be ..(not your name).. here.’ No. It’s clearly you, because it’s no one else. We say its me because it’s clearly no one else. Not because it is you, but because it is clearly no one else.

But this is delusion. It is not that way, it just seems so. Delusion or delude comes from Latin meaning ‘to play false’. Like to act falsely. To make a play of being false, to act falsely. So to treat all that seems to be inside of the skin covering as you is a false act. But a useful one. We are social creatures, we need it to be this way. But it’s a false act. Its partial, it’s misleading.

A koan is a tool we use to personally resolve this misleading impression.

Imagine if you could come into a Zen group and sit down and the teacher could snap the fingers and the misleading impression was gone and you’re enlightened on the spot. It is immediately clear that there is no one here and no need for anyone to be here and everything trucks along as if nothing had changed. How on earth would you deal with that?

Practice is not just to realize ourselves, it is to hold what we come to realize. This is really, really important.

So a koan is a tool we have to resolve this misleading impression we have of who we are, what we are, as this one here. It doesn’t resolve as some special way of thinking about ourselves and things, it really doesn’t. It doesn’t matter how careful and developed our analysis is, thinking won’t free us. It’s not personal, it’s just the wrong ground to work for resolving our sense of separateness.

And it doesn’t matter even if you have the ‘right answer’ to the koan. That still won’t cut it. In a sense a koan has no right answers, maybe even only wrong answers. At least it seems like that when we hear, “Not like that!” Dingggg-a-liinnngggg dingggg dingggg dinggggg…. And out we go, again.

But a koan has a point of resolution, and that resolution can be expressed. People mistakenly think that a koan is to be answered, like finding the answer to a clue; but the koan is there only for its resolution, which is your resolution. A koan works toward resolution; the resolution of you. And when the koan is resolved we can express that resolution to some degree for ourselves, which is the work of the dokusan room.

This is not an easy process, but to does not mean that it requires us to be hard in response. The difficulty of the koan is not something to harden ourselves against, but rather it leads to a softness, a permeability. However it does however require one thing, and one thing only, and this is absolutely unerring. It requires you and things to be exactly as you are as they are. Exactly. This is the gate of the Way. We don’t go about trying to make ourselves better in some contrived way so we can practice properly, we just know what to do (when we practice) and do it.

Every koan that is worthwhile stops us in our tracks. Completely stopped, utterly stuck! This mile high impenetrable barrier, being stopped, is the treasure and virtue of koan practice. This is where we do work. We don’t do the work that blossoms in realization by passing koans, we do the work by being stuck. It doesn’t feel like it but it is that Way. We are stopped because there is a fundamental barrier or impediment in ourselves. Actually not in ourselves, it is ourselves, our impression of who we are. There is a definite impediment and working with a koan is the work of resolving that impediment, resolving that barrier.

However it’s not like we know what we are resolving, we don’t. We can’t see it, we can’t apprehend it, we can’t really think about it, at least not usefully. We just know that we’re stuck and we’re trying and we just don’t get it. It’s difficult. It really does require perseverance.

What we resolve in terms of a barrier is a sense of inherent separation or another element that we hold as being necessary to being ourselves. This is not the realm of psychoanalysis or trying to figure something out. This is very very organic.

We can’t really get rid of these elements and attributes we hold to be necessary to be ourselves, we really can’t. And we don’t need to. It’s not about clearing out all the little edges and assumptions so you somehow cease to exist, not at all.

We can’t get rid of these things we hold to as me mainly because they’re imagined. There really is nothing to get rid of except our recreating what we hold ourselves to be. If we get rid of anything, we get rid of, or cease to have, the need to keep recreating ourselves. And in this way we become no one to be, which curiously leaves us most genuinely and freely being ourselves.

There is no one else to be here but you. And that doesn’t change, even if as you do. One thing we learn through zazen, through koan work, is how not to pick up these elements that we identify as me.

This applies to no longer playing the same story of how that person doesn’t like me, because of an argument 3 years ago, that always gets played each time that person is in our presence, as well as simply not redoing conversations we had or rehearsing ones we haven’t had or expect to have.

We become content with not having to play with the stories, the impressions; we become ok with not continuing to glorify them, with having to do something with them, and by inference, with our me.

We don’t need to fix that part of ourselves in some way. But if we discontinue the aggrandizing of self by no longer picking it up to play with, whatever it is, then what’s left?

The difficulty is that all this work is done in the dark. All we know when we’re sitting is our zazen, that we haven’t passed our koan, and that it’s difficult, and that I’m just not getting anywhere with it. That’s how the perception is for us. But if we’re applying ourselves to the practice, things are happening in the subterranean strata, underground. And they do happen.

Fruits of practice are real. When people absolutely fall in love with breath practice it’s beautiful. Their life changes. They have a resource to calm themselves when things are difficult, and often find a real peace that they never thought possible through the very functional work of breath practice. And it works because we are organic. We’re biological. It’s functional.

But still the work of our zazen happens predominantly in the dark. That is how the work proceeds. So how do we proceed? How do we go on with our lives and with our practice? This is what Dongshan is pressing Shenshan for when he asks “In what way do you mend?” How are you with what arises as sore back, what comes as lunch, with the cooling evening the sound of voice, the ache of knees? How are you with that?

Shenshan responds honestly and without artifice or craftiness when he says, “One stitch is like the next.” He’s mending, maybe mending a travelling bag or mending robes, stitching, one stitch like the next. It’s good for sewing to be regular. It is stronger when regular and doesn’t distract the eye. It looks right. The regularity is in harmony with the circumstance.

We keep our zazen regular. The regularity of each breath being the only breath. There is the regularity of raising the inquiry of koan fresh and live, time and time again. There is a regularity that we don’t vary the practice we meditate with. When there is regularity then there is deepening. If we’re always jumping about, really all we do is empower our own self centricity. If its time to change, talk with the teacher in dokusan and work it out there.

In our case Shenshan’s response is also honest. He’s not seeking to make himself look more adept or sophisticated than he is. He’s very straight forward.

Zen is about trust. For instance trust in what is current, allowing what is current – allow, allow, allow. This is trust. For example, how do we allow this room, this space? We truly allow it by not requiring ourselves to be. We allow the room. Just the room. This room is real. We’re sitting here. Even though most of the time the eyes are down towards the floor were in a room. It’s spatial, it has dimension. The space in this room is as live as you are.

As much as Zen is about trust, trusting what is, allowing it o be as it is, it is also bout honesty. Honesty with ourselves and honesty with the world. When we are not honest we are playing falsely, we are perpetuating delusion.

If your honest response to Mari’s question last night, “Who are you?” is “I don’t know.” Then that ‘I don’t know’ is so much more valuable than some conjured insight, or contrived certitude. The Way is straight ahead.

Honesty is the Way and it is how the Way flourishes among us. This is not the apparent honesty of declaring our view, it’s the honesty of not holding to the conceit of separateness. The conceit of me in here, and everything not me out there.

When we hold on to our self in here and everything else out there, all this talk starts to sound so special, ‘the whole earth spewing flame!’

A monk said, “Everywhere [people] just speak with their mouths. How do you instruct people?”

The master kicked over the censer with his foot and pointed to it.

The monk said, “That is it, isn’t it!” –meaning your foot poking out kicking over the incense holder, there is the great matter right there, that’s the very expression of Buddha Nature itself, right there!

Zhzaozhou responded, “You got a good look at my foot.”

-The Record of Joshu, James Green, # 271 p 93

No conceit, no view, the foot is at the end of the leg. But good to notice that Zhaozhou doesn’t dissuade the monks view either.

Dongshan seems dissatisfied with Shenshan’s expression of how it is for him. In fact Dongshan scolds Shenshan, “We’ve been travelling for twenty years together and still you can say such a thing! How can there be such craftiness?”

Pointing to delusion can be hard. Sometimes we do get a rather challenging sideways poke in dokusan. It may seem pretty uncomfortable at the time, but it can open the Way for us, or not. It’s not really up to us as the agency here.

Shenshan continued, “How then does the venerable monk mend?” he asks. Sometimes it’s highly worthwhile batting a challenge back and see what happens. “What would you do?’ “How would you say it?” It’s creativity after all. Dongshan responds, “Just as if the whole earth were spewing flame!”

Wow, that must really be something! Maybe in the pitch dark of night he could still see his sewing with all that flame about. It conjures up massively heroic images of what it must be like. A part of us responds to these stories with, “Oh, so that’s how it will be. And by inference, ‘that’s so much better than and a world away from sitting through a talk, from this back pain, from having to shift about a little, from life’s dissatisfactions, from our own dissatisfaction. It’d be much better surely!’

But what if Dongshan’s ‘as though the whole earth were spewing flame’ what if this is absolutely no different at all to Shenshan’s ‘one stich is like the next.’? What if they’re one and the same? What if this (clap) is the entire earth spewing flame. What if the fact of lifting a glass or a spoon to your lips at supper time is the fact of the entire earth spewing flame? And that’s just the way it is.

Regardless of the content each moment is here as you.

There is no good or bad in such a thing, there is no bigger or smaller in such a thing.

How big are you? Listen! Listen!

There you are. If it’s not apparent it doesn’t mean that it’s not apparent. It can be that in such a moment we are so taken up enough with ‘the current’ that there is no one left to say, “Oh!”

Working in practice is not about vigorously hunting each moment; that adds a sort of blocking effort. It can be softer than this.

Every moment perennially rising for you, as you, but that is saying too much. Actually every moment claims you and you disappear into that claiming. And we don’t notice. In the disappearing we’ve lost the resources to notice.

Koan work shifts us a little, so we no longer have to say, ‘It shouldn’t be like this. It should be something different.’ It just takes a glance to see, we are empty beyond our borders even whilst we are ourselves. This is what this is. This is where you are. It cannot be passed on, it’s too late for that, it is already so. This is the mystery, so we practice relinquishing to the current moment. Being claimed, disappearing into that claim, losing ourselves, remembering ourselves, practicing. As if there were someone to disappear.

Why is it when you look, you only find story, preference, a wall, flowers, air conditioning, a warm evening. Why is that? I wonder.

© Glenn Wallis 2017