“Daily sitting is our bread and butter, the basic stuff of dharma.
Without it we tend to be confused.”
― Charlotte Joko Beck
To a bunch of us erstwhile hippies, peaceniks, and radicals, stories of rambunctious monks kicking over water jugs, unabashedly proclaiming that Buddha was a "shit stick, or writing poems lauding drunkeness, Zen seemed "far out." These were the prototypical rebels, our kind of people.
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 vows in a variety of Buddhist and other traditions, even ordaining with Thich Nhat Hanh's Order of Interbeing for awhile, I've come to understand the nature of those commitments differently.
Although the connection to a specific tradition serves to provide a context and support, when push comes to shove, it's not that simple. Although many sects will proclaim that theirs is the only way, it's clear to me that there is no "one size fits all Dharma." The means of getting in touch with and actualizing our deepest aspirations and intentions emerge from the both the universal ground of the One Love and from the unique reality of who we each are. Although others can share their experience, the view and practices they found useful may or may not be helpful. We each have to work that out for ourselves.
The fundamental commitment made is simply the choice to be Present, to engage each moment with an open heart and clear mind. When this happens, I find that kindness, compassion, and clarity emerge naturally. I plan to do this until I croak.
This isn't just a Zen thing, or a Buddhist thing. I believe it is universal, embedded in the heart of all of the world's religions. I believe Jesus was getting at this 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 who are on the same page about this. You can see it in their eyes, hear it in voices. I've even had friends who call themselves Atheists who do a better job of it than some self-professed "religious" types.
Reality Holds Great Promise.
So. What's the bottom line?
Sometimes, there seems to be the need to act, to "do my thing" on the material plane, or in the realm of thoughts, meditation, visualizations and prayer. I know in my heart that I aim to be helpful if I can be.
Most the time, though, it's seems like all I can really"do" is to pause in wonder -- 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?