Walking Like Lions

From time to time, Zen Center hosts venerable dignitaries from the Japanese zen establishment, and if the timing works out, they will be invited to give a talk. Usually they are quite formal and straightforward, expounding on the forms and merits of zazen, so when I saw that a rinzai teacher was scheduled to speak last Saturday, I felt I should go along, without having too many expectations.

In the event, the reverend Masaki Matsubara made quite an impression. He was much younger than I was expecting, for one thing, and also based locally, although he travels back to Japan frequently. He had the typical Japanese priestly sartorial elegance, though, with a splendid okesa, white kimono and bessu, a large mala wrapped around his arm, and a fan that ended up tucked into his sleeve. 

Sheets of paper had been handed out to the assembly with a couple of zen stories I knew, and some passages from Hakuin that I did not. As the reverend developed his theme, it was clear how he was using the Hakuin, bringing out the old master’s voice of dissent, as he put it, and reclaiming his radical tendencies, by extensively quoting from letters criticising the local nobility of that era for their waste of resources and lack of care for their fellow humans.

What would Hakuin do today, he asked, in a zen version of the Christian trope. We heard of the fundamental point of zazen, to be awake and compassionate, of not neglecting that zazen is a practice of self care, as well as something that allows us to develop and understand our moral imperative. In this way, he concluded, we can stand our ground, and when needed, walk like lions, to address the current injustices in the world.

If you have the time, I recommend that you watch the livestream recording, though it seems to cut off a few moments before the end, and if you do, I hope you find it as rousing and inspirational as I did on Saturday.

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