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!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Quiet Day

Yesterday, 80 residents and guests spent the day in the zendo, sitting quietly with whatever arose inside and out.  These sittings help us loosen our grip on what we believe to be true, on what we guard as “I” and “mine,” on all the ways we’ve been wronged – in short, on our suffering.  As Ani Tenzin Palmo says,
We are not bound to the wheel.  It is we who grasp it tightly with both hands.
Surrender is a hard choice, a gut-wrenching abandonment of story and control.  Yet the payoff is huge … and counterintuitive.  We suddenly discover that surrendering to the moment, letting go of fix and blame, results in options.  The acceptance of things as it is (to borrow a Suzuki-roshi-ism) opens up a treasure store of possibilities.

Sirens whined up and down the street yesterday on their way to and from unknown tragedies and calamities.  What option did we have, other than to curse them for disturbing our quiet day?  Well, how about just noticing the sound and where it landed in our body and mind.  How about sending forth the fervent wish, “May they arrive in time.”

Friday, September 14, 2012

Nourishment Departing, Arriving

This morning we said goodbye to our tenzo (head cook).  Her time to nourish us is over, for now, and she returns to her family to care for her infant granddaughter.   She met us in each moment, giving her full attention to whomever was standing before her.  And you got the feeling that she was not ignoring the pot on the stove, or the kitchen crew, or the countdown till dinner, but that her elastic field of inclusion had just expanded to envelop you.

Next week, fifteen students will arrive to participate in our fall practice period.  They have somehow managed to arrange their lives to spend 78 days returning to center, nourishing what they suspect is their true self that has perhaps been frosted by busyness and shoulds.

The opposite of nourishing is multitasking.  The working lunch does not satisfy.  When we split our attention, we attend to nothing, and competence and thorough completion lose out in favor of a To-Do list that never ends.  In the Gēnjō Kōān, Zen master Dōgen wrote what his tenzo – and ours – already knew: “Meeting one thing is mastering it; doing one practice is practicing completely.”

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Joyful Noise

Much of my first week as Ino has been delightfully consumed with training students on the drums, bells and vocals that attune us (literally) to the rhythm of our sitting and service.  There are religions of melody and religions of harmony, and from my perspective, Buddhism falls in the latter category.  Indeed, the Sanskrit word sama, translated in English as “right” (as in the Eight-Fold Path of right speech, right action, etc.) actually means “in tune.” 

To harmonize, to align, to resonate.  These are the qualities of the bells, drums and voices that come forth in our service.  Even after more than 20 years in this practice, I still break out in a smile when the assembly begins a chant somewhat tentatively, on a range of oft-discordant notes, and then suddenly without effort finds a common pitch and well-tuned harmonies – even among people who are dissonant for the rest of the day.

There is hope in those moments, an unspoken pull toward resonance that trumps the separate self.  How interesting that we so deeply fear losing our self, yet we come to harmony so quickly in chant, willing to give up our own pitch-position for the reward of being in tune.  No need for everyone to be on the same note -- harmony has a better chance of finding more matching frequencies from which we say, “Ah, yes, that’s my note!  I can belong.  I can be at home with the song in my heart.”

Monday, September 3, 2012

A New Seat

Until today, my seat in the zendo was on “officers row” -- the tan southwest of the altar that’s anchored on one end by our former Abbess, and filled in with the meditation cushions of the Zen Center officers.  Sitting in the Secretary’s seat, I faced the wall, and myself, and an old Zen conundrum about whether facing the wall is facing in or facing out.

But today I have a new seat, the Ino’s seat, which faces not the wall, but the vast expanse of the zendo, and the backs of all those people who still get to luxuriate in wall-facing.   I’m now the Ino of Beginner’s Mind Temple, and I’m feeling very much a beginner as I try to remember the ten thousand pieces of this job, the ten thousand pieces of my life that brought me to this seat.  Excitement and terror arise at this intimacy of not knowing, at this incompetence that grips my breath like a too-tight jacket.  Yet, there is also the wonder of the unknown, the shy anticipation of what might be, and the delight of the unexpected way in which, somehow, it all works. 

After decades of sitting in zendos, I belatedly realized that the purpose of meditation is not to make any progress nor to get anything done.  The purpose of meditation is to come home.  (Zen master Dōgen called zazen “the full investigation of the homeward course.”)

And I wonder:  Can we find our way home, regardless of which way we are facing?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

What Is Left Behind

It seems a long time ago now that Dana, then the Secretary, asked me if I would take on the blog as part of my responsibilities as ino. She is gone now, back to the market-place; there is a new Abbess, a new tanto, and everyone else on the senior staff that I started with has rotated to a different job in this period of time. That is the way of things at Zen Center.

This morning I put on my robes and went down to the zendo for the first time this week. Even though the schedule was optional for residents this morning, we had a good turn-out for the Full Moon Ceremony in the Buddha Hall after zazen. I had asked Martha several times before to be kokyo, and it had never worked out, so I was glad that she made her debut this time, for the blue moon; her voice sang out across the room strongly and vividly.
I sat one last time in the ino's seat for the 9:25 period - I was going to say, enjoying sitting with all the Saturday regulars, but actually there were a number of new faces today; perhaps some of these are going to be the new regulars. 
Rosalie had told me she was going to get up at the end of lecture to say something about it being my last day, and she did - apparently it went out on the Livestream as well if you want to hear what she said. I have noticed before that she always has a good knack of finding the right things to say about people, pinpointing particular qualities that stand out and bringing them to light. My karma is such that I found it more embarrassing to be standing there on the receiving end of these glowing words than just to be there making anouncements, but I felt warmly held and appreciated by everyone in the room; there was also applause, which is most unusual in those surroundings.
As happens most Saturdays, a nice group from YUZ got to hang out in the courtyard afterwards, partly organising what we are going to do on Monday, and, since I was getting into a vacation frame of mind and had the intention of not planning anything for today, I lingered with everybody after lunch much longer than is my wont, and had a sweet time with people.

There is a ceremony in one of the folders on the computer for the ino transition, which we have sometimes used; mostly it is a jundo and an invitation for the new ino to take the seat. The timing being what it is, I don't think we are going to do it this time. I will however make a transition right here after I have posted this: I will transfer the administrative control for the blog away from my log-in, and leave it in Valorie's hands.

I would like to say that I have deeply valued being offered this space to express and share the dharma and my practice with everybody, and I have been constantly encouraged and touched by all the positive feedback I have received over the last two and a half years, be it from my closest dharma friends here in the building or those of you with whom I am only acquainted through the blog. It has been a particular and wonderful sangha to have been a part of.

At times, and not just now at the end of my tenure, I have looked around and thought that the most tangible result of my time as ino will be that I got the bowing mat in the Buddha Hall replaced. It took more than a year to actually make it happen, but then I think it had been in need of doing for at least ten years. There are a few other material things that I can look around and think, I was at least partially the cause of this coming into being. For the non-tangible effects...

The truth is that I have been trying to compose this post for a couple of weeks - which would explain why it reads a little disjointed - and I know that it is impossible to be able to find fitting words to say at this moment. However, having read in Living by Vow an extract from Shobogenzo Gyoji, I think it is only appropriate to close with some words from Dogen:
"The essential point is that, in the entire earth and throughout heaven in the ten directions, all beings receive the merit of our continuous practice. Although neither others nor ourselves know it, that is the way it is."