Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Elders walk to the Gardens of Stone

The yatra for the elders in our community took place last Sunday in windy conditions. Despite that, the group opted to walk along the ridge- top at Newnes plateau, trusting me when I said that the destination was rather good. "But be mindful of each and every step!"

We had the good fortune to have Donald Elniff on the walk with us. We did tai ch'i with him in a clearing beside a huge old tree. It was a skilful way in to Broad Mind, the mind that is spread right across the body. And to be taught moves such as 'flowing over a waterfall' ( I think that's right) , and to be centred in the dan t'ien, helped to locate us right where we were, in Mingaan country.

I found this track with the help of my good friend Kate Litchfield (below).
It is discouraging to see the degradation caused by trailbikers on this ridge. The tracks weave in and out, and the rubbish carelessly tossed aside is an indicator of the lack of genuine connection to the land - it is only there for your recreational pleasure. Ok - that's my rave - I could also say that I experienced aversion and a hot series of thoughts when I saw the damage.
But then there is also this rusted twisted fender, some decades later...

So many delights along the way; I think I saw a flame robin.
and I loved the rivulets running down the road.

What else can I add? It was a terrific group of people. Other animals had been trotting along the road too, as we saw from the tracks and prints in the sandy soil. Perhaps dingos - a kangaroo - a large lyrebird, with its distinctive back claw print.

Oh - another total joy - pagoda daisies.

There are some very good websites which can show you some of the longer yatras that have taken place in Australia. Try, and have a look at the art works which have been inspired by the walks. Also have a look at About Yatra, Carol Perry's piece is a clear explanation of what we are connecting with when we walk silently and mindfully with each other, in country. At the dharma gathering ( see for the link) she leads a yatra to the beach.
Here is the link to the Encounter programme on ABC Radio National, which featured yours truly and my collaborator in April, Gary Gach, and others. The subject was Buddhist poetry.

Taking time
to sniff a boronia
I make myself late

Sunday, September 25, 2011

ABC interview

Small biplane
dragonfly tries
to find the moon

Recently ABC radio interviewed me for their programme "Encounter". The programme was about Buddhist poetry and I was one of the poets, along with Gary Gach, Jane Hirschfield, Tash Sudan, and Bill Porter. I took Kerry Stewart the producer on a ginko along a ridge in the Blue Mountains, talked haiku. You can find this programme by going to the ABC website , look for Radio National , then go to 'Encounter', and thence to Buddhist Poetry in the index. Wish I knew how to link it to this blog.
Your chance to go for a ginko wander is in 2 weeks, Sat October 8. What a good way to forget the woes of the world for a while!

Yellow inside
the broken egg
beneath the tree

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


creek's mirror:
rain circles in the sky,
the currawong call.

Christopher McLean

What a beautiful haiku, suggesting so much, and across the different senses. It lingers. Christopher wrote this at the playshop with myself and Gary Gach, back in April.

But now the sap is rising - my peach tree is giddy with blossoms - hover flies and bees are drunk with the amount of burrowing into blooms! Insects are re-appearing, wattle trees are gorgeous in their Tour de France yellows, birds in their mad mating dashes are here ..... gone! And splashes of warm days amid the occasional frost all make for renewal, our creative juices rise up. So set forth with me in October , when I will again be offering a ginko at Lawson in conjunction with Ben Roberts café.
Sat October 8, with meditation beginning at 8:30 a.m. in the Guide Hall, and then the playshop will begin at 9:30 a.m. at Ben Roberts, where we’ll have a civilized morning tea to begin our look at how to express spring. The ginko (haiku walk) will proceed from there, no need to hop into a car first.
Main details:
• Sat October 8th, 9:30am - 2 pm.
• $100 (conc. avail.)
• children over 8 years welcome
• lunch at Ben Roberts café ($12.50) optional. Bookings essential
• Book in by September 9th, numbers limited
• meditation ( optional) before and afterwards

A recent haiku.…

Bert’s old fence
wire slackened and curling out
cannot hold the wind


I will again be offering a Blue Mountains yatra, a day of mindful walking. The date is October 22, and I was out and about, looking for a secluded but well-formed , gentle yet spectacular, warm but not too hot, trail for meditators and poets alike. And I found it!
  • meet Linden railway station northern carpark, 8a.m.
  • $20 to cover costs
  • walking meditation
  • seated meditation, swimming meditation as well!
  • for people of middlin' levels of fitness
I am also going to offer a yatra for elders, on Sunday 9 October. The walk will be about 2 to 3 hours in length and easy. We will be most fortunate in doing tai ch'i with teacher Donald Elniff. He has spent decades of learning this movement art from great teachers in Taiwan, and now teaches in the upper mountains. And, as always, we will meditate in nature. The track I have in mind is in Lithgow near the Newnes plateau. Because there are 2 small challenging sections gradient -wise, ( that is to say, they go up) after a creek crossing, it is a Grade 1-2 walk. Otherwise the walk is on a well-formed track along a creek, with gorgeous cliffs either side. It is close to the town, so those people who want to catch a train there and back, will have no transport hassles.

  • $20
  • walking, meditation, tai ch'i
  • easy grade walk
  • bring lunch and morning tea
  • meet 9 a.m. Lithgow Station north side
Please give me a call or email about any of these offerings. Gassho, D

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

May yatra

Sydney was experiencing cold windy weather, the week of the yatra. And so it was, on Saturday May 14. The wind was whipping through the carpark at Wentworth Falls, so we wanted to get going as soon as we could. My car had a little connniption in the battery department, but after we connected it via jumper leads to Jeremy’s car, all was well and we drove to the trackhead without incident. I had been anticipating traffic on the road from the North Face 100 km endurance race, but that didn’t manifest till the afternoon.
The track-head is about 600 metres above sea-level, and it was sheltered, so it was a relief to be out of the cold. Nevertheless the cold had penetrated my bones so I set a fairly cracking pace. We set off as a silent group of 8 walkers at 9:25 a.m.
We were walking along an out -of- the -way but well maintained fire trail. There were no other people on the track all day. I was looking out for the fungi which had been such a feature of the track a few weeks previously. But they were almost all shrivelled back into the earth from whence they came - fruit of the threadlike mycelium.
I feel passionately that students of the dharma do better if they use their bodies well, and if stretching and exercise is incorporated as a formal part of any programme. This is the case whether the main focus is sitting meditation or walking. Sitters get sore knees; walkers get sore backs, shoulders and feet. Consequently I led a short stretching session once we had walked for about 15 minutes and were warm. I had been to a retreat with Kit Laughlin and Patrick Kearney in April, so had a few novel stretches up my sleeve. Although the walk was an easy gradient, it was long, so I wanted us all to get the best out of our bodies and place each step with care and mindfulness.
We made a few stops along the way to pay attention to the forest with particular senses. Then at about 11: 30 a.m., we caught a glimpse of Burragorang dam, and McMahon’s point.
But only at the rock platform 15 minutes later could we also see the surrounding landmarks, and the upper reaches of the dam where it is clearly a river, the Cox’s, making it’s serpentine way between the hills. It was sad to have to report that this rock, which is a rather important Gundungurra site, had been damaged when a bulldozer drove straight across it some time before. The driver had not been told to avoid it by the relevant government authority - the National Parks and Wildlife Service. I had met the bulldozer driver previously on the road, and he seemed a really decent chap who would not want to damage heritage. I invited the group to remove their shoes and walk the way that Gundungurra did in country - with bare feet. The sandstone felt cold underfoot.

We each found possies out of the wind and to eat our lunch. While I looked out at the Wild Dogs way in the distance, and Mt. Mouin, I remembered that all of those peaks were named Meeouwin by early Gundungurra informants. But somehow that was corrupted to Mouin, and that name was only applied to the peak next to Medlow Gap, which is shaped a like a fedora and stands apart. Those who have the power, get to name the landscape.
We could not stop as long as I would have liked, because of the wind. To keep us warm I added an extra 30 minutes of walking - sorry Fran!
Along the ridge there are stretches of beautiful groves of angophoras.
The walk back is usually a fairly direct affair I find. When you’re riding a horse, and you’re going home, all it wants is to be back in its home paddock. We stopped for a sharing circle - and sat in the sunny spots created by the cleared area underneath the power-lines, to have afternoon tea. The lines buzzed in a strange way - it is almost an eerie sound that emanates from them ( does electro-magnetic radiation also emanate?) as though from another world, whereas in fact it is the sound made by the burning of coal and boiling of water. Natural - and not natural.
When we were nearly ‘home’ I showed the group what lycopodium looks like. They look like a kind of moss, and this is in fact their family. In the carboniferous period, these plants were as large as trees. They are from an ancient plant family, the club mosses.
Back at the cars, some expressed regret that the walk was over - some relief - some commented that, in silence, we formed a group rather than a number of individuals. Cath was deeply enamoured of the angophoras - and along the ridgetop there is one stretch where many dwarfs wiggle their way out of poor shallow soils.
We were back at Wentworth Falls before 5 pm, and in time to reward ourselves with hot chocolate and chips at a local café.

This walk was 17 km long. I’m encouraged to offer another yatra later in the year for a similar level of fitness, though I would also like, if there is enough interest, to run a yatra for those who could only manage a small easy walk. For unwell, unfit or elderly people, I would be happy to offer a short yatra, which might incorporate more standing and seated meditation . Please email me if this would be your style, and if there are enough people I’ll organise it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Poetry reading on Friday night 20th May

I will be reading some poems along with Pip Griffin (verse novel "Ani Lin") at the Sydney Zen Centre on Friday 14th May, starting at 7:30 p.m. I'll be reading my "Tao -Jones Indexes" which was shortlisted in the Newcastle Poetry prize in 1999 and published in the anthology. Also some other things. Pip's verse novel is a beautiful narrative set in the southwest corner of China around the turn from the 19th into 20th century. Be there 7:20 pm for a 7:30 start - we will begin with a period of zazen ( meditation).
The zendo is in Annandale at 251 Young St, on the corner with Arguimbeau St. The SZC women's group will provide refreshments afterwards. No charge.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Autumn Rain

30th April dawned dry, but the week had been wet and the forecast was not promising. Undaunted, about seven or eight meditators converged on the Guide Hall at Lawson to begin the day. I felt quite nostalgic, as this was the venue for the zen group that I led a few years back. And there was the Queen above the door - appropriate given that the nuptials of her grandson were broadcast the night before.
At Ben Roberts café there were ten of us, enjoying their atmosphere and delights. As we sat there cosily drinking beverages and listening to Gary talk about the breath and writing, I noticed the rain gradually pull up its chair outside. When it came time for the ginko, two people elected to observe nature from the verandah of ‘Heatherbrae’, a grand old place which the Council intends to spruce up for community use. But the rest of headed out in rain garments of various sorts. We walked first along the commemorative walk of Honour Pde.

patches of sky

among soggy red leaves

 rain puddles

Brent Couper

I fairly quickly found that my pen wouldn’t work in the rain. So I had to follow my own advice about John Shaw Nielson, the poet jackaroo who would remember his poems and work on them in his head. I found it quite hard to do. Pre-literate peoples are very good at the act of remembering, but we have lost it. I love using my pen and the act of writing.

bright children’s toys
cupping endless rain...

Ruby Levy-Stephens

We walked on down to the creek, through a bush regeneration area. As leader I have to keep tabs on everyone, especially since there were a couple of roads and crossings to navigate.

Seven writers...
five writers...
the rain heavier.

We all turned back before I could take everyone onto the golf course and along the bush track. It was enough to have seen the stream, the trees, the rosellas and king parrots, listened to the drips on leaves and felt the squelch in the path.

Soft rain
hard asphalt -
drowned earthworms


After we'd consumed lovely hot drinks and juices back at Ben Roberts, we got to work on the hard part - which is, editing. Gary's idea was to put a haiku onto a whiteboard and allow everyone to ruminate on it. Verity and Margaret had done their writing on the verandah, and we began to look at one of Verity's poems to see whether there were too many words in it - how those words could be arranged - what order they came in - whether other words could be used. It was a fascinating exercise, and naturally the final version came down to the poet herself.

pink sock
vacant verandah

Verity Roberts

We workshopped a poem of Ruby's , about the parrots flying out of a tree. That haiku didn't come together - it was time to have lunch. Conversation around the table flew in all sorts of directions. We could now be as rowdy as other diners. I thoroughly enjoyed doing this work in Ben Roberts, with its art works everywhere, and the convivial style of meeting and eating. Thanks to Carolynne and her staff for their hospitality , great food, and especially to Carolynne for her enthusiastic encouragement of the idea.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

yatra May 14

‘Yatra’ is a sanskrit word meaning pilgrimage. In 2010 I initiated and led the first Blue Mountains yatra, and again I will lead a one day yatra to nowhere in particular. In our everyday lives we normally make a strenuous effort to choose those experiences, people and objects that will enhances our selves. We desire pleasantness. A yatra gives you a chance to experience the world just as it is. “The Great Way is not difficult: it just avoids picking and choosing.” (third zen ancestor, Seng -T’san). It is a chance to be fully in your life, step by step, moment by moment.
The area we will walk in, Kings Tableland, is rich in Gundungurra culture and history. It is quiet and remote though accessible by two-wheel drive vehicle. It will be a day of silent meditative walking, meditation in country and some interpretation. The walk is accessible to people of middlin' levels of fitness, as it is along fire trails.

when: Sat. May 14, 2011, from 8am to approx. 5pm

Meeting place: Wentworth Falls, Stockyard carpark 8am

cost: $20 to cover basic expenses + dana

gear: Vehicles needed. Bushwalking gear for autumn. I will send a list to walkers.

Purple irises
under powerlines -
neither good nor bad


BM yatra 2010

Upcoming Event: Ginko with Gary Gach

When Basho was in Matsushima (near Fukushima of tsunami / meltdown fate) on his long pilgrimage north in the late 1600’s, it was so beautiful he could not write a poem, but his disciple Sora wrote this:

In Matsushima / borrow a crane’s guise / cuckoo

The point is that the elegant crane would suit the surroundings more than the (admittedly tuneful) cuckoo, or hototgisu.
The events coming from that northern coast have been tragic, but I can only admire the resilient spirit of the Japanese people, their dignity in death and disaster, and their ability to help each other. There is a wonderful first hand account of this written by Ann Thomas, an Australian English teacher who lived, still does, in Sendai. You will find it on the website of “the Intelligent Optimist”.


One of the positives that she mentions, and you hear echoes of it here, in the disasters we in Australia have had recently, is that life is not mediated anymore, but is raw and immediate. That is one of the aspects of haiku that I try to convey - life and the natural world as it is. The writing comes from immediate experience, not just one’s head. In the forthcoming ‘playshop’ with Gary Gach, he and I will link writing practise to the practise of zen. This will be a meeting more akin to the haiku clubs of Japan - we will be meeting at Ben Roberts cafe in Lawson (yum!)

See his website at:

AUTUMN LIGHT: a how-to haiku ginko with Diana Levy and Gary Gach

Celebrate autumn with this special workshop for learning how to notice, experience, write, and share haiku. Not only one of the world's briefest literary forms (and the most well-known of the 21st century), haiku are also pure Zen. The way of haiku encourages and supports a genuine life, intimate with the heart of creation, training us in clear seeing and deep listening, intuitive wisdom and a warm heart. We'll begin with zazen (optional), then map the basics, take a relaxed haiku walk (ginko) right in Lawson's own splendid big backyard, share what we encounter, written and unwritten, then eat together. With haiku, we can learn how to make each word and moment count, sense our senses, harmonize perception and expression, train our attention and awareness. Recommended for all ages (8–108), no prior background; writers and nonwriters, practitioners and the merely curious.

Date and time: Saturday April 30th, 8:30 am to 2pm

Venue for zazen: Guide hall, 14 Honour Ave, Lawson, Blue Mountains. Some zafus provided, or BYOZ

Time/Venue for playshop: 9:30 am, Ben Roberts Cafe, 12 Blind St, Lawson

Cost: $90 , conc. avail., $30 deposit by April 23, numbers limited.

Lunch and morning tea at Ben Roberts café is included in the price ( gluten-free catered to).

Gary Gach is author of the bestselling Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Buddhism (Nautilus Award) and editor of What Book!? Buddha Poems From Beat to Hiphop (American Book Award). In 2007 he was awarded the Northern California Book Award for Translation for his workings from Korean by Ko Un. Host of Haiku Corner, online, for Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, he's led haiku workshops at the Asian Art Museum, Beyond Baroque, Book Passage University, O'Hanlon Center for the Arts, Otis College of the Arts, Stanford Writer's Studio, Villa Montalvo, and San Francisco Zen Center. He hopes to write two or three immortal haiku in his lifetime.

a new day the clouds celebrate luminosity

That smoker / the volcano / a puff of cloud above Mt.Ngaurahoe, NZ