the blinding sound of a calling


I’ve been feeling more deeply how frustrating my peripatetic spiritual path has been. Is. And, for whatever the reason, it’s been more piercing than ever lately. Even more, it doesn’t escape my symbol-loving mind that it began 9 months ago when I made the decision to forego Summer Ango and Rohatsu so I could be with family, awaiting the arrival of the Gr’Kid.

The intent of Ango and Rohatsu however is not only the ongoing cultivation of my spiritual path but also the process of engaging in the path of the novice priest. It looks strange writing it out; some of you already know of this aspiration and practice and I bow deeply to your patience as I harangued you with all my doubts, convoluted cognitions, and self-serving angst.

This is a huge piece of my spiritual life. I knew in a flash of  a moment at the age of 9 years, standing in a church hall watching a young girl who was part of a diorama of  a Methodist nun caring for little baby (it was a doll, but powerful nevertheless). I knew it again sitting zazenkai at the Montreal Zen Centre with master Albert Low as his attendant stepped up to adjust Low’s robes and set the stage for the teisho. I know it again and again standing across from my teacher at morning services at Upaya, blinded by the power of eye-to-eye contact and heart-to-heart connection.

And I know it more powerfully than ever as I walk the hospital halls with my Chaplain colleagues or sit round-table with them developing more and more compassionate ways to met the great matter of living and dying.

And  yet… and yet… this dewdrop world is far-flung and complex.

When I first tried to articulate this ephemeral sense of a calling, it was met with stunned silence which I took to mean I was unworthy. And then there was the mind-twisting advice to not ask because by asking it showed wanting which meant craving and how could it be a real calling if it was a craving. That was easy to dismiss as zennobabble. The wiser mitras pointed out that the practice was in stepping off that 100-foot pole, in letting it all explode into dust, and to know that asking was just another way of piercing the illusion of something to be had.

While there is truly nothing to be gained from ordination, there is much to be lost from not honouring the calling. The power of that driving force is inescapable. It pervades every thought, word, and action. It is cetanā, intention, of every connection. It is all-consuming and abjects us to all means of being in service. And for many of us, it is not necessarily available. And that is a profound loss for both the individual and community.

In my conversations with two of my dearly loved dharma sisters and brothers, I explored all these aspects. The possibility is that we already live a priesthood; true and yet that begs the point of serving overtly in community. The possibility is that it can be sublimated into a lay form of service; true and yet it contradicts the intent of practice being the realization of our true nature. The possibility is that it can happen but not in the specific community or way one had hoped; true and for some of us, this is the most non-negotiable because ordination is a public celebration of our relationship with our spiritual birth-community.

And then there’s the specific one I face and struggle against: the possibility that there may not be a configuration of time and energy. This takes time, a never-ending series of renunciations of the dew drop world. Months away from family (and work  income that supports all this – a financial ouroborus), reconfiguring all the responsibilities of being a householder, letting go of commitments to be present for birthdays, anniversaries, and the likelihood that this body may no longer be able to withstand the physical rigours of this form of practice. I hold out the hope that being a time being, it – and I – will unfold in time.

Not surprising, this week there was the blinding call of time pressing. James Ford wrote here of what a couple of wrong decisions could have meant and why the evening chant is a deep calling. And Brookie at The Blue Lotus Seed wrote here of the ever-changing identity of the sangha’s meditation space and the heart that continues to be present, concluding with the call to find a seat because time is fleeting. And Ruth Ozeki in A Tale for the Time Being wrote of the merits of home-leaving and Dogen’s exhortation of his monks:

Life is fleeting! Don’t waste a single moment of your precious life!
Wake up now!
And now!
And now!

We lose many things on the path. A sense of entitlement, righteousness, specialness. Gone. Gone, the sense that time limits us. Worn away in the chaffing against time beings.

We take on many things on this path. A sense of duty, loyalty, service. Of being blinded by a calling yet not blind to what it means as it unfolds in time.


About the photo: I chose it for the piercing points of the ice. As I was playing with the image, it revealed the twisting colouration embedded in the ice. A reflection of the pergola caught, frozen into the icicle. Somehow it seemed very fitting to the topic.

13 thoughts on “the blinding sound of a calling

  1. Dear Genju,
    Thank you once again, for your heart felt sharing/wonderings/frustrations and your “peripatetic spiritual path” as you consider long held/deeply felt desres/wishes. Your questioning of community, becoming “official” within the eyes of community as well as your committment to family, friends and well, life. Where does practice begin and end? I know for myself, when I feel something so deeply, I demand of myself space and time to let the feeling have it’s own air to breathe. I give myself the gift of bearing witness and completely trust in the process and know the next right action will show itself.

    I can relate to your post as I sew the rakusu and dive in to all the preparations for Jukai in March whilst watching my youngest son (almost 19) begin cleaning out his room for moving next month as well as coming up on my first year anniversary of sobriety (also in March). Everything keeps moving/nothing static/all dynamic. Impermanence every single step.

    Deep Bow,

    • How is the rakusu sewing going?! 🙂

      I remember it being a wonderful time of deep learning and trusting the process – and thanking the heavens I’d spent most of my life sewing my own clothes!

      You know, priest ordination doesn’t make us any more “official” than eating a donut. In fact, eating a donut might serve more people than ordination. 😉 However, we are each called to serve. How we live so that it can unfold in the context of our lives is the practice.

    • Thank you, my friend! I just learned that The Old Boy is going to be in Victoria this month! Had I know sooner, I would have caught a ride on his ticket! 😀

      • Ah well, another time. I should really get out to Ottawa one of these days to make sure it’s still there. Last time I was in the fair city I fell asleep listening to Robert Stanfield speak in parliament :/ (honest!)

    • Indeed to the donut maker. And I absolutely understand your calling….I don’t know if reasoning is possible when you feel something in your bones except to continue walking towards that which you are called and see how the causes & conditions unfold. Reminds me of how I want to marry the man I’ve been with for seven years even though I can’t come up with a really good reason. We’ve both been through rough divorces….and yet, I too feel called….(stay tuned). The sewing is moving along. I have ritualized the whole experience (silence/candle/incense/mantra) one stitch, one stitch…such an opportunity to fully accept all of me including the dyslexic/autistically tended brain :smiles. You know, I first took refuge in the Tibetan tradition nearly 20 years ago and have had the great good fortune of receiving many teachings/empowerments from many wonderful teachers/rinpoches and not until I began sitting zazen have I felt the ineffable qualities of the dharma….such a gift. Thank you for your support and deep bow to you on your search for understanding.

      In Gassho,

  2. Beautiful indeed. The longing of the True Heart felt as a “call” to the realization of our True Nature in whatever “form” is much deeper than those egoistic desires and cravings – as you know. And to discover that true “calling” is a gift – in my opinion anyway… And indeed there is a psychological cost in not honoring “the call” of the Heart. I too have felt a “calling” from childhood – not to a specific role or goal – but to the “spiritual path” and intimacy with our “True Nature” (however one names and defines that)…

    Just recently (Nov) I think I finally accepted the “fact” that I am a “Mystic” – not a Buddhist, nor a Christian for that matter, just a simple “mystic” who simply wants to know and live the Universal Truth of Existence. There was such a sense of peace, freedom and contentment in realizing this, as well as the need to leave behind those *thoughts* that this was just another “ego identity” because deep inside I *knew* it to be real/true – even though it is still just another “label” – but one which resonates very deeply…

    A long time ago I heard a Buddhist say: “Once you have stepped into the Awareness – do not be distracted.” May you not be distracted… May you find peace and contentment in fulfilling your “calling.” With deep respect… C

  3. It seems to me that the most important consideration is how one can be of service to others. If ordination will significantly expand that opportunity, then it is definitely the path to take. If not, then it may be unnecessary. On a practical level, the only thing an ordination provides is some authorization or credentials should one wish to teach, and even then, it is not always crucial. Best wishes to you as you navigate through this quandary.

    • David, this is lovely! Yes, I came to the realization that even if ordination would create more opportunities to be in service, it would not be that much different than the opportunities that appear at my door each day.

      Sort of an “If you can be the shaved head you love, then love the one you’re born with.” 😉

  4. tears of deep knowing of what you write with such poetic practicality.
    Peace on the path,
    one of your mystic sisters.
    Glad I live near enough to share tea in time.

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