by Tom O'Conner- Dharma Teacher- IBMC
In about six weeks four of us are to receive our brown robes.
It marks a significant milestone in our practice. And this
summer, during our monks training, I feel that Rev. Karuna
has been setting traps to help us on our journey.
Weve been reading about what monks do, what they experience.
Theres Thich Nhat Hahns Stepping Into Freedom
which is for novice monks (say age 10) and not being that
young you realize just where you stand in the scheme of things.
The other is Roshi Jiyu-Kennetts Zen is Eternal Life.
As a Westerner she too seems to have started late. She
asked her teacher how to go about her studies and he answered,
Expect nothing, seek nothing, just live. For a
person who had traveled around the world to study it did not
seem at the time an adequate answer. But it was a skillful
As skillful as Rev. Karunas inviting her students to
the Vesak celebration in Santa Ana. And wear your robes.
We arrived and became part of the procession of monks and
nuns. Hundreds of people were there. Many bows. We were ushered
down to the front.
And I lived out the actors nightmare. Thats the
one where you find yourself on stage, in a play, and have
no idea what the play is, who you are in it, and what your
next line is. I was suddenly in a ceremony, in Vietnamese,
on the altar, on ABC Vietnam (they were filming it) and expected
to just proceed. But all I had to do was chant, bow at the
appropriate times, and bathe Baby Buddha. And because I was
at the back of the line I could pick up what was expected.
I got through it.
And then I figured out the lesson. As a Westerner our minds
work overtime to analyze, criticize, and figure it out. We
are looking for what Chogyam Trungpa calls Credentials. In
Santa Ana I didnt have my credentials in order. But
at that ceremony no one was looking for credentials. That
was the lesson. I was just part of an equation. There was
a ceremony to be performed. It needed monks and nuns. A statue
of Buddha. And a congregation. Since I was in robes, I was
a monk. Anything more was my own concern, they had what they
needed. Nothing special. Just do it. Just live.
Right. Easier said than done. At least in Western mode. Chogyam
Trungpa talks about credential sickness and just
being aware of it. Because the practice does require living
differently. But different doesnt make it special. As
soon as we think its special it becomes a credential
and loses its value as a part of the practice. The cushions,
mats, robes are just part of the world of the Zendo. Just
the way it is.
In Stepping into Freedom there are sixty-eight Gathas,
sixty-eight short verses to be recited with everyday activities.
the First Steps of the Day
Walking on the Earth
Is a miracle!
Each mindful step
Reveals the wondrous Dharmakaya.
Every activity is given attention. We are to become mindful,
become aware of the reality of the activitywhich is
very different from the way most of us live. Anyone driving
in LA sees the multi-tasking of the commutecell
phone calls, coffee, shaving, while making a left hand turn.
We spend our lives individuating. Making me, ME and
you, You. Separate and distinct. Creating the story of MY
life with me as the star and everyone else supporting players.
And we create references and categories. The You I know does
this, makes this much (or little), knows these people (or
doesnt), came from here, is going there. We conceptualize
and categorize for easy use and handling.
Not very Zen-like.
The Hsin Hsin Ming attributed to Seng Tsan, the Third
Chinese Patriarch, has this to say about that:
The Great Way is not difficult,
Just dont pick and choose.
If you cut off all likes and dislikes
Everything is clear like space.
Make the slightest distinction
And heaven and earth are set apart.
If you wish to see the truth,
Dont think for or against.
mean to not see whats there. It means to see what is
therewithout filtering it through words, concepts.
It ends with:
and Mind are not two.
Not-two is trusting the Mind.
Words and speech dont cut it,
Cant now, never could, wont ever.
So where does that
leave one? With the practice. With sitting Zazen. Joko Beck
says it is just sitting there. Its not about seeing
colored lightsalthough that can happen. Its not
about having nice feelings, or becoming calmand that
can happen. Or becoming spiritual whatever that
means. It really is just about sitting there. Hearing the
sounds around you. Noting what is going on. Observing. Experiencing.
Being here. Thats all.
But we dont really have much interest in Being
Here. Our minds wander off on their own. Much of our
practice is just noting where it went. Into some kind of fantasy.
It depends on our particular bent. Movies a la James Thurber.
Conversations with absent friends. Or enemies. Righting wrongs.
Revenge. Afternoon dalliances. Almost anything is better than
sitting on a cushion. But that is what is, what we are doing,
what life is at this moment.
And that is what we can always trust. Perhaps the only thing
we can trust. Life is what it is. We just have to accept it.
Nothing special, just what is. We can always rely on that
and rest in that. If I became ill could I rest in that? I
must because that is what is.
Of course, it only works if we can take the I
out of it. Take the ego and non-existent self out of it. The
I demands that the bad go away and good stay forever.
The I wants this and doesnt want that. The
I makes the emotional investment. Our practice
is to observe how the investment is made. Rev. Jhana had us
create an emotion during one of his Dharma talks. We sat here
and conjured up an emotion from nothing and then got rid of
We should note our thoughts and try to step back from them.
Put a label on them. See that they are just an energy fragment.
Joko Beck feels that if we persistently label any thought
the emotional overlay begins to drop out and we are left with
an impersonal energy fragment to which we need not attach.
The practice is to work with this until we know it in
When we know it in our bones then we can act from reality.
Without the delusionsdeluding passions are inexhaustable,
I vow to end them allwe can experience life as
moons the same old moon
The flowers are just as they were
Yet now I am
The thingness of things.
A questioner asked
the Buddha: I would like to know about the state of
peace, the state of solitude and of quiet detachment. How
does a person become calm, independent, and not wanting to
grasp at anything?
A person does this, replied the Buddha, by
eradicating the delusion of I am. By being alert
and attentive, he begins to let go of cravings as they arise.
But whatever he begins to accomplish, he should beware of
inner pride. He must avoid thinking of himself as better than
another, or worse or equal, for that is all comparison and
emphasizes the self.
The person should look for peace within and not depend
on it in any other place. For when a person is quiet within,
the self cannot be found. There are no waves in the depths
of the ocean, it is still and unbroken. It is the same with
the peaceful person. He is still, without any longing to grasp.
He has let go the foundation of self and no longer builds
up pride and desire.
So we just live and act and do what needs to be done. Nothing
special. Just like the haiku:
A frog jumps in,