Beth Joshi Mulligan - Fall training period week 6
November 06, 2015 by Jokai
The word and the phenomenon of change are vividly with me today as I write this. The time has changed, so when we get up to sit in the morning, the dawn is just breaking, instead of walking to the Buddha Hall in the pitch dark. The weather has changed-dramatically! There is a dusting of frost on the higher peaks of the mountain making the trees appear silver. And last night after we sat, there was a light coat of snow on the stairs.
The leaves on the deciduous oaks have turned orange and yellow so that on the sides of the mountain there are great expanses of green with ribbons and patches of gold. Lots of crunchy dead leaves on the ground remind me that everything changes, dies and is born constantly; including me. The person who arrived here on Sept 19th, has new cells and new views.
Last week here at Yokoji, was marked by acknowledging and celebrating those we love, who have died, in the ancient Japanese festival called Obon. This was done in place of our usual Sunday morning service and began with decorating the altar with banners and offerings. We were invited to place food and drink on the altar that were favorites of our loved ones. I got black licorice for my Father, Raspberry Chocolate for my Mom, and beef jerky for my dear friend from Texas, Ranny Burke. He was a cowboy, a cop, and one of the finest people I have ever known. It was bittersweet to remember them and connect with them. I enjoyed seeing what others chose to offer. I saw apple pie, mac and cheese, a pineapple, Pepsi, a fine red wine and a Coors beer. We chanted a beautiful sutra called The Gate of Sweet Nectar along with the powerful beat of the Taiko drum, getting to sing at the top of our lungs, feeling so alive even as we touched the reality of death. Rituals are helpful and healing and we don’t get to do them often enough, so I felt fortunate to have this time and this way to be with my ancestors and yours.
There were many things I anticipated as I prepared to do the training period; I knew there would be plenty of Zazen., meetings with Tenshin Roshi, and work practice . But I forgot that an important part of every day would also be spent chanting the various Sutras. In the morning we have four- including the Heart Sutra. Before every meal we chant the meal chant, before we work we offer a work gatha, and there is also the noon time Hakuin’s Song of Zazen and in the evening -Precious Mirror Samadhi. Just before bed time we chant the four Bodhisattva Vows.
Here’s what I find about this. It just feels really good to sing. Doesn’t it? I mean it feels good to use my voice this much in this way (way better than talking). Then there are the actual words that start to roll around in your mind if you say them enough. “Sentient beings are intrinsically Buddha, like ice and water, apart from water there is no ice, apart from Sentient beings there is no Buddha”. Isn’t that gorgeous? Just ponder it for a moment. Is it better than what is usually going on in your mind? “Whether teachings and approaches are mastered or not, reality constantly flows”. I love considering this rather than my habitual worries.
Before work practice we hear this dedication; “May this compassionate dana (generosity) be extended to all beings and may we serve with wisdom and compassion being mindful of safety and may we realize the Buddha way together.” Is that not a great intention to set? So here is my suggestion to you, why not say this before you go to work in the morning or take your kids to school or take out the trash? Just try it for a week and get back to me.
I love that in Zen we’re not timid or shy about our aspirations, our lives are short and can be meaningful if we choose, so why not; “Eat to stop all evil, to practice good, to save all sentient beings, and to accomplish the Buddha way”? Why not try this for a week too?
And before you go to bed, why not ‘Vow to Master the boundless Dharmas”? What have you got to lose? And above all know that all the Sutras end with a dedication -that “We accomplish the Buddha Way together.” Please know that we are practicing with you and we care about you.