July 06, 2009

How We Practice

Our Summer Practice Period is underway and we are engaged in a more intense schedule. You can see in the picture, people working in the garden in front of Gogo-an, weeding after morning meditation and ceremony. The beauty and the silence during these summer days is as delicious and complete as the summer fruit.

A practice period is also a time of training, of polishing the way we do things. We pay closer attention to "how" we are doing things and not so much emphasis on "what" we are doing. We willingly take up each task that is asked of us, and focus closely on that activity and "how" that activity shows us the "how" of our attention to it.

For instance, if we don't pay attention to how we carry a glass of water, we can easily spill some as we walk across the room. If we walk carefully, notice how we carry the glass, resist walking too quickly, then the water will more likely arrive at its destination. Also, we will have had the opportunity to actually be with ourselves throughout the entire activity of carrying the glass from one place to another. We will notice our life, our breath, in every step, in every moment, in every action. It's interesting that in many walks of life, intensity usually means speeding up. But, in Zen practice we slow down for intensity.

Dogen Zenji emphasizes the "how" of practice when he says in "Bendowa" that when teacher and student are in agreement about how to practice that surely Buddha Nature is fully realized. He points out that Zazen is realized practice. Sitting Zazen (meditation) is the unspoken Reality through which the Self unfolds the Self. Each gesture thereafter is the great matter of realized Buddha Nature. The Self is completely expressed in each action. One who fully realizes Buddha Nature will treat each object with respect since each object and how we handle it is the expression of the Buddha. It is the Self made manifest.

Practice teaches us that each article of practice - our altar, the robe, rakusu, rakusu case, eating bowls, bells, bell ringers, Sutra book, Eko book, zafu, zabuton, tan, the han, the floor where we walk, kitchen pots and pans, dishes, knives, spoons, forks, coffee and tea cups - everything, everything is the expression of our awakened practice. Therefore, how we treat them is essential to realization and is realization. These articles belong to Buddha. These articles are the manifestation of Buddha Nature. "How" we hold them, "how" we treat them reveals awakening so that others can enter practice and realize.

This practice then extends to each activity we take up, each person we meet in the rest of our day. It extends to the market place, the work place, the office, the home kitchen, the gas station, the grocery store, the laundry room, when vacuuming, cooking, repairing the car, painting, paying bills, working on the computer, when we are alone and no one is looking, when we are with others and no one is looking. You know very well what I'm saying: Buddha Nature resides in every activity. We learn this in Practice. We polish ourselves in Practice. We take it into the world.

Most of us are haphazard in so many things. We are forgetful, unconscious, impatient, careless. So, we come to Zen Practice to see our condition and to learn the greater Reality of our True Nature and "how" this can be expressed. In order to learn this to see it truly, Practice offers itself to us and we slow down and learn "how" to do Practice. When we engage fully in earnest Practice there is no division, no divide, no distance between what we do and the Self. Thus, the "how" of doing things is the complete expression of Buddha Nature.

So: "how" to do things; "how" to slow down; "how" to engage fully with body and mind; "how" to hand something from one person to another; "how" to put something down on the table; "how" to pick something up; "how" to eat; "how" to wash our bowls; "how" to become Buddha. This is our Summer Practice Period. Each glorious moment of sunshine. And in Washington each blessed sprinkle of rain.