Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Bodhi Life

The Original Mind Zen Sangha ran its first retreat yesterday. Five students sat in attendance while fat snowflakes settled to the ground. It was my first time leading a retreat and it was awesome. It reaffirmed everything I already knew about my life--that I want to commit it to teaching and living the Dharma. If I could commit myself full-time to teaching Zen, I would in a heartbeat. The financial reality, however, is more complicated.

Eventually, I would like to make the leap into a full-time Zen teacher. Engaging students in interviews, in the koans passed down by our Zen ancestors, is a thrilling honor, one that I aspire to practice full time. I have no idea how to make that happen, but I'm committed to offering this to the world--to helping people realize that their lives are Bodhi trees and that they are Buddhas.

When I first started practicing Zen, attending my first retreats, I always felt restless. As if the entire world were passing me by. I suppose that's pretty common.

But yesterday, in the role of practice leader and teacher, I didn't feel any of that. Wherever we are, that's the most important place to be, even if it's in line at the grocery store or stuck in traffic. That's all there is--any other possibility is simply a mental object.

Wherever we are is the Bodhi tree.

A large part of a retreat, I'm convinced, is accepting the present moment in its entirety--the boredom, the fear and trepidation, restlessness and impatience, the discomfort, the peace and calm. All of it. We open ourselves to all of it.

When students engage a koan, I don't tell them to "sit with it," as I often hear Zen teachers instruct their students. Instead, I tell them to open themselves up to the koan. As Wittgenstein famously said, prior to language, there are no problems. The same can be said about thinking. It's our attachment to dualities that makes us suffer. So rather than push their way through a koan, which reduces it to an obstacle--where students pit themselves against the koan as an object, an approach that mirrors the adversarial way most people engage life--I encourage them to open themselves to the koan.

And soon the koan opens itself up to them.

Koans point to our original, pure nature. As such, they are not separate from us or our lives.

It's thrilling to watch a student engage this process of glimpsing their true nature. I hope to offer a full-day sit every eight weeks or so. If you're ever in the NJ area, feel free to join us; we'd love to have you!

Special thanks to my wife Jackie for supporting me in this practice. And to Ven. Wonji Dharma for all of his help and empowerment. The world is a much better place because of you both. Many bows.

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