“The zendo (meditation hall) is not a peaceful haven for retreat, but a furnace room for the combustion of our delusions.” ~ Eido Shimano, Roshi
This quote by the founding abbot of Dai Bosatsu gives you a little taste of the training environment I’m going in to. Some people might recoil at such a statement, as there is a tendency to see meditation as something “blissful” or at least “calming.” Some even seek or expect colorful visuals and ecstatic sensations. But a furnace room?… and combustion of delusions? That sounds intense!
What I have found, as the historical Buddha declared, is that meditative mind, or ordinary mind, is our fundamental state of being and which cannot be perturbed. Our conditioned mind, the beliefs and stories we developed growing up and live out of as adults, is the source of these delusions. Relating to life through these filters causes us to create suffering in ourselves and others. The Buddhist path is a practical approach to seeing and transforming our conditioning, thus ending the cause of suffering.
It is part of Life’s passion play that we forget this imperturbable mind is who we are. Like a lot of people, I have chased after peace and happiness in activities, buying and having certain things, and looked for them in a partner, or a place, or a job. While I am blessed to be leading a life rich filled with interesting, loving people and a variety of meaningful experiences, none of them has enabled me to abide in the peace and clarity that many traditions promise. Ordinary mind is the way, although discovering and living this way is not an ordinary quest.
However, it is not a quest that requires monastic life. In fact, life as a “householder” is even viewed as better, albeit more difficult. With a clear practice philosophy, structure and guidance, the bustle of daily life, family, work, living in a “too busy” society is a great environment to cultivate meditative awareness. How so? All our interactions and activities serve as mirrors to check the quality of one’s awareness. This, in fact, is what the monastic training serves as, but in a very specifically defined practice vehicle. It is not about needing isolation or pristine silence to awaken; that is a myth. Practicing where you are is what matters.
So why go monastic? Being free of worldly activities, focusing solely on “The Great Matter of Birth and Death,” is meant to facilitate and expedite insight and integration of it in to one’s actions and relationships. I’ve done a lot of personal work and training to develop skills to facilitate people in remembering this “original mind,” and learning to live from it, or rather, as it. You could look at this monastic training as a sort of graduate school for deepening my abilities to be of service.
In just fourteen days I’ll have moved in to the monastery, and the day after that will be the first of a 100-day practice period called “kessai.” I simultaneously experience resistance, a fear about what I’m getting in to… fear of giving up my familiar life, habits, comforts… and a sweet gravitational pull to this perfect unfolding for my life, gentle arms of an infinite river carrying me exactly where I belong. In fact, this morning the fear was quite heavy, and took a while to work through. Allowing myself to feel the fear honestly, not try to suppress it or rise above it, gave room to honor the past conditioning and the present, the normal fear of stepping in to a big unknown, and reorient to my intuitive wisdom mind that knows this step is the next true step to take in my life.
I can imagine what is ahead for me, but really to little avail. There will plenty to be discovered and experienced during the upcoming 1000 days, about life in the monastery, who I am and am not, what life is and isn’t, and what to do in the world with what I learn and embody there. My priority is to simply be open, alert, listening and fully engaged. I am soon entering a crucible of the Great Matter of Birth and Death, a kosmic kiln to burn off all confusion to reveal the vessel of pure knowing, and what to do with it. I am willing clay.
What reflections do you have on the spiritual quest in general and yours in particular? Is a spiritual structure important to you? How do you integrate awareness and insight of “higher consciousness” (whatever that means to you), with the day-to-day life of being you? If you do not have a specific spiritual practice, what choices led to that decision?
I invite you to post your perspectives, and thank you for visiting.
One thought on “Counting down…”
It is appreciated that you share this BIG choice. It has occurred to me to do such a thing on various occasions, but did not happen. I have a serious daily sitting practice and moving meditation practice (T’ai Chi Chih). Having a period occur for many months where I was faced with fear of death and the ongoing awareness of the unpredictable passing of events, I saw the value and import of sitting to practice being with the reality of life and death. Akin to this process was the attempt to reconcile life, to reconcile relationships, especially with those with whom I was the closest both dead and alive. Now it all occurs as a practice and a fulfillment of being alive at the same time. I look forward to your sharing as you go through this burn off. We all have much to learn.