‘Devotion to Dharma is devotion to the Universe itself. The Universe has its order, its beauty, its laws. As Buddhists we seek to follow the rule of the Universe; we seek to enter into the order of the Universe itself. We devote ourselves to that order; we devote ourselves to the rule of the Universe, we devote ourselves to Dharma. Devotion to Dharma is the fundamental principle of Buddhism.’ (from a talk on the Precepts)
Here the word ‘devotion’ is used for what we often call ‘taking refuge’, and since that term can sometimes seem a little opaque, having a different translation like this can help with our understanding.
Sages and mediocrities. . .
Donkeys and horses . . .
All of them pull you down
When you hold
Even to the shadow of a single hair.
Be good, monks.
Live one life at a time
Without dualistic inertia.
Old masters know your sickness
And shed tears for you.
‘As far as I’m concerned if someone wants to call themselves a “Zen Buddhist” I will accept that, the same way I accept other people’s various chosen identities. I would expect a person who calls themselves a “Zen Buddhist” to regularly practice zazen and to be trying their best to follow the precepts. I’d expect them to know at least the basics of the philosophy & history of Zen Buddhism. On the other hand, I know people who call themselves “Zen Buddhists” and don’t do any of those things. I don’t bother arguing against them.
As far as beliefs, it really doesn’t matter. Buddhism is not a belief system. Having said that, I should add the caveat that there are forms of Buddhism in which they care very much what you believe. But in the Zen form of Buddhism beliefs are not considered to be very important. My teacher used to say, “I believe in the universe.”’(from Hardcore Zen)
I have a basic hesitation before calling anything ‘zen.’ I think that was one of the things I absorbed while training at Zen Center; while some people were very keen to attach labels and name things, those teaching there rarely, if ever, seemed to. That works for me (and I appreciate that it was called the Zen Center, and that I have tagged this post ‘zen’; the point stands).
‘A lot has been said about walking the path of awakening, so I’ll mention just one thing that relates to taking on a day-to-day practice of enlightenment. Especially early on, most of us still have a lot of self-centeredness, by which I mean belief in the absolute reality of the self and the primacy of its concerns and reactions. One of the bemusing results is that here we are, hoping for an event that by its nature is unprecedented in our lives, and we think we know best about how to make it happen. We try to exert control over the process, believing we can find our way to enlightenment through acts of will.
There is mad discipline and insane persistence on this path, but they’re in the service of something more fruitful than certainty, control, and will. They’re in the service of availability. Just keep showing up. Sit the meditation, attend the retreat, absorb the teachings, face the fear, feel the sorrow, endure the boredom, explore the doubt, stay open to the disturbing and also the knee-bucklingly beautiful in your life.’ (from Lion’s Roar)
Even after twenty years, I still don’t do Thanksgiving like those who were born here (it took me a few years to warm up to gratitude in the first place).
This year, though, I do have something to be particularly thankful for: a first Thanksgiving with my partner Caitlin and her dog Collin, who braved a flight over from Kansas a couple of weeks ago. As the two of us settle in together, I am happy that the apartment looks more like a home. We are buying a few new things and moving on a few old things; now there is a cosy fullness about the place. It has also been comforting to fill the fridge, with things for Thanksgiving dishes and other staples – even as we live in a neighbourhood where there are long lines for different food banks almost every day.
I wonder how it must have seemed for Collin, who has spent all his life in the midwest: one day he gets into a noisy, bumpy container, and later that day he ends up in a new space. His first act on coming in the door was to leap on the bed, where he felt safe. It took him a few hours to trust the long hallway, and he still has a tendency to want to go up a different staircase and stop at a different floor to the one we live on. He doesn’t know he is in a different state; while he had never seen the ocean before, he lived close to a large lake, and perhaps experienced Ocean Beach in the same way as he did that – though I suspect the smells were different at the ocean. Perhaps everything else in California smells relatively familiar. He is mapping out his territory around the apartment, and has his own bed, our bed, and the couch to spend his days and nights on, sufficient food and abundant love. I think he likes it.
I know it has been a huge transition for Caitlin, leaving behind much that was dear to her in the midwest, and I am deeply grateful that she felt able to make that leap, and that we have an opportunity to create a new life together, with hopefully many adventures in many different places.
‘An old buddha [Hongzhi] said, “Reach over to grasp what’s there, and bring its workings right here.”
When you take on sustaining this, all things, bodies, actions, and buddhas become intimate with you. These actions, things, bodies, and buddhas are simply covered [immersed] in acceptance. Because they are simply covered in acceptance, they are just dropped off.
The covered eye is the radiance of one hundred grass tips; do not be swayed [into thinking] that it does not see one thing, does not see a single matter. The covered eye reaches this thing and that thing. Throughout journeys, while taking on coming and going, or while leaving and entering by the same gate, nothing is hidden in the entire world, and so the World-Honored One’s intimate language, intimate realization, intimate practice, and intimate entrustment are present.’ (Shobogenzo Gyobutsu Iigi)
As I typed out the last word of the passage, my keyboard suggested the emoji 🎁 . And why not, after all? When we see things intimately, and immerse them in acceptance of what they are, they do not just become one, but they become the complete gift of themselves.
‘Student: I am so grateful to you and Tassajara and Zen Center that I’d like to study Zen. What should I do first?
Suzuki Roshi: You should do something in right time in the right way. Try to keep up with our practice.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi archives)
There is really nothing to add. This is the same as Joshu’s bowl.
‘None of the things that fill our lives is by itself false. It is only our conceptualization and attachment that make them false. Meanwhile, the perfection of wisdom transforms these obstacles into aids to enlightenment. At the end of Chapter Six, the Buddha likened his teachings to a raft and told Subhuti to let go of all teachings, all dharmas as well as no dharmas. Just as the no dharma of emptiness must be put aside, the dharma of prajna must also be left behind, lest it become a new obstruction or attachment. Thus, such a teaching not only transcends the world of language, it also transcends itself. No other teaching is so self-effacing and yet so sure of itself. It is self-effacing because it asserts nothing. And it is so sure of itself because it asserts nothing. It frees us of all assertions and opens the door to all knowledge. This is why it is called the “perfection of wisdom.”‘ (Commentary on the Diamond Sutra)
And there you have it. If it is not clear, keep reading it until the words have lost all meaning, and try again.
‘In the Japanese language, determination is composed of two ideographs that carry the respective meanings “to be angry” and “aspiration.” Your anger is not directed toward someone else. Indignant with yourself over your own weakness and immaturity, you employ the strong whip of aspiration; this is determination.’ (From Novice to Master)
As with other quotes from this book, it is helpful to remember that the author is reminiscing about the rigours of traditional Japanese monastic practice. In the right container, what might seem like the complete absence of self-compassion is perhaps the necessary tool to break through old patterns.