I’m not sure why I felt the urge to share this with you, but I am, and that’s good enough for me. But this post by the administrator of a Facebook Group about Zen caught my attention. (see below) I browse a handful of Facebook groups related to Buddhism. I’m drawn to learn more about how people struggle with their path, about their confusion, and about their understanding of the path. I find it fascinating. And so relatable. I’m drawn to this in hopes it will help me be a better teacher when the opportunity arises to gently point someone towards the moon.
I see so many people posting on Facebook with questions about whether this way or that way is the “right” way to do things. And I see so many people posting answers filled with conviction that this, that, or the other is the best way to practice. I see so many people posting questions about sutras or texts seemingly in search for answers. And of course, it was not that long ago that I had all of these same struggles. Particularly trying to figure things out and find answers to all my myriad questions. And of course, now I still have struggles. But they are softer and easier to handle.
I recently reflected on that first retreat I went to at Great Vow Zen Monastery. Hogen Bays, Roshi asked me about my practice. I said, “Zen?” I had no clue what the question was. I reflect on this question from time to time, and what arises is, “It’s perfect just the way it is.” It’s different from what it was yesterday, and it’s different from what it will be tomorrow. Things happen that once brought me great suffering and self doubt. These same things happen and I sometimes feel sadness, or sometimes I just laugh. But whether sadness or laughter, it’s more peaceful. As Howard Roark said in response to a question about whether some situation hurt him, “Yes, but the pain only goes down so deep.” I am grateful for my practice. It’s just what I do. It’s not a means to an end. It’s just what I do. Am I doing it right? Or wrong? I don’t even understand these questions. Though I do laugh at myself when I sit on my pillow and notice that I had neglected to bow to my pillow and bow to the sangha. And then I resolve to remember tomorrow. And then I forget again. Haha…
So where am I going with this? I have no clue. I’m just very grateful.
Something that strikes me reading various topics lately, again: how little confidence many Zen students have. It’s really strange.
The human capacity to project one’s limitations, preferences, and fears onto the practice – rather than use the practice to illuminate and challenge one’s limitations, preferences, and fears – seems infinite.
Practice is not meant to be self-referential. The examples of past masters should inspire, and even cause a small feeling of shame at the insufficiency of one’s own efforts. Yet more often, such examples are raised with a tone of questioning: “was that really necessary?” “Seems a bit extreme!” “Doesn’t fit MY situation.”
Obviously residential practice is an environment in which one is not permitted to indulge oneself like that. That is one of its strengths. But even for lay practitioners: it has been said that if one is not sitting at least 2 hours a day as a layperson, one is not serious. And the famous examples of realized laypersons – Ho Koji, Yamaoka Tesshu, etc. – what about them, and how they lived? Were they too extreme also?
Am feeling a bit puzzled in general at the tone of many comments lately: they often strike me as attempts to negate rigorous practice, or affirm one’s own comfort levels, rather than expressing inspiration and resolve. In a way, many of them seem to have undertones of resignation, discouragement, even nihilism. Heck, even someone expressing interest in doing immersive practice is almost criticized, told basically to take it easy LOL. How crazy, that such a person is not instead lifted up, encouraged, urged onward!
If Zen practice is not making you feel more vital, crazily alive with resolve and the kiai of the 4 vows, expanding of your capacity, challenging of boundaries and self-imposed limitations, determined even to the point of laying your life down to accomplish the path…what are you doing?
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