“Daily sitting is our bread and butter, the basic stuff of dharma.
Without it we tend to be confused.”
― Charlotte Joko Beck
There were quite a few of us that were first drawn to Zen back in the 60's because of its seemingly irreverent and iconoclastic tenor and tone.
To a bunch of us erstwhile hippies, peaceniks, and radicals, stories of ancient monks kicking over water jugs, writing poems lauding drunkeness, unabashedly proclaiming that Buddha was a "shit stick", etc., it seemed "far out." They seemed like our kind of guys.
Little did we know.
Once I actually connected with a teacher and a sangha, a different reality emerged. I found that the foundation of Zen Buddhism, like that of other spiritual traditions throughout the world, rests squarely on a set of vows and precepts. Rather than becoming a member of another tribe of free form hippies, I found out that engaging in formal Zen training with a teacher meant making a commitment to a set of clearly stated intentions: Taking Refuge in the Triple Gems, the Four Bodhisattva Vows, the Three Pure Precepts, and the 10 Essential Precepts was expected. It was part of the deal.
Jeez. Growing up I only had to worry about the Ten Commandments! Now? Do the math. This is twice as many. So much for being hip and cool, for "doing your own thing!"
Or so it seemed.
Now, decades down the road, having explored a set of fundamental ethical intentions in a variety of Buddhist and other contexts, even ordaining with Thich Nhat Hanh's Order of Interbeing for awhile, I've come to understand the nature of commitment differently.
Although our connection to a specific tradition may provide context and support, ultimately, we each have to work it out for ourselves. We have to discover, in our Heart of Hearts, our True Nature. There is no "one size fits all Dharma."Our deepest aspirations and intentions emerge from the both the universal One Love and the unique reality of who we each are. We have to go it alone -- together.
Although I have maintained a commitment to a daily morning practice for a long time now and recite the 4 Bodhisattva Vows (in one form or another) most days, and have often committed to take a personal Day of Mindfulness one day a week for the Fall, what is involved doesn't have much to do with making a choice to follow a code of conduct, or a commitment to being a "good" person as opposed to being a "bad person." Nor are the promises I've made primarily about achieving the goal of enlightenment, or arriving at a destination other than where I am at any one the moment.
The fundamental commitment made is simply the ongoing choice to Be Present, with as much Kindness and Compassion and Clarity as I can muster to the ever-changing, ongoing flow of Life as it emerges in each and every moment -- until I croak. This takes a great deal of effort and patience and the ability to forgive oneself and others again and again. It takes Ceaseless Practice.
This isn't just a Buddhist thing. Jesus was making the same point when he said "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" Over the years, I've met Jews and Christians and Hindus and Muslims and Jews who are on the same page about this. Hell, I've had friends who call themselves Atheists who do a better job of it than some self-professed "religious" types.
Reality Holds Great Promise.
At this stage of the journey, it's often quite clear to me that the One Love that permeates the Universe simply is. Life seems to know what needs to be done -- or not done. Flowers bloom. Flowers fade and die.
Embracing Life (and Death) as it is, doing "my own thing" in the material plane of action, or in the realm of thoughts, meditation, visualizations and prayer is all there is to do.
Most the time, though, it's seems like all I can "do" is to pause in wonder, realize I don't really know what is going on at all-- and just let Life be what it Is. (As if I could do otherwise. LOL)
At this point, beyond certain commitments I play with, it's all Practice. The choice, if it is a choice at all, is to take a conscious breath, relax a bit, open my heart, mind, and senses -- and really pay attention to the Present Moment. There the promise made is, in itself, the promise fulfilled. The commitment is doing me just as much as "I" am doing it.
What else is there to do?