meeting the buddha at the gate

We returned yesterday.  That’s a necessary thing – to return, to come back, to see that place again for the first time.  Returning implies remembering, sati, re-collecting all those things that tend to fly away, shatter, fragment when we forget that returning over and over again is the essence of our practice.

I’m grateful to be home; I know I’ve been travelling too much when I wake up in the comfort of my own bed and can’t remember if this is the hotel where the bathroom is to left or the right of the bed.  In my increasingly steep slope down to agedness, simple things such as the relative positioning of the toilet are crucial.  And then, slowly but with unrelenting penetration, I realize I am at home (the toilet is to the right of the bedroom).  In that briefest of moments, I panic: is this where I’m supposed to be?  The answer, of course, is absolutely and perennially, Yes.

And, I’m grateful to be home.

In my travels, however, there were some lovely adventures.  We were at the 10th annual conference put on by the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society.  I joked (though there may be more truth in it than not) that I only go to such things because it positions me geographically near places I love.  So, in the whirlwind of giving a talk, listening to keynote addresses, attending discourses on this and that, Frank and I played hookey to visit the new temple at Boundless Way Zen Center.  It was such a gift to sit in the zendo and breathe, letting all the head stuff and fluff float away.  David Dae An Rynick, the abbott and dear friend, gave us a tour.  It was so animated and exciting that I forgot to take pictures!

But this was more than just a practice of connecting.  Before I left I made a vow to let go of all those things I treasure (perhaps too much).  So, along with letting go of taking pictures – other than the Buddha at the Gate here on the left – I let go of two enso from the 108 Enso series.  There they are, somewhere outside the peripheral vision of my vigilance.  To the left?  To the right?  Who knows.

Speaking of Buddhas at gates: I am remembering a story about the Buddha at the gate.  A young monk studies with a well-known abbott and takes his practice quite seriously.  Everyday he goes to the town on an alms round.  The townspeople are generous and he leaves by one of the four the gates feeling quite accomplished in having taught the dharma and receiving just reward for it from the adoring lay people.  One day as he leaves the gate, he sees a beggar there who begins to heap vulgarities on him.  The monk is astonished and rushes back to the temple with the curses, spit, and froth of the beggar’s rancor in his ears and on his skin.  The next day he exits by a different gate but the beggar is there too repeating the vicious attacks on him about his competence and worthiness.  This goes on for several days despite the monk’s attempts to teach the beggar or even just tolerate him.  The monk is confused; he feels maligned and angry that his dedication is not acknowledged by the beggar!

Distraught, he goes to the Abbott and asks how to change this beggar’s mind.  He is after all a devout student of the Buddhadharma.  Perhaps the beggar is so severely delusional that he needs to be incarcerated, treated with electroshock therapy, or put in one of those Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction treatments!  The abbot, a wise and comforting man (as all abbotts are, right?) says to the young monk:

This Buddha at the Gate is for you a deep practice of equanimity and compassion.  He sees your illness and is asking you to treat it.  It’s easy to blame him, to see him as the one who needs more practice, or one who needs to be fixed so you can continue on your own path unhindered.  But then, we lose the point of practice which is to remember who we really are – in all our manifestations.  

Well, that’s my version of the story.  The version I particularly liked was told by the Ox Master, Barry Briggs, who happened to be in the neighbourhood and joined us for dinner.  He said, our teacher’s job is to strike us down with a killing sword.  A lovely meeting of dharma hearts and I got a chance to share my lobster mac and cheese.

So whichever version you like: do take some time to meet the Buddha at your gates and attend to the message.

intimate, pure, and joyful – a review of This Truth Never Fails

This Truth Never Fails: a Zen memoir in four seasons by David Rynick does not fail to bring the heart of Zen practice home.  Rynick, a Zen teacher and Life Coach, offers his lived experience of Zen in delightfully intimate detail and in a manner that dissolves the bewildering, misleading myths of Zen practice.  With the ever-constant changing of the seasons as a guide, Rynick takes us on a journey, bearing witness to the simplicity and elegance of the every day, the moment in hand, the singular and unique breath.  The lessons we learn are not only about waking up and choosing which self we will wear for the day.  They are about joining with Summer’s aliveness, Autumn’s release, Winter’s hope, and Spring’s re-birth.  At its core, Rynick’s teachings in the book, like the truth of practice, the essence of Zen, show us that it is all here, effortlessly gifted.

It is a sweet, quiet set of teachings and you can read a chapter here.  But there is something more important than what is held between the pliable front and back of this book.  I am of the firm belief that anyone can write a book.  Truly.  However, the real teaching is not in what we write but in the courage to let those words reflect the truth of our life.  Most of us tend to shy from conveying the intimate truth of our life and lean towards crafting this or that image.  We can’t help but live in our readers’ minds, seeking not-so-subtly to manipulate who we are in the folds of their brain.  The power of this particular book is that David (and I feel free to be so familiar) writes without such guile, unassuming and unpretentious.  It is something I hope for as the way of Zen: intimate, pure, and joyful.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should tell you I’ve experienced David as both teacher and coach.  I met David Rynick several years ago when I attended my very first sesshin at Boundless Way – it might even have been when Boundless Way was only on its way to being such.   David’s spouse, the ever amazing Melissa Blacker (now Roshi), had trained me in MBSR and was my first (and so far only) koan teacher.  I had never met David until that sesshin in Worcester and our dokusan brought a massive shift in how I engage in relationships.  But life swept me in other directions and yet I carried always their generous teachings and this one vision of a snow-covered, emerald-leaved rhododendron framed in the window of the zendo.  Living in a climate where rhododendron didn’t survive winters this image remained a heart-filling paradox of relationships and the adaptation and equanimity they demand of us.

About six months ago, David and I met through our respective blogs.  The universe is fascinating and somewhere there is Bodhisattva laughing.   I read an early draft of his book and set it aside as David and I began a coaching journey that has brought together some powerful threads which weave together authenticity and intimate truths.  These are powerful lessons that animate my life, breathe awareness into it, and hold my feet to the fire when I think I can slide off the track.  In fact, much of what you’ve read on this blog in the last six months has come out of the direct influence of our coaching sessions that teach me to always come into alignment with my own intimate truth.

Coach or Zen teacher, David’s own authenticity is evident in his connection and as a result is found in every chapter of This Truth Never Fails where he brings to the fore a comfort with the everyday connections we live.  He is likely one of the few practitioners who can write as passionately of the “View from My New Toilet” as he does “Remembering” that joy is in the everyday things like the handle of his coffee cup.  There is honesty in the opening lines of each chapter which are typically about waking up (what a metaphor!), poking through the clouds of worry, or relishing in a moment’s surprise of “Being Myself.”

My favourite quote somewhat predictably is in the chapter, Being Myself,  where he writes:

The rhododendron is rhododendroning – that is all it knows how to do.

I am like this too – I am David and I am Daviding.
Without thinking, my cells and my internal organs, my fingers and my brain, all know what to do.

If I understand the teachings, this “selfing” is the “mysterious truth of the Buddha.”  This is the truth that never fails: “in every moment and every place, things can’t help but shine with this light*” of who and what we truly are.


*Torei Enji