Sunday, March 4, 2012

Service begins at home

A stomach bug struck my house in biblical proportion this week. First my son was vomiting, then my daughter, and finally my wife. I got hit with an upset stomach and some achiness, but avoided the nausea. This meant I could help out with the kids a little more because I wasn't riddled down with stomach pains.

The interesting thing that occurred during all this was the single-minded clarity with which I was able to attend to my children. Usually, in stressful situations, I remain calm but am inwardly gritting my teeth in dire frustration.

But not this time.

When I was holding my sick children, I was totally empty. Sure, there was concern and empathy, but inside I felt...well I can't really describe it because any explanation will inevitably thrust an "I" into it, when that wasn't the case.

It felt completely natural, a calm receptivity to whatever my children or the situation needed.

Mirror mind? Maybe. More likely a parent who, for a time, shed his self-centeredness and focused entirely on the needs of other beings.

Later, I realized that I felt indebted to them, as if taking care of them were a privilege. And of course it is. We--myself included--don't think of parenting as a privilege, but it is; it's a sacred stewardship over vulnerable and impressionable beings. One wrong move and....

Just kidding.

But the point is that I was only fully available to them when I had shed my own personal agenda and ultimately my sense of self. I'm reminded of Dogen's immortal words from "Genjokoan": "To study the Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things of the universe."

Now I don't know about being enlightened by the entire universe, but I do know that, paradoxically, I was a fuller and truer person, and father, when I emptied myself of self-concerns. As strange as that may sound.

Which is not to say that it lasted forever.

The next day, I caught that old irritability and impatience creeping right back in. This is why gradual cultivation, as the great Korean master Chinul taught, is so very important.

Habit energy takes a long time to fade. This is where the real grit of practice comes in. Sure I can tend to my children when they're sick, but how about after I've worked a full day and they're trashing the house? That's real practice.

As a Zen Buddhist, I look forward to these moments--I avoid calling them challenges, even though that is closer to my meaning--to be as open, caring, compassionate, and wise as I can be. I think that true Bodhisattva work begins wherever we have to be at the present moment.

If we're in traffic with a frustrated passenger, that's where we help. If it's in a classroom, or a board office, or a train, we help wherever way we can. In life, we don't choose where and when we offer helping hands; we just offer them. You don't have to be wearing robes to help people.

Often we think of the Bodhisattva Path as being cinematic--glamorous, magnificent work to save all beings, at once!--but the truth is that it's often not flashy or exciting. It takes place in our homes, offices, and on the Internet.

This is Bodhisattva action. That's what Mahayana Buddhism is all about, which is why I consider it a privilege to be a servant of the Dharma, my family, and all beings.

108 bows.

Photo borrowed from Creative Commons flickr user: yak23flora's photostream.

No comments:

Post a Comment