Monday, October 21, 2013

Thoughts on Zendo Etiquette Forms

A koan asks, "The world is vast and wide.  Why do you put on your 7-piece robe at the sound of the bell?"  Why do we have guidelines for practice forms in Boundless Way Zen? 

One of the answers to this question lies in the nature of the heart-mind, which is like a fire, uncontained.  Practice and its forms help us to create a container for this fire, which then becomes a form of energy that helps us to see more clearly and act with compassion. 

Another answer lies in the way we encounter each other as a Sangha, a community of persons of the Great Way.  We are all meeting the world through our own particular, ego-centered viewpoint.  In following forms, we bow and surrender to something greater than our small view.  We allow ourselves to feel the support of others in the community, and learn to act as one body, for the sake of all beings, not just for our own selfish needs. 

Yet another view of surrendering to practice forms lies in the teachings of one of our ancestors, Eihei Dogen, who encourages us to see our life of practice and the forms of practice as one.  When we bow, our awakened nature is bowing.  When we walk, our awakened nature is walking. 

Our forms are meant to be guidelines, not rigid rules.   They are intended to contain, unify and express our practice.  Zen is not about right and wrong, but about learning the true meaning of being human. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Squandering Ourselves

Rev. Ray Ryudo Yushin Demers, Rev. Karen Ryudo Do'on Weik, Rev. Melissa Keido Myozen Blacker, Rev. Diane Ryudo Shoshin Fitzgerald, Rev. Robert Ryudo Tetsumu Waldinger and Rev. Michael Ryudo Shoryu Fieleke.  photo by Kate Hartland

Last week, during our Boundless Way Zen October sesshin, we held an ordination ceremony for Rev. Diane Ryudo Shoshin Fitzgerald, seen here with some of her fellow Boundless Way Zen priests  It was a joyous occasion.  I have had the privilege and pleasure to ordain everyone in the picture above, who received my priestly family name "Ryudo" which means "Dragon Hall."  

Boundless Way priests generally live in the world, and have jobs and families. In choosing to ordain, we demonstrate our commitment to the Great Way through our common knowledge that serving the Dharma lies at the core of our being.  We don't favor priests over laypeople in Boundless Way, and recognize that taking public, formal vows of service is not for everyone.  But for the few who decide that this makes sense on the deepest level, we offer this ceremony and path.  

Today, my daily calendar quotes John Mason Brown, an American critic and writer: "The only true happiness comes from squandering ourselves for a purpose."  It seems like a pretty accurate definition for this particular path of service.   

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Voice, Kindness and Grace

Adam Levine, CeeLo Green, Christina Aguilera and Blake Shelton
One of my secret pleasures -- well, now that I'm writing about it on my blog, not so secret -- is watching the television show "The Voice."  My daughter, who is a professional singer, recommended it to me.  She was impressed with how the four singers who act as coaches to aspiring performers offer real wisdom about singing.

Even though it's a reality show, with all of the strange, scripted manipulative moments and hooey that this implies, there are moments that make me  genuinely laugh and cry.  The Voice is saturated with a sense of respect and appreciation -- for human beings who stand up on a stage and expose their hearts to criticism and judgment.  Unlike other singing competition shows I've seen (briefly, because they're so painful to me), there is no cruelty or mockery.  The coaches seem to go out of their way to say what's true, even if it's direct criticism, and always offer encouragement to the rejected competitors to keep on with their training and performing.  And the eliminated contestants themselves bow down with grace and humility as they leave the stage.

Kindness and grace are rare in the world these days.  Many people seem to make a regular practice of finding fault with others.  Although it's sometimes hard for me to understand why the climate of criticism in popular culture has become so pervasive,  I have come to realize that even cruel comments are simply a demonstration of the desire to connect, to be part of the conversation.   It's so easy to find fault, that making a practice of commenting and also being kind is a rare and valuable action.

As Torei Enji reminds us in his Bodhisattva's Vow: "Even though someone may be a fool, we can be compassionate.  When someone turns against us, speaking ill of us and treating us bitterly, it's best to bow down.  This is the Buddha appearing before us, finding ways to free us from our own attachments, the very ones that have made us suffer again and again and again."

Does this mean that the judges on "The Voice" are Buddhas and Bodhisattvas?  Sure -- and if Christina Aguilera, Adam Levine, CeeLo Green and Blake Shelton can lean into being direct and  kind,  than so can we all.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Wash your bowl and make your bed

The other night I was watching the quite amazing television show, "The Bridge,"  an adaptation of a Danish/Swedish show, set on the Mexican/Texas border.  The Bridge is fairly violent, but never shies away from the heart-crushing effects of violence on human beings.  Please be warned, the violence on the Bridge feels more real than in most television programs, and can be quite shocking to watch.  I am lucky enough to know, whenever I watch television or a movie, that the people doing the violence are actors, on sets, speaking lines, enacting stage directions.  Show me a news report about Syria, or Kenya, or a football game, and I have to look away...I have no capacity for watching real violence.

One of the heroes of The Bridge is an El Paso police detective, Sonya (played by Diane Kruger), a woman with difficulties relating to others, who may or may not be on the autism spectrum, still coping with the brutal death of her sister many years ago.  Her Mexican partner, Marco (played by Demian Bichir), is grieving his son's recent murder by a serial killer.   Sonya is barely capable of friendship or real relationship, but she and Marco have learned to function well as a team, and Sonya is also devoted to her boss, Hank, who treats her with respect and as much affection (very little) as she can tolerate.  Hank has encouraged her to reach out to Marco in his grief.

Marco has been holed up in his Juarez home for a month, deserted by his wife and other children, sleeping, drinking and growing a very admirable beard. After rescuing him from a bar the night before, putting him to bed, and then cooking him eggs for breakfast, Sonya asks him, "Did you make your bed?"  Marco responds, "What are you, my mother?" And Sonya says, "When my sister died I stayed with Hank and his wife for a while.  Carmen had one rule for me:  'Always get up and make your bed.'  No matter how bad I felt, I had to face the day."

Many people know the koan, case 7 in the Gateless Gate,  where a young monk comes to study with the great Chinese teacher Zhaozhou, who,  in response to his request for teaching, asks "have you eaten your rice gruel?"  When the monk says yes, Zhaozhou says, "Wash your bowl."

Life is full of difficulty and suffering, and the discursive mind loves to figure out what to do, to interfere and make theories.  But the life of the heart is deeply and simply connected to the life of everyday activities.  Fully engaged in moving along, no matter how we feel, facing the day -- this is what is required.  So simple.  So healing. So human.

Wash your bowl.  Make your bed.  Stay connected.