Saturday, September 21, 2013

Seeking and Finding

Young girl looking out at Helsinki Harbor
Philip Kapleau, Roshi's book Zen: Dawn in the West, is dedicated  "to those who wish not to seek but to find."  When I first read this, I remember feeling a bit put off.  I had thought of myself as a seeker, someone who was dedicated to finding the true meaning of life.  I had always been puzzled by the realities of death and suffering, even at a young age, and had a strong desire to know what life was about.  Following that longing, I found my first teacher, who  had studied with Kapleau, and hearing him speak about the very things I had been searching for, I settled into Zen practice and never left.  I knew in the core of my being that my days of seeking were over.  And when the Dharma treasure began to reveal itself to me, I felt even more sure that I had found something in which to take refuge.

I left that particular teacher for many reasons, but mainly because he relied heavily on emptiness as the foundation of Zen -- a key ingredient in the recipe for justification of all kinds of ethical misbehavior, much of which was quite wounding to me and many others.  But I never left Zen.  I loved the forms of it, the silent retreats, all the skillful means of practice, just sitting (shikantaza) and koan practice especially.  When I found my current teacher, James Ford, Roshi, who had a completely different personality than my first teacher, I saw that Zen practice could come through all kinds of human containers, and was both intimate with and independent of the personality of the teacher.  And James' teaching, while grounded in emptiness, was also rooted in form and ethics,  and the endless interconnections and appearances of form and emptiness.  I continue to be so grateful.

Over this past week, I have had a number of conversations with friends and students who identify themselves as seekers.  They have been telling me about all the different kinds of retreats they have been attending, all the teachers they are meeting, in what appears to be a continuing dance of seeking and not finding.  They dig holes for wells in so many places but stop when they don't reach the source of water,  and then continue their endless seeking. The catalogues from various yoga and meditation centers arrive at the Temple, and I flip through them, slightly disturbed by the promises made by all the teachers and methodologies -- a demonstration of  the vast spiritual supermarket of seeking.

If you're hungry, you have to go to the supermarket.  But eventually, you have to buy something, take it home, cook it and eat it.  I suppose this supermarket metaphor is limited -- physical hunger rises and falls and is never satisfied.  I wonder about spiritual hunger -- perhaps it's never totally satisfied, either.

For myself,  I know I will never stop seeking the truth about reality.  The more I know, the more I see how much there is to know, and so the more I find that I don't know.    But I have decided to stay put, and to dig down deep in the place I am.  The water that comes from this well is always new and refreshing. All the shallow holes spread far and wide that I have dug have never yielded anything to compare with the taste of this practice.

And every once in a while, I find friends who want to stay and sit with me at this well and dig down to the source of life.  When they arrive, we know each other.  And again, I'm so grateful.

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