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.

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