22 October 2012

This Very Life

My daughter's been making the center her second home for over two years now, and so I asked her the other day, "What do you say when people ask you about Zen?"  She answered, "I tell them I don't know what it is, and that maybe my dad could tell them."  Funny thing is, I would answer just as she did (without the added dad part, of course), because, truth be told, I don't know what it is, either! 

Today in teisho I heard that, in the end, Zen means living this very life we have to the utmost.  I think that's right, and it explains why I can't tell anyone what it is.  All I can say is, "Live your life in all of its wonder and worry.  Live it all, every last bit of it, the pain and the pleasure, the ups and the downs, the flowers of springtimes and the dampness and cold of November rains."

That said, the longer I'm at this, the more I realize why something so simple and straightforward is so hard to pull off and why practice is so goshdarn important.  What is practice, really, except slowly – glacially, even – letting the weight of our self-styled self understanding move off the pulsing, beating, springing, exploding vibrancy of this amazing, astounding, life?  How much work there is to do just to be what we've been from the very beginning!  Well, maybe I need to rope that in: how much work there is to do just to be what I have been from the very beginning!  Others may be more deeply engaged in their life; I know I still have plenty of work to do.

So this week again I will put the day-to-day routine on hold and take my seat on the mat for another sesshin.  I will do it not to escape my life but to reenter it more fully, more alertly, more open to every possibility it holds.  I will do it for myself, for those I love, and for those I'm not too keen about, for those being born and those entering into the dying.  I will do it in the company of men and women of every generation who have ever set themselves to this very task.  I will do it knowing that 99% of the men and women who have ever walked this earth have absolutely no idea about this practice and what it entails. 

Most of all, I will do it because, well, that's just what I do, and it's part and parcel of this very life I have. 

20 October 2012

The Great Way Isn't All That Difficult...

...it just means being grateful.

Gratitude for what is, and for exactly what is, is the surest sign of having gotten beyond picking and choosing.

Gratitude for what is, and for exactly what is, is the surest sign of being beyond preferences, likes and dislikes.

The expression of gratitude puts us in our proper place: on the receiving end, on the lower end, on the receptive end.   I know I've found people I can respect when I consistently hear words of thanks from their mouths.  I know I've found people I cannot respect when I consistently hear whining and complaining from their mouths.

It really is that simple.

16 October 2012

A New Task Begins

Tonight during rounds I will go down, offer incense, do prostrations, take my seat in the doksuan room where the teacher usually sits, and ready myself to give daisan for the first time.  Maybe someone will come down, maybe not.  Even if they don't, the monitor will at least stop in to get the ball rolling, and I think that'll be strange enough.

I hope I never forget the feeling I have now, a feeling of utter inadequacy, inexperience and cluelessness.  I'm not nervous at all.  I'm just soberly cognizant of the weakness of my own practice, the lapses of body, speech and mind I all too easily fall into, the myriad ways in which I've lost sight of the Dharma.

And then I remind myself that it's not about me.  It's about my Dharma brothers and sisters seeing themselves.  If I'm doing this right, they should see nothing but their own best selves reflected back at them.  If I'm doing this right, what I have to say should strike them as something they have always known but perhaps had just forgotten about.

At least that's how I've felt in the daisans and dokusans I've gone through.  As I left the room, I always knew that what I'd just heard I'd always known, and that our little interchange was just so much remembering together the truth of the world and ourselves, the truth of dukkha, its origin, its cessation, and the path that leads to its cessation.  Never have I left dokusan with anything other than a "right as rain" feeling.  Never.  Not once. 

I sincerely hope that by some small unforeseen grace anyone who leaves daisan from here on out will find themselves feeling pretty much the same.

07 October 2012

Day is Done

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I love this life.  I love this life.

Just this week I got to enjoy once more that wonderful scene of changed gold-to-purple ash leaves, brown-red spent soybean fields, deep purple asters blooming along the roadside, and the feel of a good crisp chill on a clear bright day. 

Just the other day I got to surprise someone with flowers.  Always nice to have someone to send flowers to. 

Just yesterday I was given the opportunity to put my money where my mouth is and to practice what I preach.  For that, and for so many similar opportunities, I am most grateful.

And just now I can't imagine a time when I've felt more comfortable in my own skin, more at ease with the world, more open to whatever comes my way.  I have nothing to lose, and there is nothing I'm looking to gain.

The sun is setting, and the day is just about done.

May all be at ease.  May their demons depart, their ills abate, and their burden lighten.  May their fears be allayed, their aspirations fulfilled, and their hearts soften. 

And, as always, may all attain Buddhahood!

04 October 2012

No Comprendo Santa Claus

My sister is seven years younger than me.  One of the many consequences of that fact is that I had to maintain the Santa story for her sake well past the day I knew better.  I didn't mind, exactly.  I mean, what's to complain about that extra little pile of goods under the tree? 

When we were in Germany, my youngest – three years old at the time – was informed by her Kindergarten that a) Santa Claus is not real, b) Saint Nicholas was real, but c) Saint Nicholas is dead.  Nothing quite like the German penchant for demystification!  All the same, we continued to keep the Santa routine alive for a few more years, the kids still seeming to enjoy setting out the cookies the night before and waking up to the traces of a middle-of-the-night visitor in the form of gifts and crumbs.

So there it is.  In the one case, the ruse was maintained with a lie.  In the other, the magic was maintained even with the truth known.

I think we often overestimate the effect that calling a spade a spade will have on people; we tend to anticipate the absolute worst.  I suppose one could say that this reflects prudence, discretion and concern, and that may well be right.  Sometimes truth is best digested with a sugar coating.

But in a case in which the facts are long- and well-known, reticence to call a spade a spade for an extended length of time strikes me as patronizing.  I'm given to understand that Japanese doctors would tell their patients they had an ulcer rather than deliver the news they had stomach cancer.  My guess is that word was soon out in the general population that "ulcers" were fatal all the same!  My ex-wife wanted to wait until school was done for the year to tell the kids we were getting divorced (= some three months away), because she didn't want their grades to suffer as a result of the bad news.  Turns out the kids found out about a week and a half (= some ten days later) after the divorce on their own and, since we hadn't said anything, had to keep a lid on it for the three months.  Their grades were fine.

I'm currently watching a scenario in which adults are keeping a kind of Santa story alive in the face of the known facts, dragging out with added procedures an outcome that is already known to all parties, in the hopes that – what? – the gifts will show up under the tree in the form of a different outcome? That somehow putting another layer of procedure on the matter will add just that much more sugar to get the pill down?  That with further committee deliberations the result will seem more authentic?

Stomach cancer patients can get on with treatment once the cancer is admitted.  My kids could have gotten on with processing the divorce earlier with an earlier admission of its reality.  All parties in the current matter can get moving on sooner rather than later once it is definitively – finally – settled.

I guess I hold that the truth is liberating, that it removes a logjam in the smooth flow of the universe, and that, even though it might require us to break out of our initial comfort zone, the comfort and release that awaits on the other side of its telling more than recompenses us for our efforts.

As far as Santa goes, I don't know.  I just don't understand.

03 October 2012

Going Filterless

A sangha member and good friend said to me recently that he has stopped trying to pass everything through what the called "the Zen filter."  He said that until now he would take anything he thought about doing, see whether it squared with "practice" or "Zen," and, if it seemed to, he went through with it, and if it seemed not to, he didn't.  He said that now he just acts, with the usual amount of reflection and consideration of course, but without making anything "Zen" about it.

Good for him!  I remember when I came to the same point myself – how freeing it was, how so thoroughly matter-of-course it was that I wondered why I hadn't stumbled upon it sooner.

That's the rub, though, isn't it?  Anyone who practices comes in with a certain level of expectation, a certain set of assumptions, a vision of what a "Zen life" must/could be.  But, if practice is doing at all what it's supposed to, the day has to come when all of that just gets dropped.  Then things begin to roll!  The vast heaven of boundless samādhi reveals itself when it is no longer "the vast heaven of boundless samādhi," awakening becomes possible in the absence of "awakening," etc. 

That dropping is the last act the small self needs to do.  That's it!  But oh how hard it is to believe that at the outset.  How very, very hard...