Let me explain.
Ever since I was thirteen, I wanted to be a writer, a fiction author to be exact. Anything that didn't directly lead to that goal I considered an obstacle. Which basically meant that I engaged most of my life like hurtles standing in the way of my getting published and living a glamorous life as an author--or what I imagined the life of an author to be. I saw my entire life as one long prologue to becoming a successful writer. Of course this was just a fantasy, yet one that I had swallowed hook, line, and sinker.
As everyone knows, the publishing industry is brutally difficult to enter. "Infiltrate" is more what it felt like to me. I've written several novels, but alas, none of them have been published yet. For years I struggled with this sense of rejection; after all, if I garnered my sense of identity from being a writer, what did that say about me if I couldn't get my books into print?
And then I found Buddhism and Zen. Very early on in my practice, I knew that I wasn't a casual Zen-goer, if that's a word. It's in my blood.
Last night, as I was sitting meditation with the Original Mind Zen Sangha, and later when I gave my weekly Dharma talk, I knew this was path the for me. I say "knew" (past tense) because from the very first time the OMZS met, I realized that devoting my life to the Dharma--practicing, studying, sharing, and teaching--was what I wanted to do with my life.
I vow to be a Bodhisattva, to devote my life to helping others. If that means opening a Zen center, great. If that means meeting once per week in a host location, that's great too. Either way, I want to dedicate my life, full time, to Buddhism. It just feels...right. I don't know what that exactly entails (as far as in a formal Buddhist capacity), or what kind of time frame we're talking about, but my primary aspiration is fulfilling my role as a Zen priest.
I know that I've said similar things in the past, but now it actually feels possible. I like to think of this as my Declaration of Principles, kind of like Charles Foster Kane's in Citizen Kane.
One of the most important lessons that my teacher Ven. Paul Lynch has taught me is that Bodhisattvas help in any way they can. It may not be an act of earth-shattering proportions; it can be as simple as lending a helping hand or offering a kind word when they are needed. There are close to seven billion people on this planet, and that means a heck of a lot of suffering.
The point is to help---not on our terms, but on life's. This may mean continuing to be a high school teacher and function as a Zen priest on nights and weekend, because we don't need to be wearing Zen robes to be a Bodhisattva.
It would be pretty darn cool, though, to be able to offer Zen services full time.
Anyway, that's what I want to be when I grow up, a Bodhisattva in the service of the Dharma. I understand that in reality it's all part of an ongoing, never-ending process. Visibly, it started when I applied to a Buddhist seminary, and when I ordained as a Zen priest; but it continues every Sunday when I meet with the local sangha, or when I interact with my family and high school students, and even when I write these posts.
I don't believe in fate, and don't empirically know how karma works, but in some way, on some level, I truly believe that Buddhism is my life path. A pastor my wife knows says that he felt a "calling" to ordain; I suppose that's the best way I can describe it. Some might say that people with whom the Dharma resonates encountered Buddhism in a previous life. Maybe so, who knows?
Either way, when I am helping people in my role as a Zen priest I feel blessed and filled with joy. I thank all of the ancestors in the limitless past for preserving, developing, and passing on the Buddhadharma. I consider it an honor and an imperative that I carry it on.
Along with being a committed father and husband, it's the most important thing I can do with my life.
Photo borrowed from Creative Commons flickr user: Indhslf72.