It is critical that we understand what we are doing here, together, for ten days. “What are we here for, what is the true practice?”
We belong to the Sôtô lineage, one of the forms of Buddha’s teaching. The founders of this lineage are Shakyamuni Buddha, and later, Dôgen Zenji and Keizan Zenji.
Master Dôgen, a person of tremendous importance in Buddhism – and even beyond, since some consider him to be one of the greatest philosophers in the world – is, first and foremost, a zen monk. He wondered: how must we live our lives? The Buddha Way is a practice.
Dôgen decided to become a monk at an early age. He then spent time in various Buddhist communities in Japan. He was ordained at the great Tendai monastery, north of Kyoto, on mount Hiei, a prominent Buddhist hub. However, he was not convinced by the practice and the answers that he found there.
Dôgen was a sincere man. He’s known as a very profound, very authentic person. He did not understand the monks of mount Hiei, who surrounded themselves with luxury, mingled in fashionable circles, seeked good positions… Something was rotten in the religious world.
He left Japan and went to China, where he met the great master Nyôjô. When Dôgen speaks of his master, he says: “The old Buddha”.
He received the transmission and returned to Japan a few years later. It was a difficult time for him. Many Buddhists thought that his attitude was iconoclastic. Dressed in his kesa, Dôgen taught a zazen that was illuminated by Buddha’s teaching, and taught that all of our everyday actions are the Way. He believed that we don’t have do to anything special, such as retreating from the world.
That is the transmission that he received, the same one as Master Nansen’s in his days. Master Nansen told his disciple Joshu: “The forever peaceful mind is the Way.” This unobstructed, no longer restless mind, can manifest everywhere. It espouses all of life’s activities. One day, someone asked Master Joshu: “What is the Way?” Joshu answered: “Did you eat your breakfast?… Then go and wash your bowl.”
“Everyday mind is the Way”: Hei jo shin kore do, which literally means: the always even, always peaceful mind is the Way. Everywhere and always. Every day is a good day, every place a good place to practise.
The danger is to only focus on “spiritual” things and evacuate life.
Buddha himself showed the way. In his time, Brahmans had decided that they would only handle mind-related matters. Caste-based Hindu society provided to their needs lavishly… Buddha was against that and made ennemies of the Brahmans.
“I’m interested in Buddhist thinking, I have a brilliant mind…” Master Deshimaru used to scoff at those who spent their lives “deep in thought”.
A zen monk, a man of the Way is free, self-sufficient, he has no boy, no slave, and no specific object of study. For him, eating, washing up, going to the bathroom is the great matter. All of our lives’ activities must be taken that seriously.
Dôgen, Joshu, Buddha ask that we see every situation as an opportunity to awaken. Awaken to who we truly are, to what the universe is, to the fact that beyond our hustle and bustle, in the depths of the universe, there is peace.
During those ten days, don’t miss any opportunity to practise absorption in everything you do, until you encounter peace. Don’t just think, as some of us did for a long time, that zazen is enough. Some remember that Master Deshimaru used to say: “Zen is zazen”, but they forget the rest of the sentence: “… and all things in life”.
Please, don’t live those ten days as if you were at a hotel. On the other hand, don’t make things overly complicated. Absorb yourself in the situations that befall you.
The specificity of the Sôtô school is that it transforms the acts of eating, cleaning, in the practice of the Way. Don’t dodge those opportunities. Don’t hesitate to raise your hand when it’s time to peel the vegetables. It is not a sacrifice; it’s simply penetrating Buddha’s practice.
Taiun Jean-Pierre Faure