Sunday, April 06, 2008

Scary Talk

Saturday, April 5

It's been a fairly slow week here, but I've been going through a lot of emotional stuff. So in a way it's been good that there haven't been a lot of deadlines hanging over my head.

The one deadline that's been getting to me was that I'm giving a little piece of tomorrow's dharma talk. This was Kyogen's idea (he's my teacher). He usually does the talks, but he's been trying to nudge others to give talks as well. Domyo has given a few, and the next monk up in seniority is MrK, who isn't all that interested in giving talks. We had a discussion about this at lunch on Tuesday, and the upshot was that Kyogen will give a brief introduction, and then each of us (being Domyo, MrK, me, and Jyoshin the current postulant) will give a 5-minute talk about where we are in relationship to zazen (sitting meditation) and enlightenment. Cool, I thought.

I mean, giving talks is not frightening to me at all. And 5 minutes? Piece of cake.

However, as I began to think more about it, I began to get really terrified about it. Zazen? How can I talk about zazen? I certainly do zazen -- every single day I'm in the zendo in robes sitting meditation -- 6am except on Sunday, when I wait for our regular program at 8:30 to be in the zendo in robes. It's become a vital part of my day. And I don't exactly understand why, but it's clear that it is.

The last few weeks I've begun to think about it as a refuge. What's the nature of this refuge? Well, when I sit zazen, nothing is required of me but to sit still, something I actually know how to do fairly well for a fairly long period of time. I don't have to know anything, do anything, say anything, meet anyone's expectations. In fact, it's a perfect place to practice with don't-know mind, a place that sometimes terrifies me, but which I'm beginning to be able to do in zazen, when it's just me watching, no one else.

Now I have to share that with maybe 40-50 people? Aaaargghhhh .... I'm barely beginning to find a way to take the mind of meditation now and again to other places in my life. I mean, once in a long while, for a few seconds maybe. I really don't know what I'm doing, and I'm not sure what I have to say to anyone else about this. And part of the problem is that usually when I give a talk I put forth a persona who knows something and is eager to share with others, who pays attention to what others may be interested in hearing, meets expectations (both mine and those of others).

But talking about zazen? No, there I have to be completely real, and willing to show my own not-knowing. And I realize I hardly know how to do that in front of others.

Kyogen says that my experience may be valuable for others who think they don't have a clue either. In any case, sharing our experiences with each other is often useful. You never know what kind of help you can provide to others. In any case, I now have a sense of what I'm going to say (some of the above, with a few more things). So that's a relief.

This afternoon I did a major cleaning of a section of kitchen that seems to have been invaded by ants. Pulled out the refrigerator (that was a little scary -- do you know what's under your refrigerator???!), cleaned all surfaces top to bottom, cleaned the outside of all the cabinets and sections of floor, the microwave (another scary place -- goop and sludge), and then wiped them all down with vinegar water. We'll see if it helps. In any case, I spent a couple of hours at it, and that's always satisfying.

Tonight is our monthly Disciple potluck, which is always enjoyable. I've got wood gathered in case people want a fire (they often seem to, and it's rainy outside, not all that cold, but kind of damp and raw). I helped put away groceries and did a little cleanup for dinner prep, and now have a few minutes to do this before dinner.

Sunday, April 6, 2:30pm

Whew! It's done. What a relief. I felt okay about the talk yesterday afternoon, but woke up in the middle of last night terrified again, and this morning just basically controlled my terror as best I could until I finally got up on stage. It went well. I was as wobbly as I knew I would be, and as I knew I had to be, and authentic, though I didn't break down in tears at least. People came up to me afterwards thanking me. It was also really good to hear everyone else. I could relate to something in everyone's talk. In any case, it's a big relief to have that one done.

Now there's another talk I'm preparing for next Saturday. This one is a maybe 10-minute talk as part of the Term Student program, and a much smaller group of people, all of whom are also giving talks. I'm hoping eventually to work this talk up for an actual dharma talk (our version of a sermon). I was thinking of it as very different, more kind of expository, less raw and intense. However, this morning in sanzen (interview) with Kyogen, he pointed out that the topic is actually connected with this other thing I've been working with, and by golly he's right.

Still, it will be a more prepared talk, with quotes from books and everything, not quite so much spilling my guts out there in front of everyone (though I suspect there may be a moment or two of that as well).

And one more talk is in the back of my mind, not to be given until June for a Unitarian Universalist church about Buddhism and Peace. I have ideas for that, but haven't written up anything yet. I don't anticipate that that one will be difficult at all, though you never know.

Prison update (did I put this out before? I don't think so): I talked with the woman in charge of the prison program, and she says we're waiting on authorization from someone in the prisons. They have to have permission even for me to visit. And until they get that, we're just waiting. Which means that my Saturdays (and Friday evenings) are still free (except for events around here) for a while longer. I'll keep everyone posted.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Shantideva Class 3

On vows

The Four Bodhisattva Vows (the translation we use)

Beings are numberless; I vow to free them.
Delusions are inexhaustible; I vow to end them.
Dharma gates are boundless; I vow to enter them.
The Buddha Way is unsurpassable; I vow to embody it.

I woke up this morning and put my hands in gassho (palm to palm), saying “yes” to my life once more. I thought about the idea we discussed in class of giving up on a vow as producing very bad karma.

Have I ever given up on this vow? There has certainly been despair at times in this last couple of years. It feels sometimes like giving up. And yet, even in the midst of that despair, I find something in me trying to learn from the despair. What can this despair teach me about surrender, about letting go of an obstacle?

That tells me that I’m not really giving up. That I’m not going back on my vow. That I’m still trying to find my way to fulfilling this impossible vow. It draws me on, and I think that’s what bodhicitta is, what I call courage, that whatever-it-is that keeps me going, keeps getting me out of bed every morning even when I don’t know what I’m doing, don’t understand why I’m doing what I’m doing. Something in me knows.

I find myself calling on everything I know, every being I know or can imagine, everything within me, to keep going, to keep working on fulfilling this vow, keep finding my way to move forward, even when I don’t know where I’m going, how to go on, how to get through the latest manifestation of the obstacle(s) (is it one or is it many? I don’t even know that.).

Shantideva's version of the Bodhisattva Vows (3:18-22) goes like this:

May I be a guard for those who are protectorless,
A guide for those who journey on the road.
For those who wish to go across the water,
May I be a boat, a raft, a bridge.

May I be an isle for those who yearn for landfall,
And a lamp for those who long for light;
For those who need a resting place, a bed;
For all who need a servant, may I be their slave.

May I be the wishing jewel, the vase of plenty,
A word of power and the supreme healing;
May I be the tree of miracles,
And for every being the abundant cow.

Like the earth and the pervading elements,
Enduring as the sky itself endures,
For boundless multitudes of living beings,
May I be their grounds and sustenance.

Thus for every thing that lives,
As far as are the limits of the sky,
May I provide their livelihood and nourishment
Until they pass beyond the bonds of suffering.

It can sound grandiose, like a big ego trip. And yet what I see is humility, the willingness to give up his own version or opinion of who he is and who he should be to serve what meets him. That is what I aspire to, to get my own self out of the way enough to be of real service.