‘To stop and watch appearances with equanimity and curiosity is a sea change. However, to become a gracious host of whatever arises takes a radical shift in perspective.’ (from Lion’s Roar)
‘”Emptiness,” the connectedness of all things, deepens everything by disclosing the complex foundations upon which all things arise. Seeing these complexities more clearly, bodhisattvas recognize that the best intentions behind the rules will not always be fulfilled by inflexible application. Occasionally some other course of action is more effective in pursuing the highest good, and wisdom is the ability to see when and where that is so.’ (The Six Perfections)
To which I will add, as we discussed in my student group recently, that ensuring our ego is not ensnared with what we perceive to be the highest good is also wise.
‘While we are sitting in zazen, we definitely have a feeling of disappointment and unsatisfactoriness, a sense of uncertainty or fruitlessness. We think, “I am working so hard but I’m not experiencing the ’response’ or ’effect’ that I wish. Maybe I am doing something wrong. Maybe my effort is not enough. Or maybe I am not suited for zazen…” These kinds of doubts and questions arise one after another in our mind. At that time we feel at a complete loss, thinking, “Should I keep doing such an unresponsive thing or not? Is not this a waste of time?” But that is totally all right for zazen. Rather, it is a good sign that we are doing zazen in the right direction.’ (from the Soto Zen Journal)
Once again, Issho is drawing a comparison between shuzen that is goal-oriented and zazen that we allow to unfold naturally as our moment-by-moment experience, letting go of outcomes.
‘When we’re alone, all the fears and worries and anxieties come up, because we can’t distract ourselves. The great way to be with ourselves, to embrace who we are, warts, bumps, lumps and all, is to breathe.’ (from the New York Times)
I was interested to read this recent article about hermits and what they have to offer us all in this age of isolation. Whatever tradition the speaker adhere to, the life lessons are the same.
A college friend of mine, on hearing that I was moving to Tassajara, expressed that he was not at all surprised, having long detected in me an ascetic streak; certainly I had no difficulties with the retreat aspect of monastic living. My life these days is somewhat different, but as I remember discussing with the Hebden group earlier this year, the lessons from those years have helped with this year. See also Kanzan.
‘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.