“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 self-styled hippies, peaceniks, and radicals, the stories of ancient monks kicking over water jugs, writing poems lauding drunkeness, unabashedly proclaiming that Buddha was a "shit stick", etc., were extremely cool. Those Zennies 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 clear ethical framework. 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 vows and precepts. I was faced with studying and practicing Taking Refuge in the Triple Gems, the Four Bodhisattva Vows, the Three Pure Precepts, and the 10 Essential Precepts. 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 "doing your own thing!"
Or so it seemed.
Now, decades down the road, having ordained with Thich Nhat Hanh's Order of Interbeing for a time, and studying and practicing with several Buddhist and other spiritual traditions over the years, I've come to understand the nature of commitment in a different way.
Although I have maintained a commitment to a daily morning practice for decades now, and I recite the 4 Bodhisattva Vows (in one form or another) most every day, what is involved doesn't have much to do with making a choice to follow a specific code of conduct anymore. My commitment to Practice isn't really about being a "good" person as opposed to being a "bad" person. It's deeper than that.
The fundamental commitment made is simply the ongoing choice to Be Present, to open my heart to the experience of Life as its presents itself each moment with as much kindness and compassion and clarity as I can muster. It's just that simple. Yet -- as any of you who have tried this knows -- it isn't easy. It takes a great deal of effort and true patience and the ability to forgive oneself and others -- again and again and again.
This isn't just a Buddhist thing. Over the years, I've met Jews and Christians and Hindus and Muslims and Jews who are on the same page about this. You can see it in their eyes. You can feel it in their Presence. Heck, I've even had friends who call themselves atheists who do a better job of it than some self-professed "religious" types. It's not about belief. It's something deeper than that.
The invitation to a life of Practice rings through all the mystical traditions of all of the world's religions. Like life itself, Practice flows from and returns to the One Love that permeates Reality. It's a verb, not a noun. We can feel it stirring in our Heart of Hearts. It's the fulfillment of our True Nature as human beings.
Reality Holds Great Promise.
At this stage of the journey, it's often quite clear to me that the vast, spacious, mysterious One Love that permeates the Universe simply is. It is inseparable from Life itself. I've learned to trust that.
At this point, it's all Practice. Often the choice to be made, if it is a choice at all, is to just take a conscious breath or two, 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 means and the end are One. The commitment to Practice is doing me just as much as "I" am doing it.
I can live -- and die -- with that.