This Drifting, Wandering Life

September seems to be slipping by quickly, and the last few mornings have felt autumnal, with chill in the air, even as it warms in the middle of the day. I am running around trying to take care of last-minute things before flying to England for a month-long visit. It will be colder there, for sure, which I am not looking forward to.

September has also been the first month this year where I paid my rent at the beginning of the month and still had any money left in my bank account. I was never much for the pursuit of money (a little rabbit-hole reading yesterday morning brought me to this post, where I subscribe more to this reply to it; all found from this post). I have been consciously choosing poverty for the last fifteen years, since I gave up regular work to go to Tassajara. At Zen Center, my housing and food needs were taken care of, I had health insurance, and could still afford to buy myself some nice clothes, and tickets to England most years. Now that I am fending for myself, I am more or less on the same financial level, but it feels a little more precarious.

It is two years now since I started my transition out of Zen Center, and I have been reflecting on the ways I have been keeping myself afloat since then. Much of it has involved creating various forms of online presence: this blog, Thumbtack, Patreon, Meetup, Airbnb, Mailchimp, Eventbrite, working with different apps, signing up for Venmo, Square, Bill.com and other services in order to get paid. At the same time, my sense of what it means to be successful – or perhaps I should say credible – as a teacher depends on remaining grounded in reality and embodying a set of values that run counter to much of what online activity represents (we could argue about the merits of interconnectivity over the ether, but I would mostly plump for face-to-face transmission).

I still feel the twin poles of formal zen practice and being out in the world tugging me with different strengths at different times, and I understand this to be my current koan: what does it mean to be a priest out in the world? I always love putting on my robes, like I did for the Genzo-e last month, but as I always say, most people I teach these days, whether in corporate settings (such as I taught at yesterday) or the county jail (where I went on Monday to find the place on lock-down), could care less about the trappings. My job, such as I would care to define it for myself, is to cultivate my imperfect compassion and use it to help people avoid suffering.

The title for this post comes from the shukke tokudo (priest ordination – literally ‘leaving home, attaining the way’) ceremony. Last Sunday I rode over to Green Gulch to attend Kogen’s ordination, happy to have a reason to put on my white kimono and meet some zen friends, including some I did not expect to see there. At one point, while the ordinand’s head is being shaved, the ino, and then the assembly, chant, ‘Only the mind of a bodhisattva can cut through this drifting, wandering life and take the path of Nirvana. This virtue cannot be defined.’ At the beginning of the ceremony, Kogen bowed to his family and other benefactors, which traditionally would have been a way of saying goodbye to them as he entered the path of monastic training; in this case, he has a wife and daughter who are an integral part of his practice life.

All of which is perhaps a roundabout way of saying that I bow once again to my benefactors, as I try to figure out what it means to leave home, and return home; what the path of Nirvana looks like in the midst of this drifting, wandering life; and whether I have enough money to pay the rent in October and November with the amount I expect to come into my bank before then…

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Kogen, in the middle, with preceptors, the jiko and jisha.

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I have a number of pictures of Kogen and Lauren looking adorable together.

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Green Gulch was at its best on Sunday, with dahlias and monarchs in profusion.

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