Just As It Is
June 12, 2019 by Kojin Heath
This article was written by David Jindo Butler and published in our Spring 2019 Community Journal, a quarterly publication which is distributed to members of Yokoji.
“There isn’t a clear beginning or end to it, as far as I can tell.” Or so I answered when a sangha member asked me about this Spring Training Period. Originally, the 2019 Spring Training Period Entering Ceremony was scheduled for March 3rd. Plans were altered, however, when a torrential rainstorm in February brought 9 inches of rain over approximately 36 hours, resulting in significant damage to the Center including its roads. When I arrived on March 2nd, Hurkey Creek was impassable to cars, and the Entering Ceremony, which would signify my official installation as Head Trainee was postponed. Still without a clear sense of when we could reopen to the public, the decision was taken to start the training period anyway with the Entering Ceremony to follow at a later time.
So when exactly does the Training Period begin? Does it begin when I enter into responsibilities such as kentan (greeting rounds) before morning zazen and officiating temple services? Or does it begin when we hold the formal Entering Ceremony? The traditional ceremony that marks the end of the Head Trainee’s term, the Shuso Hossen, is scheduled for August. The Spring Guest Season will end in May. The Abbot and the Head Trainee will be away from the Center in April (I will return to work, and Roshi will go to England for a sesshin). So when does the training period end? When I leave the premises? At the conclusion of Guest Season? After the Shuso Hossen ceremony? When precisely this training period begins or ends isn’t entirely clear to me, and I’m fine with that just as it is.
Another question I’ve been asked is, “When did you start practicing Zen?” Again, I’m not really sure how to answer that. Do I date it from the time when I started reading books about Zen Buddhism and intellectually embraced the philosophy? When I started to sit in meditation and first tried to “think not-thinking?” How about when I began sitting with other people and started going through the motions? Or when I found my teacher? My first training period? Jukai? I really can’t tell you the exact date when I started to feel it in my bones and not simply think it in my brain. Is the question, “When will you stop practicing Zen?” any easier? When I die? Maybe! Again, there isn’t a clear beginning or end to this, as far as I can tell.
People have asked me, “So, if you haven’t had the Entering Ceremony yet, does that mean you’re still following the Interim Period Schedule, or are you using the Training Period Schedule? How many blocks of zazen are you doing every day? How many periods per block? How long are they?” For the time being, because of the increased work demands related to protecting the infrastructure and restoring the roads, we are using a Modified Training Period Schedule. Depending on the circumstances of the day, we need to be able to adapt our particular routines to match the situation. This approach works perfectly well. We wake up, do zazen, eat, work, rest, and do it all over, again and again, throughout the day, day after day. In that way, life at the Center is not unlike my ordinary life outside the Center. The type of work done on the mountain may be different from the kind of work done in the city, and the daily hours of zazen may be greater, but the basic elements of my life remain the same wherever I happen to find myself.
If you say, “This training period doesn’t look right to me. You’re supposed to have a formal entering ceremony immediately followed by sesshin. You’re supposed to be on the usual schedule. You’re supposed to manage guest groups every weekend and have the Shuso Hossen ceremony after staying at the temple for 90 days!” then I must respectfully disagree. This training period is exactly the way it is supposed to be. How can this training period be any way other than just as it is?
There was a flood. Cars could not cross the creek or drive up the road. The Center was closed to the public. The entering ceremony was postponed. Guest groups were rescheduled. People in Intensive Care Units need their doctors. Roshi is expected in the UK. So? In a very important way, none of this is really a problem, as far as I can tell. I need to live this life, the one I’m in, and accept it for what it is, just as it is. But of course it doesn’t end there! After I accept it, it’s my responsibility to do something with it (or not) and be accountable for it. Clearly seeing reality, just as it is, may be the first step, but it isn’t the last. Discerning an appropriate response to a situation and following it through must not be neglected. If I’m really going to appreciate my life, then I need to use each opportunity in the best way possible for as long as it is available. The question is: How?
I am grateful to my teacher, Tenshin Roshi, for presenting me with this opportunity to serve our sangha as Head Trainee, and to Jokai Sensei, for coordinating it. In the Entering Ceremony, the Head Trainee pledges to “support the trainees.” Thus far, I feel it has been the trainees who are supporting me, and I wish to thank them all. For the remainder of this training period, however long or short you choose to imagine it will be, I invite everyone reading this to participate in our collective practice whole-heartedly. Whether you find yourself in a city or on a mountain, following your usual routine or making it up as you go along, I hope you can see the opportunities to be found in ordinary life, opportunities to live more fully with wisdom and compassion for the benefit of all. In doing this together we bring to life the tradition established by our Buddha ancestors. Thank you!
— David Jindo Butler