New Year Sesshin, New Orleans Zen Temple
2 January 2016
2 January 2016
Every bodhisattva sits on the shoulders of giants.
Tomorrow we have ordination, bodhisattva or lay ordination. This is the time when someone decides that they intend to practice zazen from now on.
During the ceremony there are various parts: some resonate more with some people, some more with others. Part of it is home-leaving, where you bow and do a prostration to the place of your birth. This doesn’t mean that we abandon our families. As it says in the ceremony, our lives and our families, our jobs, our work, our art, whatever it is, this is the field of our practice. This attitude is very important in our lineage. We don’t go off into the mountains and retreat from the world. There is a reason the name of our temple is “Peakless Mountain, Shoreless River.” You won’t find it at the top of a mountain or on the banks of a river but only in the formless field of your practice.
|Detail of the kechimyaku.|
The lineage is a very symbolic and yet concrete thing. The most important part of the lineage is your teacher. A lot of masters have an official teacher, the one who ordained them or gave them shiho, but that’s not always the real teacher. Deshimaru didn’t get shiho from Kodo Sawaki, Robert didn’t get shiho from Deshimaru. They both got shiho officially from someone else, yet those were not their real teachers; the others were their real teachers.
When we talk about mind-to-mind transmission, this is a very simple yet complicated thing. It tends to get complicated when people try to figure out just what it is that gets transmitted. It occurs not only during the shiho, or dharma transmission, but also during ordination. It may be symbolic, but it is better to concentrate on the concrete thing.
When you receive the rakusu and the kechimyaku, the rakusu is symbolic of the richness of the field of the practice. You wrap yourself in the rakusu or in the kesa not just when you do zazen but, in a sense, all the time.
When anyone in the room is practicing with their kesa, everyone in the room is practicing with their kesa, whether they have one or not.
When you are ordained, you aren’t joining a club. You are entering a stream. A stream that’s a lot bigger than just the fifteen or sixteen of us here. And when there is one person being ordained we are all renewing our vows and being ordained with him.
The kechimyaku is an abbreviated lineage chart, going back all the way to the Buddha, from the Buddha’s major disciples on down. When we chant the Eko, that’s an abbreviated version of the long lineage chart. And whether we go back to Robert or Deshimaru or Kodo Sawaki or Dogen or Bodhidharma or the Buddha, it doesn’t matter. Scholars will tell you that perhaps that lineage is not unbroken, that this is a mythology. Well, that’s all right. I wouldn’t worry about it. It’s not important. What's important is your own teacher, and his or her teacher.
For us, we can go back to Dogen as an ancestor, but really it’s Kodo Sawaki, our great-grandfather, who speaks directly to us. He’s the one who reenergized zazen in Japan. His disciples include Kosho Uchiyama, who taught Shohaku Okumura, who has a sangha in Illinois and wrote a very good book called Living by Vow. Another disciple of Kodo Sawaki was Gudo Nishijima. You might know Nishijima as the teacher of Brad Warner. And then there was Deshimaru. As you may know, Deshimaru died before he could give shiho to any of his disciples in France, so they were given shiho by someone else who came from Japan to do that.
There are many ways that the lineage stays unbroken. There is no absolute, correct formula. Every Zen master is unique, just as each of you is unique, with all their flaws, all their strengths.
When you live in an old city like New Orleans, or London, or Bucharest, or Athens, you can sometimes be overwhelmed by the history of the buildings and how they will outlast you, how many inhabitants they have outlasted. This building—I just found a history of this building and the number of times it has been lost or bought. The Zen House, you can say, is a big house. Robert’s monastic name, Taikaku, is appropriate. It means Great Palace, and this temple is the Great Zen Palace he has built for us. He knows that the Zen House holds many people and has held many people over the years, but they are transients—we are all transients. Each of the masters has been keenly aware of how temporary their residence in the house has been. And how mujo can strike.
Historically this is true of some of the most interesting times for Zen and for Buddhism. Sometimes when there was the greatest threat, it thrived the most. We need to practice with a sense of urgency. It always amazes me how before sesshin it looks like there’s a long stretch of time ahead of us, and then suddenly it’s gone.
This is what our lives are like. So much to do, so many plans. So soon over.
But what’s it all worth in the end? Be sure that when you’re practicing here in the dojo, or practicing out in the world as well, practicing your art, doing your work, that you practice with the same kind of sincerity and urgency as when you are doing zazen.
This is what ordination is about. It’s about saying, “It’s not about me.” Finally! It’s not about me. It’s very freeing. So if the rakusu, the kesa, is the “robe of great liberation,” that’s one way you can see that. It’s not magic. It’s determination, concentration, an urgency about here and now. That doesn’t mean that you live loudly or recklessly. On the contrary. That’s a good way to lose time. (I know!)
So deciding on ordination is a first step. It’s a step that you take into the abyss, though, because you don’t know quite what it means. It’s a leap of faith. The more you practice the more you realize what they mean when they say that each scholar stands on the shoulders of giants. Every bodhisattva sits on the shoulders of giants. We pay respect to all the bodhisattvas that came before us, and practiced before us, and left their teachings, not necessarily in writing but in the forms and rituals and other kinds of traces that are left behind.
When I see you sitting like a couple of mountain ranges, I see you, but I also see Deshimaru, Kodo Sawaki, Keizan Jokin, Dogen, Eno, Daruma, and Buddha. Much better to see the Buddha next to you than to worry about the historical Buddha.
That’s what lineage means. That’s what the lineage is: we are all sitting together in one body, in the emptiness of our own body, every time we do zazen. If it’s anything else, then we’re just exercising.