Saturday, October 26, 2013

Are you?

Case 16 from the Book of the Transmission of the Lamp (Aitken Roshi translation): Kanadeva, the 15th Ancestor, came to Kapilavastu, the place where the Buddha was born many years before. He was entertained by a certain wealthy man, named Brahama-Suddha-Guna, who told him the following story, "One day I found an edible fungus shaped like an ear growing in my garden. It was very delicious. As soon as I picked it, another grew in its place, and when I picked the new one, still another grew in its place, and so on indefinitely. Only my second son, Rahulata, and I are able to find it. Other family members cannot find it at all. What could be the reason for this?" Kanadeva said, "Once, in the past, a priest stayed at your house. You and your second son Rahulata served him generously, but as he had not yet opened his Dharma eye, he received your kindness without being worthy to receive it. So after his death, in compensation for this lack, he becomes an edible fungus. As you and your second son served him most kindly, you can accept the edible fungus." The 16th Ancestor Rahulata served Kanadeva. Hearing about the causation of a former life, he was moved to realization.

Verse (Aitken Roshi): How sad the realized eye is not pure and clear;/ Astray within, compensating others for his lack;/ The cycle of cause and effect/ Has not yet come to an end.

Once when I was walking to the dish washing area at Mountain Lamp after a formal meal in the zendo, a student nestled up to me and referring to our meal gathas said, "How can anyone not be worthy to receive food? That word or sentiment expressed in the gatha should be changed." At that time, I didn't agree with the student's view and over the years, as I have reviewed my feelings, I find I still do not agree with him. During informal meals, we recite in unison, "We venerate the 3 Treasures and are thankful for this food. The work of many people and the sharing of other forms of life." Of course to have food and shelter, among other things, should be a human right. Without say, all should have enough to eat. Yet, we practitioners should hold ourselves to another level, to a stricter level. Most folks do not and needn't say prayers or gathas before eating, but we do...and those prayers do demand a purposefulness. This informal chant intends to create and support a mind with no walls, hands that are open and a heart that is warm and attentive to that which is neither within nor without. It promotes, sustains and nurtures this body of compassion.

During sesshin and zazenkai, we have a more formal recitation of vows which I would like to say something about. If the meal gathas, however, aren't helpful to you, that is OK. Then, as Keizan says in his teisho, remember your 1st inspiration, your 1st desire that led you to practice and make that into a gatha to recite to yourself before each meal. It will have the same power of transformation as our formal meal gathas. It will allow you to be a beginner during each meal; a beginner for each bite, for each sip, for each breath.
As our food sits before us, we say, "First, we consider in detail the merit of this food and remember how it came to us." As our informal gatha says, the food comes to us through the work of many people--past and present--and from the sharing of other forms of life. No matter how pure our intentions, no matter how often we sweep, still we kill to live. This giving of a life to sustain a life, our life, is a remarkable thing and it is a circle we cannot step out of. Others die for us to live giving a powerful and strong merit to the food that sits in our bowls. I am often asked how to bring formal practice into our daily lives. To light a candle before a meal or to, just for a moment, put your hands in gassho to remember and give thanks, is an easy and important place to widen a field of practice.

"Second, we evaluate our own practice, lacking or complete, as we receive this offering." This vow demands honesty. This is the very vow the monk in this case faced. "He had not clarified his dharma eye but because he was diligent in his religious practice he became a fungus as repayment for all he had been given." This 2nd vow does not require repayment or punishment but it invites us to take this given food as nourishment to strengthen our resolve to clarify our eye and save all beings.

"Third, we are careful about greed, hatred and ignorance; to guard our minds and to free ourselves from error." This is a very open and loving vow. It forgives us for who and what we are. We don't vow to stop but to be careful about our innate, human tendencies. We vow to use this good nourishment to guard our minds and to free ourselves from error... the error of imagining I am in any way separate from what is sitting right before me; from thinking there is animate and inanimate, subject and object, sacred and profane. Each is the immeasurable light of the Tathagata no matter its form, appearance or substance. It comes forth each moment--now as monk, now as a child, as a tree fungus, as Rahulata, as his father, as you , as me...over and over again. No one thing is primary to another. Each forms the circle which is wide and vast and filled with light.

"Fourth, we take this good medicine to save our bodies from emaciation." I do not want to say too much here about portions and amounts because we Americans, maybe all modern people, have so many ideas, issues and trips around food. Suffice it to say, during sesshin smaller portions fuel my zazen and larger ones dull it.

"Fifth, we accept this food to achieve the way of the Buddha." This is a very strong, resolute vow. We accept this gift, this good medicine, these beings in various forms so that we can wake-up and save all beings. That is our vow. Each activity is so we can wake-up; each activity is to realize we are awake. The monk searched and searched for his true nature but didn't realize the very search itself was his truest self. Cook's translation of the verse is clear and direct. He wrote, "What a pity his dharma eye was not clear. Deluded about Self, repaying others, the retribution never ends." This translation, as clear as it is, misses reality. Because we are humans, because form is emptiness, because samsara is nirvana--the realized eye is not pure and clear. We want it to be pure and clear. We want our gods to be absolute. We want to live without doing any harm...and yet...and yet. And so we practice endlessly.

It is always right before us the way that it is...not the way we want it to be or suppose it should be.


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  2. Really nice pictures of your trip. Especially the last, your smile and laughter is infectious.

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