Doshin Mako Voelkel

‘There’s an image in Zen of the “board-carrying fellow.” You can imagine the visual. It’s like a cartoon: the person carrying the board looks to one side, and as they do, they swing the board, and then they look the other way and swing the board, and they just can’t see anything on the other side of the board.

Suzuki Roshi said that almost everyone is carrying a big board and cannot see the other side. That goes for me, that goes for you. How do we acknowledge that? There’s a big board that we’re carrying—you can call it privilege, you can call it partial understanding, you can call it not knowing, maybe even not wanting to know because sometimes knowing is frightening. So how, when we feel the fear, feel the outrage in response to the suffering of the world, how do we make space for that part of us that is shouting, No, this is not all right—this has to stop? How do we not smooth over that and say, Oh, no—as a good Buddhist, I should be at peace? That’s bullshit. I think every one of us knows it.

When we talk about discovering ease, it’s not that we’re whitewashing away the blemishes, the fears, the so-called “afflictive emotions.” We study the self because we’re studying the seed of ease that can be nurtured within dis-ease. We learn through practice how to trust that we can develop our capacity to be with suffering. That is our number one goal as bodhisattvas—to be able to hear the cries of the world, like Avalokiteshvara with a thousand arms and hands and implements to help suffering beings. It starts by acknowledging suffering.

It’s easy to lose ourselves in dukkha if we’re not able, in our practice, to allow for the full range of our experience. If we’re not able to develop the capacity of this heart to expand, to include everything, we can feel that. We can feel when our heart is constricted. When our stomach is constricted, when our throat feels constricted, we can feel it. We can pay attention to it. Our vow is to stay upright, amidst it, and not turn away.’ (from Lion’s Roar)

It’s always nice to see my dharma friends and peers appearing in the the Buddhist magazines, though it comes with a tinge of self-reproach that I am being lazy and not doing enough to put myself in the same position… Mako’s piece is, as I would expect, well argued and to the point.


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