“That’s what it was like to be alive. To move about in a cloud of ignorance; to go up and down trampling on the feelings of those...of those about you. To spend and waste time as though you had a million years. To be always at the mercy of one self-centered passion, or another. Now you know- that’s the happy existence you wanted to go back to. Ignorance and blindness.” -Our Town, Thornton Wilder
At Zen center there are dharma talks every Sunday and sometimes Wednesdays. These talks are usually given by “teachers,” that is people who are ordained priests and have studied long enough to be given dharma transmission, or the blessing of those more senior than them, who have gone before, to go out and share the teachings of the Buddha the best ways they know how. In words and actions. Sometimes these talks are given by people who are not “teachers” but are felt to have something unique to share that can help others in their practice. One type of talk is called a “Way Seeking Mind” talks. It is an opportunity for someone to share how they came to study Buddhism or how they came to find their “way-seeking mind.”
I have mentioned in a previous post how I got to Green Gulch but I wanted to talk about one particular aspect of this journey that was really essential to my ability to practice with my whole heart. Reirin, my friend, is the Shuso of the practice period. “Shuso is a Japanese word that is usually translated as Head Student. Serving as scribe, role model and general dharma friend for everyone...” She mentioned in her most recent and last talk of the practice period that for her, surrender was a life changing part of her practice. That learning to bow to others, to take refuge in the buddha, dharma and sangha, and to give up the ego that said “I am right” opened the heart to a vast and life-long practice of finding contentment instead of happiness.
When I first started practicing Buddhism in New Orleans with my now husband my ego screamed, LOUD. I wondered, why so many rules? Step into the zendo with this foot, turn this direction on your cushion, do not put the chant books directly on the floor, try not to move in your seat, keep your eyes half open, and the list went on, and on, and on...and on. It seemed ridiculous. I felt like I was back in middle school wearing my school uniform. I was so oppressed! How dare they take away my individuality! Everything that makes me, me, and god knows the world cannot exist without ME.
Then I started to wonder, what would happen if I follow the rules? Just as a little experiment :-) Wouldn’t you know, several things came up. First, there was a calmness about forms. Having decided to follow them, there was less confusion and more grace in the way we moved together. It was like realizing that I didn’t have to spend any time deciding what to wear when I had a uniform. I didn’t have to try and be cool, which is what “individuality” really came down to, being cooler than someone else.
The next thing that came up was that when I wondered how to practice mindfulness I wasn’t sure what that looked like. People say it all the time, it’s a very sexy word right now. People say they are interested in Buddhism or that they study Buddhism and read books by the great masters but there has to be a next step, to practice Buddhism. You can call it what you want if it sounds too religious but eventually you have to practice and these forms helped me practice. My husband so graciously pointed out that it wasn’t that stepping into the zendo with my right foot was any better than with my left foot but that I knew what foot I stepped with at all. Creating these routines reduced confusion and increased my attention. I am (was) infamous for losing things like my house keys or locking them in the car (thanks AAA) or leaving my shoes on top of the car and driving half way down the street before realizing. These forms have helped me to pay attention and be deliberate.
Finally, as Michaela Bono pointed out in one of her dharma talks at Mid City Zen, doing what you want is not necessarily a good thing. We have to ask ourselves, is it really what we want? What are we trying to actually get and is it helpful to those around us? The key is to ask yourself these questions. Why am I doing this?
(the calligraphy above is a work from the amazing Kaz Tanahashi who Austin had the gift of studying with recently)