For Daido Loori

Winding river, endless mountains—
the dark forest breathing mist.
There is no road into the sacred place.
It’s just that, the deeper you go,
the more wondrous it becomes.
John Daido Loori, Roshi

The verse above was taken from The True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dogen's Three Hundred Koans, translated by John Daido Loori and Kazuaki Tanahashi, with commentary and capping verses by Daido.   Abbot of the Zen Mountain Monastery, founder of the Mountains and Rivers Order in upstate New York and a world reknowned photographer, Daido passed away quietly in October 2009 after battling cancer for some time.

It is not easy to spin a net of words about someone who was a major influence on my mundane ramblings for years, and my wanderings in wild untrodden places with camera, notebook and brush. Daido was an ardent advocate for the earth, and he saw the perfect workings of the dharma in every mountain, river, forest and limpid stream he encountered - he wrote passionately of the "inherent intelligence of wildness and wild places". A copy of The Zen of Creativity has rested on my library table since it was published, and I still dip into the book for inspiration and rejuvenation. In it, Daido wrote:

"Creativity is our birthright. It is an integral part of being human, as basic as walking, talking, and thinking. Throughout our evolution as a species, it has sparked innovations in science, beauty in the arts and revelation in religion. Every human life contains its seeds and is constantly manifesting it, whether we're building a sand castle, preparing Sunday dinner, painting a canvas,walking through the woods or programming a computer. The creative process, like a spiritual journey, is intuitive, nonlinear, and experiential. It points us toward our essential nature, which is a reflection of the boundless creativity of the universe."

Arts such as painting, calligraphy, drama, music, poetry, the tea ceremony and flower arranging have been part of Zen practice for centuries, and they are treasured as as creative pursuits existing beyond the narrow and well traveled terrain of training and technique — "no mind", suchness, mystery, playfulness, and an awareness of the fleeting nature of life are understood to be as essential to full creative life as study and apprenticeship are for a beginning artist or monastic.

The Zen Mountain Monastery founded by Daido at Mount Tremper survives, and his portfolio comprises some of the most superb photographic imagery captured by one man and his camera in communion with the living world.