28 December 2010

The Brighter the Light, the More Distinct the Shadow

I won't say that ordaining makes one a better person.  I will say that since ordaining, aspects of my life that need attention have become all the more clear to me.   Character issues that may have been understandable for "just anyone" now seem more and more unacceptable for someone in my state.  It still remains for me to do the work.  Maybe it can be said that ordaining gives one a new, focused kind of opportunity to become a better person. 

This time of year I find myself, like many, looking back at the year ending and looking ahead to the year about to begin.  This time last year I had six months left to ordination; now I have six months under my belt.  So much has changed.  I had no clue then what life would be like today.

So no resolutions.  Just a look.  A taking stock.  And a moving on...

26 December 2010

In Defense of the Fasting Buddha

I get the point of the Middle Way, though I deeply wish another expression had been found that didn't lead us immediately to geometry class or Goldilocks.  It's no one's fault, particularly.  Get this.  I was about to say something like "There are times when half-measures won't work" until I realized that there, too, was another mathematical analogy cropping up!  It really is hard avoiding the ruler, the compass and the calculator when the Middle Way is being discussed.

Here's my problem:  there are some things that I realize I cannot do at all without getting totally caught up in them.  That's the nature of addictive tendencies.  It doesn't matter what the addiction is, either.  It's just the nature of the beast that what is for someone else a "take it now, leave it later" proposition is for the addict a "take it now and take it again and again and again" kind of thing.  The addict has to drop it entirely if there's to be any hope of sanity.  In this case, the extreme position is the only tenable one, and my guess is that no one, not even the most vociferous preacher of the Middle Way, will disagree.

A member recently donated a lot of Buddhist figures to the center, and among those figures were a few "Fasting Buddha" figures.  They're stored away now, and there's some head scratching about what to do with them besides store them.  As one of the teachers here said, "The figure represents the wrong path."

If it were up to me, I think I'd set one out, replete with altar cloth and offerings.  Why?  There's something comforting in the serene face and knowing smile of the skin-and-bones Buddha-to-be.  It's good to be reminded that the categorical denial of certain things in my life needn't be a cause for a dour look and a grumpy attitude.  It may be precisely the path I need to be on toward my own Buddhahood.  I might feel like shit at times, and I might feel so poured out that I might as well be skin-and-bones, but somewhere deep down there is also the certainty that in this way my suffering will find an end.  How could that possibly be the wrong path?

24 December 2010

The Many Ghosts of Christmas Past

I'm given to understand that all studies on memory have come to the same conclusion: our memories are more fiction than fact, we revise our memories as time goes on, and the more "traumatic" the memory, the more likely and the more thorough the editing job will be.

I've come to be at least mildly suspicious of anyone's recounting of the past.  And that anyone includes myself.  And religious traditions.

And it's not at all just because the facts aren't somehow "right."  In the very act of recounting, I put distance between then and now, between that "reality" and this reality, between who "I," "he," "she," "it" and "they" were "then" and who-I-he-she-it-and-they-are-now.  The one I can speak of, since it's been so stripped of life; the other is so dynamic and close that words can't even begin to capture it.

If not now, never.  If not this, nothing.  If not me, no one.

21 December 2010

This Dark Night, This Short Day

It snowed last night, one of those nice, fluffy, cover-the-boughs-with-cotton kind of snows.  That means that the sounds of this morning are muffled, the cars not so noisy, even the snowplows' scraping muted.

And it's dark, the hunker down dark of the solstice time.

Now I get muffled, too, and I hunker down.  And I wonder.  And I sit.

I wonder about those tags on the trees in the drugstore, the ones that have some kid's wish on it.  "Boy, 13, camera."  "Girl, 8, Barbie."  I wonder about the tags that will still be on that tree on December 26.  I wonder about the kids on the other end of those tags, what circumstances have led them to be the ones who have tags on the tree at the drugstore.  And I sit.

I wonder at the cold and at the ingenuity some have found to keep themselves warm in it, despite the lack of a home address.  I wonder about their feet and hands and faces.  I wonder about those who are spending their first winter on the streets, how steep the learning curve must be just to make it to April.  And I sit.

I wonder at all of the ways I continually think and act less than skillfully, and how little my life matches what I know to be more skillful.  I wonder how to tell everyone I've ever offended just how much I would rather not have hurt them.  And I sit.

And yet I wonder at the resiliency of our spirit.  I wonder at the acts of kindness large and small that make this life joyous.  I wonder at the miraculous activity of being refreshed by a cool drink of water, of opening my eyes in the morning and seeing the clock.  I wonder at wondering.  And I sit.

I sit because I can't contain it all.  I sit because what I think "it all" is isn't even all of it.  I sit because I don't know what to do, will never know what to do, and yet have to move about all the same.

20 December 2010

The Undiscussables – One: Money

There used to be a social caution against discussing certain things among family and acquaintances: money, sex and religion.  I'm not sure if that caution still exists, since these days people seem to open up about anything and everything with anyone and everyone.  Still, as I look more deeply at my own reactions, I'm beginning to see why this list of three has the standing it does, or at least once did.

Today the issue for me is money.  I recently found myself in a situation where I tried to avoid a money conversation only to have the other party insist on having it.  And, just as I suspected, all of my usual negative responses sprang up almost instantaneously.   Now I have to deal with the fallout I had so assiduously tried not to have to deal with.  Shit happens, I know, so I'm not complaining.

What I find interesting is exploring the nature of the buttons that get pushed at such times.  Top of the list would have to be the arbitrariness of the whole money thing.  When someone who makes over two times what I make tells me they're really needing more money, I find I just don't want to hear about it.  I'm sure someone who makes half of what I do doesn't want to hear about my financial "woes," either.  The fact is that there is no standard of measure here.  John's "poverty" is Marcia's "opulence."  One person's "need" is seen by the other as just a "want."  With each sentence of the interchange, the distance between the two parties grows as they slowly lose the glue of a common language.  How could the conversation be anything but frustrating?

Because of its arbitrariness, money is a universal carrier for the greed, anger and ignorance that dog our every thought and action.  I think of the lengths I've gone to to get more.  I think of the contempt I've spewed toward the rich.  I think of the pity I've spewed toward the poor (remember: pity ≠ compassion).  I think of the clouded vision I've given rise to when putting price tags on the priceless.  I think of the ego expansion that has gone on when more money came my way.  I think of the ego crippling that happened when money was lost.

I am understanding more and more why men and women everywhere on this earth have, in the course of trying to chart a sane, insightful and moral life, felt inclined to deny money a place in that life.  It isn't about avoiding being polluted by the coinage or the plastic card; it's about consciously denying fuel to the fires of our self-induced suffering.

Until I'm able to have a money discussion with as much equanimity and dispassion as a discussion about the number of light switches on a wall, I'm going to have to work really hard at watching my step.

16 December 2010

Shh – sottovoce, ti prego

Some things are meant to be shouted in full voice.  "Fire!" is one of them.  There aren't too many others.

I find that the most poignant ways of verbally expressing the Buddhadharma are usually best delivered quietly, almost in passing, as if among intimates.  A small observation about a seeming trifle can often reduce to rubble massive chunks of my own ego-attachment better than a full verbal onslaught can.  A quietly expressed disappointment at one of my shortcomings generally evokes greater shame and renewed resolve out of me than a severe and lengthy tongue-lashing does.  A well-timed expression of wonder prompts me to perk up and notice much more than an extensive inventory of positive points or a detailed analysis.

My guess is that I'm not alone in any of this.

So I say: The reality of Buddhanature is an open secret.  No need to add much of anything at all!   And if I'm inclined to speak of it, let it be quietly and offhandedly, almost as an afterthought.

15 December 2010

What's New? More No Comprendo Zone

There are times, I suppose, when it's tempting to think that in earlier ages, in pre-industrial societies, in a world where there was no instant communication, no indoor plumbing, and no heat beyond the fire in the hearth, it was infinitely easier to practice the Dharma.  When the ancients cautioned against retreating into quietism away from the hubbub of everyday life, they had no clue just how noisy and congested it was going to get: sports stadiums, traffic jams, airports, stereos and iPods, shopping malls and parking lots were as yet nowhere in sight. 

But the issue has never been about the surroundings.

Whether we flush or shovel, pickle or deep freeze, microwave or heat with a wood fire, fly or go by foot, whether news travels as fast as a man on a horse or as fast as a satellite signal, whether commerce is local or global, the basic facts of the matter remain the same: our suffering, its cause, its end, and the way to its end have not changed in the least.  The work remains the same, and the difficulty of the work remains the same, for now, just as when the Buddha first pointed it out, the arena of the work is not the surroundings but us: "within this body, mortal though it be, and only a fathom high, but conscious and endowed with mind is the world, its waxing, its waning, and the way that leads to its passing away." 

I hear talk of adapting the Dharma to modern, Western (read: affluent, comfortable) societies.  I have no clue what that could possibly mean.  I just don't understand.

13 December 2010

Nowhere Over the Rainbow

A monk asked Tozan, "When cold and heat come, how can we avoid them?"
Tozan said, "Why don't you go where there is no cold or heat?"
The monk said, "Where is the place where there is no cold or heat?"
Tozan said, "When cold, let the cold kill you; when hot, let the heat kill you."
Blue Cliff Record 43

I recently heard some very disturbing background to an already very disturbing situation.  After my jaw dropped, after I cried for the pain I was now aware of, I found myself saying, "How can we bear it?  How can we bear it?"

I can well understand how someone might say, "OK, that's the last straw.  I'm out of here."  When shit hits the fan, clearing out of the room seems like a sound plan of action. 

Except, of course, that there is no outside of the room, and there is no place where there is no fan-hitting shit.

So bring it on, and let me not worry about bearing it; let it kill me. 

The gateway to upekkhā/upekṣā, the fourth Brahmavihāra, equanimity.

09 December 2010

Is there a Class on That?

I sometimes take calls at the center asking if we have meditation or other classes.

Of course we don't.  We practice, and we'll give newcomers pointers, and on an Intro Night we'll walk people through the form of practice here, get them propped in a sitting posture or two, let them do twenty minutes or so of this new thing in their lives, and pretty much leave it at that.  We invite them to come back.  Some never return.  Some make this the practice of a lifetime.

But no classes.

It's becoming apparent to me just how much of life has been turned into a variation on school, and just how often people default to that model.  There are parenting classes, relationship classes, marriage classes, "personal development training" classes, "authentic practice" classes.  The list goes on.  I don't presume to know the mind (better: conscience) of those who offer these things, and I don't presume to know the mind of those who pay for them, but it is clear that classes and schooling seem to have become substitutes for something more – what? – organic, lived, done over the long haul, emergent.

And it's not an unexpected phenomenon.  It's the natural consequence of a trend that's been going on for the last few centuries.  The Reformation, for example, pulled spiritual development out of the religious community (monastery or order) and housed it in the university.  Most of the Reformers were not holy men and women; they were academic theologians.  The practice of a lifetime was reduced to a curriculum, cleverness with language (papers, exams) became the highest skill, and a degree came to stand as the mark of attainment.  Now you can get an M.Div. at the ripe old age of 24 and be installed as the spiritual leader of a community.  You might even set up, you got it, a "Sunday School."

If classes were good enough to master the spiritual life, then they are good enough for everything else, or so it would seem.

I bristle when I hear calls for building an academic model into Zen priest and teacher training (a Master of Divinity, or M.Div. wouldn't be quite right here; maybe a Master of Emptiness, or M.Empt.?).  I teach at a university.  I have some idea of what classes can do, and I have some idea of what classes are not at all designed to do.  I know what papers and exams test for, and I know what papers and exams cannot possibly test for.  Something tells me the Sixth Ancestor would have flunked out – to our detriment and loss.

I'm grateful that, at least in the lineage I am part of, Zen is not a matter of school and classes.  It is, and I hope it remains, simply and plainly, the practice of a lifetime.

02 December 2010

Pass the Rohatsu Cookies

After years of thinking about how many Christians don't get the deep meaning of Christmas, of deploring the endless shopping and consuming and general craziness, of wishing it were possible to go deep this time of year, I started Zen practice and began sitting Rohatsu sesshin.  I had gotten my wish: a December that had within it the possibility of doing serious spiritual work, a week or so of the Great Matter rather than a week or so of the Big Sale, a time of discipline and focus in a season of indulgence and laxity.

I consider it a not insignificant point that the way we commemorate Śākyamuni's great awakening is by flat-out imitation.  We sit and resolve not to stop until we have realized what is ours to realize.

So this month I'll eat the cookies, exchange gifts and light a tree.  I'll tear up singing a song about Mary's boy child, and I'll ponder that what we call human and what we call divine are not two.  No need to chuck all that, really.  As a Dharma brother once said to me, "Nice decorations, gifts, good food – what's not to like?"

But I will also know something of Buddha's "How wonderful!" firsthand.  And I will know something of the deep communion that comes as many of us all over this earth sit very very still over the next week or so.  How wonderful, indeed!

29 November 2010


It's the opposite of high noon in the Wild West.

There's a standoff, all right, but rather than making sure to get off the first shot, it's a matter of simply putting the gun away, and, in so doing, reducing all vanity and conceit of the self to nothing.

27 November 2010

"Full-Time Job or Avocation?"

I was asked recently whether being a priest at a Zen center was a full-time job or more of an avocation.

How could I explain that, when at the end of my ordination ceremony my preceptor said, "You have now entered the Way as an ordained Buddhist priest," it means something like
I sit, stand, walk and lie down as a priest
I breathe as a priest
I eat as a priest
I pursue my employment as a priest
I do zazen as a priest
I pursue relationships as a priest
I am a son, brother, father and uncle as a priest
I drive as a priest
I lose my temper as a priest
I get lazy as a priest
I get lost in habit energy as a priest
I have moments of insight as a priest
I am a real pain in the ass as a priest
I am confused as a priest, and
I suffer and will die as a priest?
So we talked about our day jobs, the ins-and-outs of commutes and family life, and I would say that that was just fine.

25 November 2010

Thanksgiving: Torei Zenji's Bodhisattva Vow

When I humbly observe the true nature of things, all are the marvelous manifestation of the Tathāgata's truth.  Atom by atom, instant by instant, all are none other than his mysterious radiance.  Because of this our virtuous ancestors extended loving care and reverence toward even such beings as birds and beasts.  How, then, can we be but humbly grateful for the food, drink, and clothing that nourishes and protects us throughout the day, these being in essence the warm skin and flesh of the great masters, the incarnate compassion of the Buddha?

If it is even so with inanimate objects, how much more should we be kind and merciful towards human beings, even those who are foolish.  Though they become our sworn enemies, reviling and persecuting us, we should regard them as bodhisattva manifestations who, in their great compassion, are employing skillful means to help emancipate us from the sinful karma we have produced over countless kalpas through our biased, self-centered views.

If we awaken in ourselves this deep pure faith, offering humble words and taking sincere refuge in the Buddha, then with every thought there will bloom a lotus flower, each with a Buddha.  These Buddhas will establish Pure Lands everywhere and reveal the radiance of the Tathāgata beneath our very feet.  May we extend this mind throughout the universe, so that we and all sentient beings may equally bring to fruition the seeds of wisdom.

23 November 2010

I Saw the Bodhisattva of Compassion

It's that time of year when the red-kettled bell ringers of the Salvation Army elbow out the StreetWise salesfolk in front of the local grocery stores.  

But yesterday in front of one of the local grocery stores there was another person.  She didn't work for StreetWise, and she didn't ring a bell for the Salvation Army.  She was just sitting silently against one of the pillars outside the store with a found empty Starbucks iced coffee cup in her hand, begging money.

And as I came closer from where I had parked the car I saw another woman.   That second woman went past the red-kettled bell ringer and past the StreetWise salesperson, went right up to the woman at the pillar with the cup, and bent down.  She touched the woman seated there.  She spoke with her, stroked her hair, heard her voice.  I saw the woman with the cup reach up and touch the other woman's hand.  I didn't see how it ended, because I kept walking into the store.  Maybe she put something in her cup, and maybe she didn't.  Doesn't matter that much, really.

A few nights ago I resolved not to withhold spiritual or material aid, but to give them freely where needed, and I was ashamed to realize that it would have never occurred to me to do what that woman had done. 

But it will now.

It will now.

22 November 2010

In Due Time

Now that I'm living at the center I get to see every new face that shows up at our door.  In the last couple of months we've been receiving a good number of first time visitors.

Most never come back.  Some come for a time or two after their initial visit.  Only a very, very few show the first signs of making practicing here a part of their weekly or monthly schedule and an important part of their life. 

I sometimes fret about this, but yesterday I heard from one of the newbies (now back for a second time, and this time with his wife) the best way to think about people coming here or not coming here.

This guy came to the center some 30+ years ago and hasn't been back again until now.  He remembers people maybe only one or two others still here remember.  He's lived in Evanston pretty much the whole time since, and he works only five blocks from the center.

At brunch one of the members asked him why the 30 year lapse.  He answered, "I wasn't ready."

19 November 2010

Jukai 2010

Tonight I served for the first time as preceptor at our sangha's fall Jukai.  This was my first Jukai since taking the precepts at my ordination.

Taking the precepts again tonight, I am further resolved to follow the path, no matter what it means for my life as I have lived it up until now.

Śāntideva's lines come to mind:
Today my life has borne fruit;
Having well obtained this human existence,
I've been born into the family of Buddha
And am now one of Buddha's Sons.

Thus whatever actions I do from now on
Must be in accord with the family.
Never shall I disgrace or pollute
This noble and unsullied race.
May all of us live up to the dignity of our birthright!

18 November 2010


Mountains of sweet potatoes and yams.  Stacks of bags of cranberries.  Bins full of nuts in the shell.  Endcaps laden with evaporated milk, brown sugar, and canned pumpkin (after two years of bad harvests it's back in abundance).  Piles of broccoli and green beans and more 3lb bags of onions than you can shake a stick at.  Clementines (at last! – I really like clementines).  Apples and squash, butter and eggs, chocolates and cookies.  And then the special cardboard display cases with roasting pans and pie tins and basters and pins to make it all happen, and storage containers and foil and freezer bags to make it all last. 

Yesterday I went to the grocery store, where I was awestruck to the point of tears over the vast amounts of food that lay before me.  I literally lost it in the produce section.  So much bounty, so many bellies about to be full!  And it's so very much "our food," too: how much of what we will eat in the next short while is indigenous to the Americas – all of the squashes, all of the potatoes, the corn and anything chocolate.  So many good things!  So much nourishment!  So much great taste!

So I say:
I will remember the work of those that brought all this forth.
I will strive to be worthy of such great gifts.
I will enjoy just enough so there's still plenty to share.
I will be thankful for this food and the life it makes possible.
I will eat this great food for the strength to live the Dharma.

17 November 2010

Repentance and the Three Poisons

In the translation used at our temple, the "Repentance Gatha" runs like this:
All my ancient twisted karma
Stemming from greed, anger and ignorance
Arising in body, speech and mind
I now fully repent.
It identifies the source of what is repented in the Three Poisons: greed, anger and ignorance.  I'm given to understand that there's some question about whether 'ignorance' is the best English rendering of moha.  Other candidates might be 'confusion' or 'delusion.'  In any case, it is, in the tradition, not merely an absence of knowledge but rather an active mistaking, a willful refusal to see past where I am now, a complicit unknowing.  'Greed' for dosa and 'anger' for lobha are clear enough.

I seem to find myself in the middle of a discussion that began when I questioned the view that there might be such a thing as "loving-anger" by asking if 'loving-greed' and "loving-ignorance" would be on the list as well.  I don't know whether there are or are not such things, but I do know why I'm not all that interested in finding out.

It has been my experience that every time I acted out of greed, anger and ignorance it did not go well for me or for others.  I don't mean that sometimes there weren't some real, concrete good things that came out of so acting, for sometimes there were.  I do mean that every act of mine that stemmed from greed, anger and ignorance had the certain effect of clouding and hindering Mind: when I acted from greed, anger or ignorance, I sooner or later came to see that in so doing I had moved in a direction away from the realization of prajña wisdom.   What might have looked like a bright (loving?) idea at the time proved itself to be just another turn of the wheel of saṃsāra.  I had gotten nowhere.

Taking on a human birth is rare, and the span of this life is short.   I've got my work cut out for me, for I've spent more than ample time walking down dead-end paths.  The world is filled with enough suffering, and I really, really don't want to be adding more.  I repent the time and energy wasted on anything that has kept and still keeps me from doing what needs doing, and I resolve not to continue in this way.

I'm certainly not going to try to pass off dross as gold.

16 November 2010

Back in the No Comprendo Zone

Most of the world's great ethical systems and religions were formed in an age before the internal combustion engine, electricity, nuclear power and space travel.  They addressed issues that confronted human beings who moved much more slowly, covered less turf, owned vastly less, and killed by the dozens rather than by the scores of thousands.

They also called forth action that could best benefit those close by and few in number.  It would have never entered the mind of Moses, Buddha, the Christ, or the Prophet (Peace be upon him) to envision right action at a distance of thousands of kilometers.

Yesterday I received an email from a student group asking me to be on a committee to decide whether to fund
a) MAVCODEG/Mandaka Primary School- finishing building the school in Tanzania that is currently just cement walls
b) Lahasha International- Helping to build community homes and a garden for HIV-positive women in Tanzania
c) Vision for Kenya- providing a needed well for a hospital and community in the western district of Kenya, or
d) Roots of Peace- providing cacao seedlings and fertilizer to farmers to farm land previously destroyed by land mines in Vietnam.
I won't be sitting on the committee.  I can't even begin to think of what would stand as selection criteria.  I've never been to Tanzania or Kenya or Vietnam.  I often wonder what happens after the initial flush of funds is gone.  Is this a kind of popularity contest?

More importantly, I'm finding it hard to get past the idea that it's ok to walk right past someone in need on your way to help someone else in need.  Tanzania sounds a lot nicer of a place to help out than Toledo, OH; Kenya has an air of the exotic to it while Kansas (most will agree) does not.

And even Toledo and Kansas are a hike from where I sit.  So how about 139th St. or Kedzie Ave.?

This isn't an "America first" issue, either.  It's more of a "How can I love the brother or sister I don't see while not loving the brother or sister I do see?" issue.

I feel like a heel for even suggesting that the efforts of the student group that invited me are misguided, but I'm not trying to be mean or contrary.

I just don't understand.

15 November 2010


The gardening year is winding down, and I'm doing everything I can to get the beds taken care of before the real cold comes in.

The past months have been spent eyeing what comes up when, where the sunlight falls at the summer solstice and at the equinoxes, where it's dry and where it's wet.  The last month and a half has been spent digging up more rogue short bamboo than I ever thought imaginable, lifting the irises from their too dry, too sunny locations to more favorable terrain, cleaning up some forgotten corners of the front and side beds, and now I'm getting a lot of new bulbs in.  I split up the bleeding heart into about 6 new clumps.  I expanded the small bed in front of the back door, and I edged the bed where the short bamboo had been.  A sangha member contributed some tall ornamental grasses, and they went in yesterday.  Today I hope to get the last of the bulbs and relocated irises in.  If I have any luck at all, the leaves from our birch and the neighbor's sycamore will have fallen so I can have them all cleaned up before the first snow. 

I know my gardening violates the noble code of the Vinaya.  Before all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and before the Mahasangha I therefore openly confess my transgressions, and with hands pressed palm-to-palm I repent of the karma that makes me so inordinately fond of digging in the soil and working with plants.

13 November 2010

Two Options

Seems I'm always facing a choice: either take what I know and talk about it, or take what I know and become it. 

I can blab about peace.  Or I can be peace.
I can blab about truth.  Or I can be truth.
I can blab about Buddha.  Or I can be Buddha.
I can blab about justice.  Or I can be justice.
I can blab about responsibility.  Or I can be responsibility.
I can blab about insight.  Or I can be insight.

And yes, I can't shake the idea that the two options stand in inverse proportion to one another, are mutually incompatible, are at odds with one another.  Time spent on one is not time spent on the other.  Attention spent on one is not attention spent on the other.

I'm getting close to undoing my whole professional life!  I never did metaphysics.  I gave up epistemology.  I'm close to being done with ethics and political theory, too. 

Whatever will become of me?

12 November 2010

The Bodhisattva Koan

There is hurt all around me.

• I have a sister who is having a very hard time accepting that her marriage has fallen apart largely because of her actions.
• I have a Dharma brother who has everything going for him yet has something within him that keeps him feeling inadequate and under-accomplished.
• I have a colleague who, after a routine health screening, was diagnosed with liver cancer and has been given four months to live.
• I have a friend who is a gifted, conscientious teacher, yet receives scant support to do his best in an overcrowded classroom with a higher than average number of behavior-disordered students and students with learning disabilities, and it is draining him.

It is no cop-out to say that I cannot fix them or their situations.  Nothing in my experience tells me I'm any kind of messiah, and I'm old enough to know something of how the world works.   So if I say, with Śāntideva,
May I be protector for those without one,
A guide for all travelers on the way;
May I be a bridge, a boat and a ship
For all who wish to cross (the water).

May I be an island for those who seek one
And a lamp for those desiring light,
May I be a bed for all who wish to rest
And a slave for all who want a slave.

May I be a wishing jewel, a magic vase,
Powerful mantras and great medicine,
May I become a wish-fulfilling tree
And a cow of plenty for the world
what am I saying, really, when the rubber hits the road?

And if deep down I also know that no one can be helped as long as there arises a thought of the helped, the helping and the helper, and that true giving, following Bodhidharma, is done "without the vanity of giver, gift, or recipient, and without bias or attachment," then...


10 November 2010


Growing up, I was encouraged to be grateful for the many good things I was able to enjoy.  It was sound enough advice.

But I found that the times I most felt gratitude welling up within me were not the times of plenty but the times of scarcity.  That I actually had just enough money to put just enough gas in the car to get to work and back brought tears to my eyes.  That I had just enough food in the cupboard to make it the few days until payday made the food taste like a feast for kings.  At those times, I began to know deep in the bones that my life has never been entirely up to me.  At those times, I knew I was this close to not having enough money, to not having enough food.  What utter fortune! What riches!  What wealth!

I am a conjunction of circumstances, all of which are pretty much beyond my control.  If on balance the gains currently outweigh the losses (I'm still drawing breath, after all), it is nothing for me to be proud of.  And when the day comes (as it must) when losses outweigh the gains, I know that I will have no reason to fight it or complain.  In fact, gain and loss, boon and bane, really lose their poignancy at this point, don't they?

So I say: gratitude isn't a matter of ticking off all the good things one has and saying, "Thanks."  Rather, gratitude is a matter of welcoming all circumstances with an open heartmind.  It is reflected in passing on one's excess to those who need it, and it is manifested in gracefully allowing the things that are going away to go away.

07 November 2010

Precept VI

I find I'm beginning to understand the refusal of the Amish to press a case in court and the general reluctance to appeal to governmental structures among some Anabaptists, Mennonites, Quakers and the like.  In some ways it's an embodiment of what we Mahāyānists resolve to do when we take the Sixth Precept, Not Speaking of the Faults of Others.

It's one thing directly to address someone with whom we have an issue.  It's another to appeal to a third party.  Would we hear as much of Hakuin if instead of replying with "Is that so?" to the charge of fathering the village maid's baby he had filed a counterpaternity suit and submitted to DNA testing?  The truth will out, so what's the rush?  And if the other side doesn't see it now, and even if it puts us out in the process, what's the harm in the end?

How much less would I speak if I set myself to doing a better job of observing this precept?  How much better off would I and the rest of the world be!

03 November 2010

The Bodhisattva Who Hears the Cries of the World...

...hears them one at a time and up really, really close.

I keep looking through the sutras to see if there's a Buddhist equivalent to the parable of the Good Samaritan.  What I have always found striking about that parable is not that it's a slam against the priests and scribes but that it was given in response to the question, "Who is my neighbor?" 

My neighbor is the first person I encounter in need of my assistance.  And my assistance to that neighbor, meeting his or her real live-time needs, is what is most required.

The Samaritan does not begin a letter writing campaign for safer highways and byways.  The Samaritan does not endow a foundation, build a hostel, or establish a clinic for the care of the many victims of the road.  The Samaritan certainly does not pass by the hapless stranger on his way to the ("more important") charitable work of his own picking and choosing.

Chancing upon the victim of the robbers was probably not in the Samaritan's plans for the day, but that didn't matter.  There was the situation, and there was only one thing to do.  To hell with the plans.

Getting caught up in the victim's blood and dirt was probably not high on the Samaritan's priority list that day, but that didn't matter, either.  To hell with the priority list.

I found myself tearing up today over the story of Mychal Judge, the RC priest who died giving aid to the victims of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.  What got me was not the 9/11 part of the story but the pre-9/11 part of the story.  He was in the South Tower because he had always been where there was a need: among the homeless, among the forgotten, among the outcasts.  9/11 was just another day of more of the same.

He was victim 0001, the first listed among the dead.  There's nowhere more Ground 0 than to be the first among the dead.

I became all too aware of the many ways I hold back, all the excuses I make, all the plans and priority lists I create that keep me from jumping right in.

I wish I could describe this ache I sometimes feel, this dull ache of realizing just how far I am from what I know deep down is where I most need to be.  I feel it in the gut.  I feel it in my arms and legs and head.  I feel it one with the breath at the nostrils.

27 October 2010

Nothing to Offer

I was asked to be involved with a student sitting group at the university where I teach.  The few regulars are dedicated and sincere.  One who recently graduated is coming to the center occasionally now, and he will be participating in this weekend's sesshin.

We sit for 40 minutes (20 minutes, posture change, 20 minutes) once a week at 10:00pm.  Afterwards one or the other of them might ask a question about things that come up as they sit.  Then they're off to the rest of their evening, and I'm off to sleep. 

I sometimes wish I had more to give them besides providing some bare-bones instruction and serving as the timer, but it really is enough for now.  The forces that brought them to sit at this point in their lives are being touched with their practice.  I get the sense that they are grateful for having this chance to sit, and they're completely un-zenny, and that by itself is a wonder to behold!

24 October 2010

My Issue X

Let's call my issue xX can pull me away from whatever I'm doing and take me to a very different place.  I go through periods when it seems like all I can think about is x.  I sometimes take money that's going to be spent on something else and find a way to spend it on x.  I rearrange my schedule to make room for x.  When I'm down in the dumps, I tell myself I need x.  When things are going really well, I tell myself I deserve x.

Then I get mad at myself for being so wrapped up in x in the first place, for not having the backbone to resist, for once again not living up to the kind of picture I have of "how I should be."

If others found out about x, depending on who it is, I'd be anywhere from mildly embarrassed to thoroughly mortified.  I often feel that, because of x, the rest of my life is somehow a sham.

I think of how grand it would be not to have x as part of my life.  I imagine other, x-free, me's.  I project to a day when, at long last, I will be done with x.  I figure I'm the only person on the planet with such an x to deal with.

And then I wake up.

23 October 2010

So Many Lives!

6.7ish billion of them.  Each one of us playing out our little script.  Each one of us fretting for ourselves and those we hold dear.  Each one of us with our joys and sorrows and dreams and fears and regrets.

There are times I find it almost unbearable, this sheer complexity and wonder of our humanity.  No easy answers at all.  No handy theory to wrap us all up in.  While I am here there is so much else going on, every imaginable activity, every walk of life, every pathology and every mark of health.  All at once.  Neverending.  Everything and everyone involved with everything and everyone else.

And not just the people, but the spiders, stray cats, possums, flies, krill and whales, too.

And not just the critters but the asters, magnolias, bamboo and ginkgo, too.

Oh my goodness, yes, we are large: we contain multitudes.

May we all be at ease, at least as best we can!

May we all be at ease.

21 October 2010

Bodhidharma Came from the West for This?

I recently came across the title, Jesus Died for This?: A Satirist's Search for the Risen Christ.  I'm not going to buy or read the book, so this is no commentary on it, but I found the premise intriguing: a sympathetically sardonic look at a tradition one loves.

Here's my problem: I'm all too ready to engage in that kind of pastime myself.  Flip my switch, and I can jokingly rip just about anything to shreds, even something I love.

I do not know the author, so this is not about her.  But I do know about me, and I know that when I start in on something like this, I am not doing anything but making myself look good by making others look, well, not so good.

So I say: Yes, Bodhidharma came from the West for all of this!  Every last bit of it.  My foolishness included.

16 October 2010

Every Day is a Good Day

This weekend I'm visiting one of my daughters at college.  This is my first time visiting a child, now an adult, on her turf.  Here I am the outsider, here I am the guest (though I still got the bill at the restaurant, and I paid for the stuff on the trip to the Wal-Mart!).  I find I'm flashing back to when my parents would visit me at school, and how nice it was to see them but how nice it was when they left.  Now I'm on the other side, becoming a dad in this new kind of way.

I love this life.  I love this life.  I love its springs and its falls.  I love its babies and its grandparents.  I love its closeness and its distance.  I love every day, every single day, with everything I expect and with everything that surprises.  I love being sick, and I love being well.  I love not knowing what lies ahead tomorrow.  I love not remembering what happened yesterday.  I love not knowing what I will find myself being in five minutes, or five months, or five years, five decades, or -- yes -- five kalpas.

15 October 2010

Come, Bodhisattvas, Eat!

I keep running into a lot of blog chatter about how it really doesn't matter if one does not live much differently post-ordination than pre-ordination.  I find myself asking what the point, then, would be.

In our lineage, priests
a) wear simple blue, black or gray clothing, in that order of preference
b) keep the hair short for women and very short (buzzed though not shaved) for men
c) wear shirts that have no collars or only a band collar
d) avoid animal products in clothing as practicable and
e) if men, keep the face clean-shaven.
Beyond that, there is an expectation of living a "pared-down" life, though that will, of course, be subject to circumstances.  In any event, opulence and luxury, adornment and focus on fashion, are to be avoided.

By and large, it's pretty easy not to stand out in a crowd this way.  A navy sweatshirt with blue jeans isn't distinctively "Buddhist priest" wear.  But with no collared shirts, neckties are out.  With the color restriction, most sports team insignia apparel is out. OK, so there are a few situations where one doesn't blend so easily in, but this is hardly oppressive. 

And yet there is grumbling even about something as simple as this!

It is one of the marks of Baby Boomer thinking that requirements are by their very nature pernicious.  The Boomers gave birth to "Generation Optional:"  everyone gets choices, because choices are by their very nature empowering.


Last I heard, Zen was a practice of avoiding picking and choosing, a practice of renouncing the multiplication of choices in favor of a mindful, straightforward life, characterized by equanimity.  I'm not there yet, but I have to say I find that I'm much freer to attend to better things when I'm not worried about updating my phone or mixing up the wardrobe or the rest.  While not quite a No Comprendo Zone issue, I do wonder why there's so much resistance among Buddhist ordaineds to letting such stuff go.  What is that?

I do not believe one can be "nonattached" in mind only.  Nonattachment is demonstrated in truck with everyday life.  Maybe it's what koan training has done to me, but I can't shake the view that commitment and insight have to be demonstrated.

12 October 2010

Leaving the World

Leaving the world is not the same thing as leaving the planet.

"The world" is the domain of human culture and interaction.  And it is not singular.  We speak of "the art world," "the wide world of sports," "the academic world," and "the world of fine dining." Magazine titles include Runner's World, Swimming World, Guitar World, Fishing World and Bridge World. 

So when we hear of hermits "leaving the world," or of monastics or priests "leaving home," it doesn't mean disappearing altogether; it means taking leave of a certain kind of structured human domain with its rules, expectations, fashions, criteria of success and failure, heroes and villains, internal history, and the like. It means attempting to live a life unhindered by these concerns.  These persons still engage in any number of activities with other people; they just do it on different terms and on a different schedule.

If such persons strike us as odd, it is perhaps more a measure of our inability to imagine ourselves free of these concerns than it is anything about them.  They make us confront our own attachments, and we, seeing them with a heart that is at all receptive, understand how far it is we have yet to go.

Let us hope they never disappear:
With folded hands I beseech
The Conquerors who wish to pass away,
To please remain for countless eons
And not to leave the world in darkness.

11 October 2010

Karma = No Magic

Yesterday I was asked a few questions by a visitor to the Center who is taking a course in religious diversity at a local Lutheran seminary.  One of his questions was, "What do you understand by karma?"  I was grateful that other things intervened, leaving no time for me to answer his question.

I've been thinking about it, though, and I think my short (and probably my long) answer would have been something along the lines that understanding that there is karma is the same as not believing in magic.  It means trusting that effects follow causes, that biological beings get sick and pass away, that there's no such thing as a free lunch, that the mess I've created is mine to deal with as best I can, that some fences can never be mended, that much of what I think and do arises because of forces beyond my control, and that I am perfectly imperfect all the same.

08 October 2010

"Outside us no Buddhas"

The first lines of Master Hakuin's Zazen Wasan are always arresting to me:
From the very beginning all beings are Buddha.
Like water and ice,
without water no ice,
outside us no Buddhas.
They stop me in my tracks, because they remind me that the Buddhadharma isn't something to discuss, read about, promulgate or advertise; it is this very life in every last one of its movements and moments.  There is no "other life," "better life," or "future life" -- only this very life.  Buddha(hood) isn't some faraway personage or state; it's this very body, as Hakuin says at the end of the chant.  The Dharma isn't anything to "believe in" any more than my pulse is.  It doesn't register on a Pew Research Center survey, that's for sure!

Outside me no Buddha.  It's no one else's job to "be Buddha" so I can kick back and relax.  If not me, then no one else, either.  The essence of the Bodhisattva vow.

06 October 2010

Update from the No Comprendo Zone

I see that an Oak Park Zen teacher is offering any number of classes on how to "live a more effective life."  I heard today that a couple of Dharma brothers are involved with a local institute that helps one "live a bigger life," "a life of more."

I''m a dolt.  I just don't understand.

Why is it Bashō's pissing horse or Ryōkan's naked moon or Rengetsu's cherry blossom kindness draw me like a 10 Tesla magnet, while promises of a "shit-gotten-together life" leave me utterly at sea?  Why is it I'm considering cutting my income in half in 10 years while others are looking to triple theirs in 5?  Why is less vastly more attractive to me than more?

I don't know.  I just don't understand.

03 October 2010


Like most Zen Buddhists in America today, I was neither born into a Buddhist family, nor did I begin practice at an early age. I was 32 before I read the first line of a Buddhist sutra, and I was 35 before I set foot in a practice center or temple. Like many Zen Buddhists in America today, I have a Christian history. Mine is a Roman Catholic history, and the expression of that Catholicism is Franciscan.

Tonight the daughters and sons of Francis of Assisi gather to mark his death. To my knowledge he is if not the only then certainly one of the very few non-martyred Christian saints whose actual process of dying is the focus of sustained remembrance. And why? Francis did not preach resurrection; he lived the gateway to resurrection, the emptying and death of the self. So great was his lowering of the mast of the self that he is said to have borne in his body the signs of the highest expression of selflessness Christianity has to offer: the marks of the crucifixion, or stigmata. As he was dying he asked to be placed naked on the bare earth. He knew the gateway, and he went straight through, holding on to nothing.

I grew up in a Franciscan parish and attended five years of Franciscan seminary as a youth. I don’t know how many times I read and reread Francis’ writings and life long into adulthood. I have absolutely no doubt that Francis’ kissing a leper in a great moment of tossing aside all picking and choosing, his bald act of stripping off his clothes and identity before his family, bishop and fellow citizens thus walking unarmored into the world, his candid and unglossed following of the injunction to “sell everything you have,” his patient blessing of the cauterer’s iron that would probably do more to seal him in his blindness than cure it – all of this and more played a major role in opening me up to the path I follow today.

To my brothers and sisters, the sons and daughters of Francis and Clare: peace and all good!

And thanks.

28 September 2010

We Are New Birth Missionary Baptist, and They Are Us

(And we are Bishop Eddie Long.)

We are the Zen Studies Society, and they are us.
(And we are Eido Shimano.)

We are the Archdiocese of Boston, and they are us.
(And we are Cardinal Law and his priests.)

We are New Life Church, and they are us.
(And we are Ted Haggard.)

We are the wards of Irish orphanages, and they are us.
(And we are the priests, brothers and nuns who ran them.)

We are the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, and they are us.
(And we are Rabbi Baruch Lebovits.)

All my ancient, twisted karma
(and that "my" means "our," too)
Stemming from greed, anger and ignorance
(in every last one of their manifestations)
Arising in body, speech and mind
(in every nook and cranny and recess and organ)
I now fully repent
(and would ask everyone else to please do the same)

26 September 2010

Not Quite On My Own

I don't know what it is, but I have this deep, abiding attraction to the eremitic life. I've had it as long as I can remember, certainly back through high school, when I read Catherine De Hueck Doherty's Poustinia for the first (then second, then third) time. I devoured Porter's Road to Heaven as soon as I heard about it, and I sat captivated for hours through Gröning's Into Great Silence and Burger's Amongst White Clouds on more than several occasions. OK, on many occasions. I check up on items relating to eremitism and solitude on The Hermitary website. If there's such a thing as eremitic geekdom, I suppose I'm a charter member.

When I put down the book or shut off the DVD player or quit surfing, though, I stop, and I wonder: is this a mere fantasy on my part, or am I telling myself something about myself that I've always known but have never really wanted to hear or act on? It's not totally a fantasy, since I really do keep quiet and alone most of the time, build my schedule around zazen, and try to avoid unnecessary entanglements as best I can.

But I know there's room to go further. Much further. And I'm not there yet.

Not even close.

25 September 2010

On Practicing (Not to Mention Teaching in) Two Traditions

Maybe it's me, but I found trying to practice two religious traditions at once an impossibility. It wasn't because I couldn't make sense of how the two went together; it was because I found that practicing what each on its own terms had to offer was the work of a lifetime. And even if I could tell myself that I was doing one thing in doing both, I knew that I stood quite alone in that estimation. In my heart of hearts, I knew that playing both sides of the street was an ego game that served nothing so much as satisfying my own sense of self.

The arguments in favor of practicing two traditions at once are as compelling to me as the arguments in favor of having multiple spouses. Yes, it's quite interesting. Yes, it brings to light things you might otherwise miss. Yes, it opens you up to being more than you could be with just one.

But none of that gets to the point of the exercise, now, does it?

(It may well be the case that one finds that one is in the process of moving out of one tradition and into another, and that one is finding one's feet for a time. One isn't ready to commit wholeheartedly in the new direction just yet; one isn't ready to untie the old moorings just yet. I get that. But at most, it is a transitional phase that sooner or later leads to one settling back into the tradition of origin or else moving on to the new one.)

Which brings me to those who would serve as spiritual leaders in more than one tradition.

I won't say that the mass celebrated by a sanctioned Zen teacher/Roman Catholic priest isn't valid or that he can't really pass students on koans. Of course the jobs can get done, in much the same way that one can be a decent cake baker and and a decent cellist. There no logical contradiction involved at all.

I won't say that the sanctioned Zen teacher/post-denominational minister can't be both a skillful expositor of the Buddhadharma on one day and an inspiring preacher on another. I know from teaching diverse courses in a curriculum how easy it is to move from Descartes in the morning to Democritus in the afternoon without missing a beat and without the students ever suspecting anything about the other course.

I will say that what I find lacking in both of those instances is singleness of heart, a truly rare commodity in a society of multitaskers. Singleness of heart isn't a virtue in someone who can't see past the end of his or her nose; it's a virtue in one who, being well aware of the vast array of highways and byways and the many treasures that lie along them, nevertheless humbly submits to the discipline of one alone and, forsaking all others (to borrow from the marriage analogy again), commits to depth rather than breadth of coverage.

Maybe it's me, but I don't know that I could fully trust or respect anyone other than the single-hearted to guide me -- or even just to walk with me -- on the path.

22 September 2010

Brother Shodhin?

James Ford posted on his blog a dialogue between Kyogen Carlson and himself on some proposals to standardize Soto Zen priest training in the US. It's an interesting and revealing discussion, if for no other reason than it shows that the labels, 'practitioner,' 'priest,' and 'teacher,' do not fall out neatly or intuitively in the contemporary context. They are going to befuddle us for some time to come.

I admit I found myself leaning toward Carlson's side in the debate. The spirit I most resonate with in what he has to say is shown in his point that for him those who are ordained live at or pretty close to the temple. The order of their day, the kinds of decisions they do or do not make, the kind of clothing they don, their rearrangement of lifestyle to square more completely with practice -- all of these strike me as appropriate points to consider in demarcating someone who has taken ordination from one who has not. Then it's not an "ontological vs functional" issue, as Ford wants to make it, but a "form of life" issue. It's not that priests are "differently marked souls" or that they "do a certain kind of service in the sangha," but that they live a life that is more clearly, obviously and, to outside observers, publicly molded by the Dharma.

I often wonder whether the issue of ordination in Zen overlooks a model that's available to us in the West: that of profession in a non-monastic religious order. On this model, one commits to a more practice-centered form of life for its own sake. One does not stand in the position of having something the rest of the community needs (like a Christian priest would have the authority to administer sacraments or a sanctioned Zen teacher would have the authority to confirm insight); rather one makes oneself available for bearing witness to the Dharma and for serving the Sangha.

Who knows? We're still in the infancy of Zen in America. Everyone I speak with about Zen ordination comes at it from their own set of background assumptions and experiences, and I know I'm trotting mine out here, that's for sure. But while we, like the baby, are learning how to stand and walk, there's no harm in taking hold of a few more of the stable elements in the landscape while finding our feet.

21 September 2010

Memento mori

I don't use a mala much, but when I do, I recite on every bead Śāntideva's recollection from the Bodhicaryāvatāra: "My foes will become nothing / My friends will become nothing / I too will become nothing / Likewise all will become nothing."

Now that I think of it, maybe I should up that practice some. Why?

The simple recollection that everything is in the process of going away is sometimes just enough to keep me from setting all manner of ego-centered and hence harmful consequences into motion. Nothing I want to do is that important. No point I want to make in a debate is that decisive.

20 September 2010


Most people on the planet are completely unknown to one another. Except for a small circle of kin and acquaintances, we come and go without the least acknowledgment. Even then, life-long friends are few, and relatives grow up, marry, move away, lose touch, or die. We have no living memory of family members four or five generations back -- what kind of pie they preferred, what ticked them off, whether or how they buttered their toast, how they sneezed, what pet phrases they had, how they liked their eggs, how ticklish they were, what they were allergic to, whether they could carry a tune -- and in four or five generations we will be equally unknown.

Why fight it? Why wait?

I find it much more interesting to settle into my obscure place in the universe with everything else that is not particularly known. What great company to keep!

17 September 2010

Buddha Doesn't Love Me, This I Know

The Buddhadharma does not comfort me.

The Buddhadharma challenges me to leave what is small, ego-driven and dark-dwelling behind. The Buddhadharma tells me it’s going to hurt and that hurt is part of the process. The Buddhadharma gives me the choice between comfort and life. The Buddhadharma holds out to me untold kalpas of work.

And I say, “Bring it on.”

16 September 2010

I Live in a Zen Center

I live in a Zen center. It’s not a vihara, wat, monastery, hermitage, rectory, friary, priory, skete, lavra, convent, abbey, cloister, charterhouse, or any combination of them. It’s like some of them more than others, and there are times when I wish it were like others more than it is.

It’s quiet, and I like that. It looks and feels like a place where practice occurs, and I like that, too. No space in it is exclusively mine, but that’s just fine with me. There’s not a lot of space for keeping a lot of personal stuff, either, but I don’t have much anyway, so that’s cool. The 2nd floor kitchen sink and bathroom tub drain slowly, but otherwise the place is in excellent repair.

I live alone, except when my daughter or an out-of-town friend visits, or when there’s sesshin, or when there’s an overnight guest of the center. The first floor space is available for sangha business throughout the day and when there are sittings, so there is some come-and-go traffic, but not a lot and nothing distracting.

Someone once said to me that living here was like living in a fishbowl, but I’ve not found that to be the case at all. It may help that it’s been a Zen Center to me for 14 years and home for just over 14 weeks; I kind of knew what I was getting into. To tell the truth, sometimes I wish people didn’t feel so compelled to hightail it out of here after a sitting in the name of accommodating me.

I like that my move-in date and my ordination date were less than a week apart. I will essentially have always lived here as a priest, as a home-leaver. I don’t know how long I will stay here. I’m not looking to move out, but I’m also not inclined to say I’m going to live here for the rest of my life. I do know that this isn’t a “time out” from my normal life. This is the new normal, or at least a variation on it.

Perhaps it’s all for the best that living here is not like living in other kinds of religious houses. I don’t know. As with most everything else connected with this new life of mine, there’s no definite form, not too many people to share it with, and yet no limits to how far I can run with it. It always seems to come back to that, doesn't it...?

15 September 2010

Miles From Nowhere

I know the way.
I know what has to be done.
I know just how much it costs.
I know there's no other option.
And yet another day goes by, and I don't budge.

Śāntideva hit the nail right on the head:
We who are like senseless children shrink from suffering, but love its causes. We hurt ourselves; our pain is self-inflicted!

13 September 2010

Today We Buried My Grandmother

My grandmother died last Thursday, and today was the funeral and burial. She was 94, cogent to the end, in decent enough health for her age, and she died peacefully. I loved her, though I probably could have shown it better in all kinds of ways. I know she thought the world of me, and that makes the preceding sentence really hard to read again right now.

Of all the memories that come back at a time like this, there's one that for me comes back more vividly than any other. Along with her siblings, my grandma used to take care of her mother, we called her "Busia," at the end of Busia's life. When I was about 11 or 12, a year or two before Busia died, we were visiting, and my grandma had me go with her to go take care of Busia one day. Busia was about 82 or 83, had had diabetes for most of her life, and the diabetes at this point had led to her feet becoming severely ulcerated. Grandma would go over and wash and dress Busia's feet. Rather than have me wait in the front room or something like that, grandma insisted I come and look at Busia's feet, not from a distance, but up good and close. I remember the look in Busia's eyes. I remember the feet. I remember my grandma, on her knees, washing and dressing Busia's feet while she sat in a chair in her kitchen. She made me look at my great-grandmother's ulcerated feet.

I was just a kid, and I know I resisted going into that kitchen and looking. But grandma knew that, kid or not, I was certainly old enough to know something real about this world, about this life, and about doing what needs doing. And for that direct pointing at reality, more than for anything else I can take from her life, I am indeed most grateful.

12 September 2010

10 September 2010

What it Might Take to Become a Chair

On Sunday we heard some of Tangen-Roshi's words in teisho. What we heard were his recollections of when, as a 18- or 19-year old, he resolved to become like a chair:

When I was eighteen or nineteen years old, I resolved to become like a chair. That was because a chair doesn't refuse its services to anybody; it just takes care of the sitter and lets him rest his legs. After it has served its purpose, no one gets up and thanks or offers words of kindness to the chair. It will more likely get kicked out of the way. What's more, the chair doesn't grumble or complain or bear a grudge, but just takes whatever is given. When there is a job to be done, it puts forth all its energy without picking and choosing according to its desires. I was thinking, "wouldn't it be great to have such a heart."

I wrote on a big sheet of paper, "Be like a chair", and every day took note of how close I came. If even a little dissatisfaction arose, I would regard that as an embarrassing state of mind for a chair. I considered how thoroughly I was of use to others. A chair doesn't plop itself down on top of the sitter, right?

I immediately found myself echoing his thought, "Wouldn't it be great to have such a heart!"

And then I noted just as quickly, "I really don't have one."

I've been thinking a lot this week about what it might take to have one. I'm not one for generalities, so I find looking at specific cases much easier to work with. Today while driving my daughter to school, for instance, I could count at least three times I was quite "un-chairlike": (1) when someone insisted on passing me on the right on Ridge Ave., I sped up in order to keep her from getting back into the left lane (turns out she had no intention of getting back into the left lane after all); (2) when coming off Hollywood onto the start of Lake Shore Drive I was quite impatient with the driver of the clunker of an Impala in front of me that would not (probably could not) accelerate as I wanted him to; and (3) while stopped on the Ashland Ave. bridge over I-290, I honked at a the guy in front of me to close the gap between him and the car in front of him, because I thought it was excessive.

All that in the space of the 7:00 hour. And I'm sure I'm forgetting some, too!

Driving is just one of many ways my un-chairlike heart shows up, so just staying off the road won't really help much. (I actually thought about doing just that!) I could cut off all the ways in which it shows up, but that wouldn't get to the root of the issue, either.

I know full well what's going on here. I'm still so very much enamored of the idea I have of myself that whenever the world doesn't march to its tune, I react, not at my bogus idea but at the world: "She's not driving like I want her to!" "He's not moving along like I want him to!" The list could -- and does -- go on.

Back to the mat, then, back to the mat. Just let go of the one thing that will then let go of it all. And then I might become like a chair.

09 September 2010

The Three Jewels Order of the Cloud-Water Sangha

"I am an ordained member of the Three Jewels Order of the Cloud-Water Sangha."

I realize that if I said that out loud, just about no one, not even most of the members of my local sangha, would have the vaguest idea what it meant. Funny thing is, I'm not so sure, either, but I think I have some clue.

The Cloud-Water Sangha is a loose affiliation of those centers that have as their teachers either Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede or someone whose sanctioning comes through him. The Rochester Zen Center web page (www.rzc.org) lists the centers with links to their web sites.

The Three Jewels Order is an order of priests and layfolk in the Cloud-Water Sangha who have made service to the Dharma the/a major trajectory in their life. The priests are priests, with everything that goes with that. The lay-ordained are layfolk who have upped their time and energy and practice level in such a way that they are recognized by the rest of the sangha as senior members, with whatever goes with that.

Today I received an email from Gerardo Gally Sensei in Mexico in response to one I sent him. I've never met him, but I heard an mp3 of a teisho he gave in Rochester this summer, and I had wanted to let him know I found it helpful in addressing a matter of common concern. His response was warm, engaging and genuine. When he said he hoped we would meet soon, I believed him.

When I was working in Germany I got to know Robert Goldmann Sensei and his wife, Gisela, and other members of the Berlin sangha. Any time I happened to be in Berlin, I sat with the group and socialized with Robbie and Gisela. Each time we would kind of pick up where we had left off, prompting the three of us to remark how apt Master Hakuin's line in the Zazen Wasan was to the situation: "In going and returning we never leave home."

Last fall I spent a week at the Rochester Zen Center, getting to know Roshi, the resident staff and many sangha members. I spent some time with Trueman, who had recently(ish) been ordained, and talked about becoming priests, our respective trajectories, etc. I never felt the least bit out of place.

In the day-to-day run of things, it's all too easy to think that the outer limit of the sangha is the roster of members of this particular temple. I'm finding it important to remember that my sangha includes Dharma brothers and sisters in New Zealand, Mexico, Sweden and Finland, Germany, Scotland, Ohio, Wisconsin and New York, as well as Illinois. I can go (and have gone) to them for refuge, and I hope that they would find here a place they can call home and people they can call kin, too. I hope to get to know more of them in the near future.

What an appropriate name for our motley band: cloud-water, unsui -- here, there, nowhere, everywhere!

08 September 2010

No Books. OK, Maybe a Few.

Yesterday I was asked by a dear friend, Dharma sister, and current intern at Wisdom Publications to write a review of a newly released or forthcoming book to post here. In a quick follow-up email, she said that of course there was no pressure to do so, if I didn't want to do book reviews on here.

I was grateful for the easy out. I don't want to do book reviews on here.

I earn my keep as an academic. I've had to read books for a degree, for a job, for a living. I used to own many hundreds of books, books I just had to have, books that no one who did what I did could be without, the latest books, the classic books, the "this will transform the landscape of x studies" books, books that chronicled the "P vs Q Debate." Then I went abroad for three years and left all the books on the shelves in my office. When I returned, I realized that a) I hadn't opened many of them in many years, b) the ones I had opened I could easily nab from the library if I needed to take a look again, and c) I really didn't find that most of them in the end had terribly much to say. So I took pretty much all of them off the shelves (I kept back those I needed for use in the classroom), put them in the hallway outside my office door, stuck up a "Free Books" sign over the lot of them, and felt the cool breeze of liberation waft in as they disappeared one after the other.

I have never regretted doing that. Not once. I don't miss them at all.

I still own a few books. The Connected, Long and Middle-Length Discourses of the Buddha (Wisdom gets a plug, after all), a few Mahāyanā sutras, some Zen records, some books of Chinese poetry, and some field guides. Except for the Pāli canon, perhaps, I wouldn't even replace those if a fire or flood or friend took them.

This is one of those things one comes to on one's own. I've heard of Zen teachers forbidding their students to read. I get the idea, but I don't think that's the way to go about it.

For me, it's a renunciation issue. Renunciation isn't a forced march to annihilation. It's what happens when, having first aroused bodhicitta (using the language of the tradition), one sees the pursuit of something else as utterly beside the point. One then sets aside that something else, not in order to see more clearly, but because one has already begun to see more clearly.

I found books to be a distraction for me, something of a waste of my time, something that kept me from something better. It's not that occasionally I won't get a real itch to buy some title or another. I do. But if I let it sit in the Amazon cart overnight, I'm usually free of the itch by morning.

For you they may not be a distraction, so read on! But I won't point out the good ones or the bad ones for you. You'll have to figure that out by yourself.

07 September 2010

In the No Comprendo Zone Again

I don't understand what is being offered when I see advertised, for $120, a one night a week for six weeks "exploration" of the first koan, mu.

You see, I know someone who passed the first koan on their first stab at it. But I also know someone who passed the first koan after some thirty years of consistent, dedicated practice -- including more sesshin days than some teachers had under their shukins before they were sanctioned. Sometimes the fruit is ripe; sometimes the fruit needs to stay on the vine a while. Such is the nature of practice. Such is the nature of our life. Such is the nature of the first koan.

I have watched the dead come back to life with mu, and I will never stop bearing witness to that reality. If I do nothing else as a Zen priest, I will attest to the transformative power that is unleashed when the ego dies its first real death in mu.

So I don't understand what's supposed to happen on those six consecutive fall evenings. I see that discussion is involved. Really? Of all things, more discussion? It says, too, that there will be dokusan. At $20 an evening, though, its hard to imagine anyone will get rung out quickly for starting off their demonstration by opening their mouth. Nothing in my training leads me to make sense of any of this. Nothing at all.

But there must be something to this, right? I mean, such a program must assuredly be a skillful means for breaking through the hold the self has on someone. It simply has to be worth the participants' time and the money as a way of putting an end to dukkha, right?


I clearly don't understand.

05 September 2010

Beethoven's Tenth

Today in teisho we heard a bit from Tangen-Roshi of Bukkokuji. I had heard much about him, but not anything from him, so I poked around on the net and found this, which brought instant tears to my eyes:

"The last evening before I joined the army during the war I went to my room and I sat there listening to the gramophone, an old one, no electricity, Beethoven's Symphony No 9, again and again, at two o'clock I wrote on the sleeve: 'I am listening to it now, maybe the last time'. I joined the air forces and the day my last flight was due the war ended; if my last flight was just a day earlier, nobody of you would be sitting here. But I went back home, the record was still where I left it, I opened it and the inscription was there. But I didn't listen to it any more. After the war I met a nun who introduced me to the Dharma. She took me to the zazen in Kannon temple in Tokyo and then when I heard the Shiseigando Sutra, even though I didn't understand the meaning because I didn't have the written text, I knew this was the harmony I was seeking. I couldn't stop crying, it was raining when I was going home, but the rain of my tears was even bigger. I didn't listen to the classical music anymore. Beethoven is powerful, but the silence is even more powerful. This is the Tenth Symphony of Beethoven."

And at this very moment, we, too, are listening, maybe for the last time.

04 September 2010

A Theravādan in Mahāyanā Clothing?

A friend and Dharma brother mentioned to me yesterday that he had been listening to podcasts or somesuch out of the insight meditation community, and he had been struck by the frequent references to morality, ethics, and the practice of the pāramitās in them. He offered that he rarely heard such references in Zen talks, hearing instead rather frequent mention of enlightenment, awakening, and the like. He wondered aloud whether that might not have something to do with the kinds of shenanigans that just about every Zen center and temple has had to put up with from many "enlightened" teachers.

I don't know the answer to that question at all.

I do know that I find myself these days reading in the Pāli canon more than in the records of the Zen masters. I do know that I could stand to benefit from a fortnightly or monthly precepts recitation and repentance ceremony (I notice that some Zen centers have incorporated this into their schedule). I do know that from "All beings are already enlightened" it does not follow that "I am enlightened today." I do know that even if all beings will one day attain the heights of Buddhahood, I'm still very much in the lowlands of ego and attachment. And I do know that poo-pooing the ideal of arhatship is something I can never do, since I don't know that my pinky toe has come even remotely close to entering the stream.

I've developed such a gag reflex when the word 'enlightenment' or its relatives is used in reference to anyone other than Śākyamuni that hearing the question, "Was the monk enlightened?," when working through a koan is getting harder and harder to endure.

I sometimes wonder if that means I should trade in my black and blue robes for saffron or ochre. In the end I think that what it really means is that, at least for me, the generosity and expanse of the Mahāyanā vision can never be uncoupled from the humility and patience that Theravādan practice embodies.

02 September 2010

Radical Solitude

I'm spending time these days working through the pāramitā of kṣānti, or patient forbearance, and one of the things that continues to strike me about this pāramitā is the way in which it points to our thoroughgoing aloneness.

One is invited to consider that everything that affects oneself -- whether arising from within, as in the case of mental phenomena, or arising from without, as in the case of external phenomena and the actions of others -- is not oneself and neither adds to nor detracts from one's essential nature. Hence, neither praise nor blame, neither boon nor bane is cause for elation or distress, since, in the end, they are not oneself. Knowing this, one is able to receive benefit without getting a swelled head and to endure abuse, pain and insult with a soft, open heart.

I recently heard a dharma talk that looked at the way in which even the closest of friends and kin tend to shy away from or neglect us in times of greatest need and distress. Far from an occasion to wag a finger at the unhelpful or absent, or to complain about their self-centeredness, the kṣānti pāramitā would have me see this as a reminder that I am in no way diminished by their (lack of) actions. In fact, I should be grateful for the occasion to realize that from the very beginning I have never been other than myself and that this has always been sufficient.

01 September 2010

Zen Priest Practice, Too?

"Learn by heart you must let the people eat you up." Teresa of Calcutta

30 August 2010

In the No Comprendo Zone

I don't understand the motivation to make the Dharma look good by making disparaging comments about the content or practices of other traditions.

I really don't understand it when such comments reference the speaker's experience as a child: "When I was in Sunday School...," "In confirmation class I asked the teacher x, and she said...," "In fourth grade the priest said y, and I thought...". At that age the boys thought girls had cooties and sex was icky. Good thing most people don't base their adult dating habits on their pre-adolescent worldviews! So why does the third-grader's smartass comment about some aspect of religion count as an enlightened slam-dunk on a millennia-old tradition?

Or, perhaps more to the point, why does one's third-grade self, which is many decades long gone, still demand a hearing? Any why do teisho-givers yield the floor to it?

28 August 2010

Nothing Special

"I say beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes." Thoreau, Walden

So I got some new clothes this summer. The sangha outfitted me with two robes, a shukin, a rakusu, a kesa and a zagu. I should like to think that, in this case, the clothes confirmed the newness of the wearer, though that is something for others to judge. Except for excessive wear and tear -- but, really, how worn can anything but the everyday robe possibly get? -- I can't imagine having any reason to replace or add to anything in that stack.

Which brings me to the temptation I suppose many feel to go a-shopping at "Boutique Zen": brocade rakusus and kesas of various designs and colors, coordinating malas for the wrist, flowing Japanese silk britches for ceremonial occasions, tabi, samues that will never, ever, be used to actually work in...

Oh, yeah, the samue.

While in the Japan Center in San Francisco earlier this month I passed a shop that had a small rack of samues in the front of the store. I took a look. There was one that was touch-it-and-your-fingers-are-blue-for-a-day indigo (cool!). Nice construction. Button waist. Zippered fly. Pockets in the pants. Roomy top (I'm not skinny). Appropriate sleeve length. Decent price (compared to what is usually asked for something like this). The shopkeeper, finding out I was ordained, offered to cut me a discount. He practiced at Page St. and sat with the Dharma Punx. Nice guy.

I bought it.

I understand that the samue is a point of some contention in my lineage. Bodhin Roshi sees it as yet another Japanese accretion that is best left in Japan, but his ordained dharma heirs all wear one. Here in the heartland, it really is pretty funny seeing a middle-aged, middle-class white guy on the street in a samue. On the other hand, when worn with a rakusu it seems to have become a clearly recognizable mark of Buddhist belonging that bestows a bit of "dharma cred" on the wearer.

I'm conflicted. Something tells me I should have one, and something tells me that it's silly to have one. I anticipate an occasion or a setting where I would be expected to wear one, and I have the sense that I would not even begin to feel at home on such an occasion or in such a setting.

It hangs in the closet. If it hangs there for the next two years without me putting it on, I'll pass it on to someone who values it more than I do, for by then the conflict will have settled of its own accord.

26 August 2010

A Little Secret

For the past 10 years or so I have kept a list -- an actual list -- of the things I own.

It started after I had realized, for what I then hoped would be the last time, that I owned things that I neither remembered I had nor actually needed or wanted. I figured that if I listed it all in black on white I would get a clearer sense of the scope of my possessions.

I was instantly ashamed, so I started paring down.

The list has been shrinking-to-steady ever since. I'm now down to a point where I cannot in all reasonableness pare much further without significant changes in my basic lifestyle. I need a car to get to work in Indiana, for instance, and only if I leave my job can I begin to think about going carless. There is a small number of things I own simply because my one kid stays here from time to time, and I need to make her comfortable as well. Who knows? In a few years, some of that stuff might be able to pass on as well.

Today I happened upon a website listing a bhikkhu's permitted and prohibited possessions. Aside from a few items, I noticed that my list and the bhikkhu's list were not terribly far apart, all things considered. I'll now look at those few items again as well. Maybe they could go, too.

Seems to me that the tradition has outlined a reasonable life for those of us who would be home-leavers. A very reasonable life.

21 August 2010

"What I think we’re looking at is a dying off of Zen in the West within the next twenty years."

So blogged James Ford about a month or so ago on his Monkey Mind site.

To be honest, if Christianity had come to the West from elsewhere some 50ish years ago, I have no doubt the prognosis would be equally grim. It's not a matter of the efficacy of the practice, and it's not a matter of the profundity of the sutras or scriptures, nor is it a matter of how lofty the ideals are yet how reticent our nature is to live up to them.

It's a matter of not having enough non-lay practitioners setting down the ugly, rough, subterranean foundation on which to support the edifice. Yes, Layman Pang and Vimalakirti had deep insight, enough to spar with the very best. Nevertheless, the vessel of the tradition was borne by the full-timers, the lifers, who had nothing else to do but serve the establishment of the practice. They parked their asses in one spot, didn't go on vacations and sightseeing trips, and were tough as nails. They endured hardship and cold. They knew hunger and loneliness.

The generation to whom Zen has been entrusted in America wanted the cake and the eating. They wanted marriages (though maybe not families) and the abbotship. They wanted careers and the transmission. They wanted the rigors of the practice and they wanted to make it accessible to the multitudes. They wanted to open a field of merit and make money at it.* Maybe they wanted to be Zen and Christian, even. Who knows? In all of this, they were truly WASP-Americans, or quite the Baby-Boomers or their wannabes. But they were not sustainably Zen. Or anything else, for that matter.

I'm all for lay practice in Zen. But it has to have a solid touchstone somewhere, and that touchstone -- as it has been for every spiritual practice known to humans since the dawn of agriculture and cities -- can only be the hermitage and the monastery. What hubris to think that Zen in the West in the 20th/21st centuries could be an exception to that rule!

The future of Zen, if it is to have one, is going to be prepared quietly by small groups of men and women who will live apart, who will not seek to expand the temple's membership, get invited on the lecture circuit, or publish the next book. These men and women will practice hard. They will keep their own counsel and demand far more of themselves than anyone would probably think prudent. They will become the Anthonys, the Dogens, the Brunos and the Rinzais of today, and the success of their efforts will be known in, oh I don't know, about 10 to 15 generations.


* My goodness, how far would Christianity have gotten in the British isles and northwestern Europe if the Celtic monks had charged the equivalent of $900 sesshin fees for their service to the laity as some places currently do?

19 August 2010

The Four Requisites

According to the Buddha, there are four requisites for living a life devoted to practice:

food sufficient to prevent the affliction of hunger and adequate to maintain the health of the body;

clothing sufficient to appear socially decent and conducive to the protection of the body from any harm from the natural environment;

housing which gives sufficient safety and security conducive to one’s serious engagement in the culture of the mind;

and medicine and health care which cures and prevents disease.

Pretty straightforward, it would seem. What I pause on is 'sufficient'. I clearly have sufficient, and I clearly have more than sufficient. To tell the truth, I sometimes can't believe just how well-off I am. I want for nothing.

Now, how to get to the sufficient alone?

16 August 2010

"When what happens is not what you expect…"

"...forget about it, and return to yourself." (Stonehouse)

I recently spoke with a guy who is coming out from under a teacher scandal at the temple where he has been practicing. We've had our troubles here, to be sure. In his last interview before his recent death, Robert Aitken Roshi did not flinch at calling Eido Shimano "a crook." If you have enough money, you can buy into Genpo's "Big Mind" and its offshoots.

In the end, none of this matters. When I sit on the mat, I do not confront others' malfeasance; I confront my own. The "endless blind passions" that I vow to uproot are none other than mine. The fetters I have created for myself are mine alone to break. And no matter how long I stay at this work, more work will have to be done.

I find I have nothing to say about the people involved or the deeds they've done. I don't think I would have anything to say to them, either. What an immense delusion it would be for me to think that I, through a few words, could change the course of the life they have created for themselves!

12 August 2010

Dharma Brother

You know you've found dharma kin when you get to that point where words fail in describing the depth of your aspiration, and the person on the other side of the table understands you all the same, because his aspiration is just as deep.

10 August 2010


"Beautiful, isn't it?" my friend asked. "Indeed it is, but alas, how sad," I thought to myself while tears of wonder filled my eyes at what I saw.

03 August 2010

The Clown Act

Yesterday I performed my first public act as a priest: conducting a memorial service at a local funeral home. I loaded up the car with altar, figure, incense, candles, flowers, fruit, cloth, kesu, mat, and all the rest, headed over, set things up, disappeared for a while, then came back to do the service. Afterward I gratefully accepted the dana, joked around with the funeral home owners, packed it all back up, and headed home.

My name has now been added to the clergy-on-demand list at the funeral home, but I'm not expecting to fill my calendar with requests. The one owner asked about my fee, and I explained that in Buddhism we don't charge for the Dharma, so he put down "free will offering." I asked what the Presbyterian gets. He said the Presbyterian minister and the Catholic priest each fetch between $150 and $200. The rabbi's fee starts at $450. I kidded that he should be sure to mention the Buddhists between the Catholics and the Jews, just to see what that would bring in!

All joking aside, I became convinced yesterday of the utter rightness of not putting a price on the Dharma and how important it is to simply respond as best I can to requests made of my time and energy. I hate to admit it, but going into the funeral home at noon my thoughts about the service were about me and what I could bring to it. Leaving the funeral home at 3, I knew that the service was about something much more subtle and profound and that I was just a bit player in the whole thing. If my work on behalf of the Dharma brings such gifts as this insight in its wake, it would be a shame to insist on adding cash to them as well.

29 July 2010

Minimal Guidance

Contemporary Zen in America, at least as far as I know, has no equivalent of something like Benedict's Rule to govern ordained life. The 10-ish pages of 8.5 x 11 paper I was given to begin my novice training contained a nice long reading list, some basic guidelines (solid zazen practice, short hair, blue or black clothing, no collars, new name), and some scant impressions of what kind of life was being aimed at. And that was it.

I found myself looking at the Vinaya. I took out Dōgen's Eihei Shingi. I read about the Baizhang Qinggui. The Vinaya was exacting to the point of being unhelpful; the others were general to the point of being the same.

I was reminded of a line in Francis' Testament where he is describing the beginnings of his new way of life: "No one showed me what I ought to do."

So here I am, free to gestalt my own new way of life. I can honestly say that I cannot remember anything else I've embarked on where there was so little set form and yet so high an aspiration. This truly is the antithesis of hoop-jumping, requirement-fulfilling, or expectation-meeting.

Maybe that is what is so unsettling. I am, I am beginning to see, a free man, free to simply be there in the unfolding of each new moment and each new day. No one is showing me what to do, and I have no idea of what lies ahead.

23 July 2010

The Great Silence

Perhaps one of the things that first drew me to Zen was the fact that it was a silent practice. Of course there is the silence of the zendo and the silence one encounters when the monkey mind stops a-chattering, but it is more than that. It is the silence of the apologia that were never written, the sermons that were never delivered, the hymnody that was never composed. It is the silence that after a three sentence interchange says, "Enough talk! Let's have tea." It is the silence of Gutei's finger, Hakuin's one hand, Nansen's circle on the ground, my daughter's cut toe, the oriental lily in the vase, the traffic jam on the Ryan, and the time spent with an old friend.


13 July 2010

The Small Joy of Koan Work

When we hear about koan work it is often in the context of sesshin, where the order of the day is to dive deep, burrow long, press on, strive harder – you know the drill. And if we’ve read The Three Pillars, we’ve been amazed and astounded at the nothing-short-of-miraculous accounts of the sundering of heaven and earth as some unsuspecting “N.N. – [pick your everyday bourgeois profession]” breaks through to kensho in the strangest way and place possible.

Depending on our disposition we may find such talk intriguing or off-putting, and it is easy to see how some folk go in for koan practice and others not so much.

But what gets me most about koan practice, what I find myself utterly humbled by and grateful for, is not the earthmoving and the pyrotechnics. It is that small, barely perceptible, instant when, despite all the demonstrations of the koan I’ve rehearsed in my head on the mat, despite whatever depths of the Dharma I think the koan is teaching me, despite whatever I think about myself and the teacher and the practice, the koan comes alive in the dokusan room, and – I’m struggling to find the right words here, so bear with me – I am the koan in a way I could never have anticipated yet which is so right that nothing else could possibly be going on just then and I don’t even know it at the time but only notice it afterwards and even then just barely. This certainly doesn’t happen all the time, or even much of the time, really. And when it does, it isn’t all that dramatic (onlookers, and even the teacher I suppose, would find nothing remarkable). But when it does, I walk out of the dokusan room ever more disposed to press on with practice, because I have had a small sip from a source that I again know is nothing other than what I myself am when everything else is set to the side. And I would drink deeper.

06 July 2010

One Month

Probably the biggest surprise to me about being a priest is just how little it matters on the one hand, and how very much it matters on the other. When I go to the grocery store, for example, no one would know I'm a priest. But I know, and so I find that I keep checking myself: just this.

The way I look at it is that they don't have to know I'm ordained; but if they were to find out, they shouldn't be surprised by it based on what they see. Now that I think about it, that's a tall enough order to keep me on my toes for quite some time.