Monday, December 29, 2008

Monday Night

The Monday between Christmas and New Years, and we still had four persons show up for the Monday night Zen service - two regulars, one first timer and one from out of town.

I gave the first timer basic meditation instruction during the first sitting period, and then we joined the meditation in progress for the second period. Afterwords, we read the second chapter of Dogen's Zuimonki.

Dogen said, "[Monks] should maintain the precepts and eating regulations (one meal a day before noon, etc.). Still, it is a mistake to insist upon them as essential, establish them as a practice and expect to gain the Way by observing them."

Dogen was not implying that we should break the precepts and become self indulgent. "Clinging to such an attitude is an evil view and not that of a Buddhist practitioner." It seems that Dogen sought the middle way, that is, keeping the precepts without clinging to them, without expectation of some reward from observing them. Dogen emphasized just keeping them and practicing without the defilements of human sentiments.

"Observing the precepts single-mindedly is nothing other than practicing shikantaza," Dogen said. "When we sit in zazen, what precept is not observed, what merit is not actualized?"

This led to a long, at times intensely personal, group discussion of our clinging to expectations of rewards, ideas of how we "ought" to behave, and of other hindrances in our daily lives to realizing our true nature. I admire the courage and honesty of the group to talk so candidly and intimately about their lives and their practice.

In the first chapter of Zuimonki, Dogen warned that the practice of worshipping relics was not a path to realization, and in this second chapter he stressed that observing the precepts was not the Way. In both chapters, he emphasised the practice of zazen as the singular way to achieve realization, echoing his words in Bendo-wa:

"After the initial meeting with a good teacher we never again need to burn incense, to do prostrations, to recite Buddha's name, to practice confession, or to read sutras. Just sit, and get the state which is free of body and mind."

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