Sunday, September 30, 2012

Teachers of Masters

In a span of ten days, we are celebrating several major ancestors in the Zen lineage:  Bodhidharma, who brought Buddhism from India to China; Dōgēn Zenji who took it from China to Japan; Keizan Jōkin who established major temples and monasteries, including several for women; and Shunryū Suzuki, who brought the teachings west and founded San Francisco Zen Center.  We know about them, masters all – they’re famous, and we chant their names at least once a week.

But what of those who taught them? I often wonder about the teachers throughout history who saw something in that one student, who had the key that best fit that one heart, who knew somehow that this one would, in fact, change the world.  What did Rùjing see in Dōgēn, or So-on in Suzuki?  Ekan was biased, maybe – she was Keizan’s mother, and an abbess famous in her own time for her devotion to compassion. (Bodhidharma seems to have arrived from India fully taught.)

How did these teachers inspire, what did they say to get their students to make a leap that reverberates forward a thousand years? Dōgēn tells us that “Buddhas and ancestors of old were as we.  We in the future shall be Buddhas and ancestors.”  But we don’t believe it.  We don’t believe we can affect centuries hence.  Maybe those we now call ancestors didn’t believe it, either.  But someone did.  Someone encouraged them to find their heart and speak from it.  Someone believed in them and persisted with them, not giving up, not turning away.  It’s not those teachers we remember at length.  (Rùjing’s Wikipedia citation is four sentences.)  Yet we chant their names, too. 

The next time you chant the names of the ancestors, say your own name at the end of the list.  You’ll be there one day, anyway.  Might as well try on the role of teacher and student now.  They aren’t different, you know.  As Rumi finally discovered about Shams of Tabriz:
His essence speaks through me.
I have been looking for myself!

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