This year, the ramp up to Santa Season feels very different. Last year, at this time we were on our way to the beach in North Carolina and had just battled our way through a double storm system that shut down Pennsylvania and Virginia; I seem to recall much whinging from one squirrel blogger about being snowed in with yeti. I’m grateful for the quiet this year. Things have proceeded apace with little drama and a delightful amount of dharma. That is, if you don’t count a momentary fire in the kitchen when the gluten-free bread baking in breadmaker decided to ignite. I was on a conference call so missed all the drama but idea of my kitchen in flames did connect with what I shared with my group about my intentions with respect to entering the Chaplaincy program.
In the first talk of Rohatsu (which is online on the Upaya website), Roshi Joan described the experiences of Guishan Lingyou when he was the head cook at Baizhang’s monastery. When Guishan was attending the abbott, Baizhang, he was asked to poke around in the fireplace to see if there was anything there. Guishan said, “It’s dead.” Baizhang went over and dug into the ashes and drew out an ember. “Isn’t this fire?” he asked. Guishan awoke. (See also Enlightenment Unfolds by Kaz Tanahashi for a terrific exploration of this story.)
For many of us, practice is a fragile spark, easily put out by the tugs and pulls of our life and our desires of that life. And I don’t mean just spiritual practice, though I don’t believe there is a difference between spiritual and “other” practice. Without the right fuel, we die. Unfortunately, we think fuel means that perfect relationship, job, friend, what-have-you. I know I came to a point in my path where all that had failed me, and failed me continuously enough that I couldn’t remain deluded (though I still try my best to remain so). I also could only see the ashes and, like Guishan, made an assumption. “It’s dead.” That friendship, that marriage, that career, that opportunity gone. All dead.
Still deluded, what I wanted more than anything was for someone, something to ignite my life. Bring on that passion, open up my heart, see right into the depths of Me and make it all right anyway. These events were the Baizhangs of my life showing me how to dig deeper. But they only hold up the ember. The ember is not a flame. It is the potential of everything. It is this ember that I carried into the Chaplaincy program. It is this ember that will catch when time, causes and conditions embrace. Baizhang said, “When the time comes, delusion immediately turns into enlightenment and forgetting turns into remembering. If we contemplate buddha-nature, we realize that buddha-nature is ours. It doesn’t come from somewhere else.”
I am reminded of the chant before a dharma talk:
The dharma is vast and subtle.
We now have a chance to hear it, study it, and practice it.
We vow to realize its true meaning.
This is the ember. This is my intention as a chaplaincy candidate. The theme of sesshin was “Buddhas and all the buddhas” and Sensei Kaz distinguished between upper case Buddha and lower case buddhas. I think the same can be said for Chaplains and all the chaplains. Chaplaincy is not something that interests me. But chaplaincy… now that is the flame.
Thank you for practising,