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.