‘You may think that you cannot express yourself within a particular form, but when we are all practicing together, strong people will express themselves in a strong way and kind people will express themselves kindly. When we pass the sutra cards along the row during service, you each do it in your own way. The differences among you are easy to see because the form is the same. And because we repeat the same thing over and over again, we can understand our friends’ ways eventually. Even if your eyes are shut, you know, “Oh, that was so-and-so.” This is the advantage of having rules and rituals.’ (Not Always So)
This paragraph resonates with me very strongly. I often speak about how we learn each others’ ways when living in community, and how it most often does not depend on spoken interaction. The example given of the sutra cards especially makes me chuckle: in one of my stays at Tassajara I read An Infinity of Little Hours, (if you don’t manage to read the book, there is always the movie, though I remember thinking at the time that it moved a little too fast for my liking) and remember a passage where one of the Carthusian brothers, who spend far more time in silence than we did at Tassajara, says something like, ‘I can tell Brother Patrick doesn’t like me – did you see the way he passed me the prayer book?’
I also remember how it was possible, when living at Tassajara, to know who was walking towards you on the path when you could barely make out their features, or to see who was on the engawa around the zendo when all you could see beneath the drum were their feet.
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