White Wind Zen Community

A Community practising and teaching Dogen’s Zen since 1985

Honesty and Humour

Shuso Hossen Dharma Talk

by Ven. Saigyo tando (while training as shuso)

Dainen-ji, October 8th, 2004

In each and every moment we have the opportunity to step past the ways we tend to be and in doing so, open to the richness, dignity and joy of this life as it is. This is the gift we are offered through this practice of realization and is the most precious gift that can be offered and received.

Whatever circumstances may have brought us to encounter the Dharma as presented by Ven. Anzan Hoshin roshi and his Dharma successors, we are truly fortunate. How much more fortunate then if a recognition of the truth of what is being offered is strong enough that we actually come back to it and follow through?

We are often not even sure what it is that we recognized. Perhaps after leaving an Introduction to Zen workshop, things just seem easier and lighter for a while. Perhaps the leaves on the trees as we walk down the monastery path seem somehow greener. A glimmer of the richness and joyfulness of experience can break thought the fog of our usual understanding, if only for a moment, and this can be enough to bring us back. As the Zenrin Kushu says, It's like a needle in a bag. Our recognition of the truth of the Dharma keeps poking out and poking us.

Around 6 years ago, I found myself sitting face to face with the Ven. Shikai Zuiko osho, who was then the Godo or head monk. She was in England, presenting an Introduction to Zen Workshop at the Harrow Zazenkai, a branch centre of the White Wind Zen Community. I had come to a point where I was unwilling to go on causing myself and others trouble and had decided to try to find somebody who would be able to help and who might actually know what they were talking about. The various books on Zen I had read, seemed to make some sort of sense, however reading about Zen was not helping much and I knew that I needed someone to show me what I should actually be doing rather than what I should be thinking about. So I picked up the telephone book and called a few Zen and Buddhist centers a round London and fortunately the only centre to pick up the phone was the Harrow Zazenkai. I visited the Zazenkai and was struck by the simplicity and dignity of the practice environment. Tettsu, the resident told me that a senior monk who lived in Canada was in the country and I could come to a sitting and meet with her. Shikai osho visited the U.K. to help students with their practice once a year and so my timing was really very good.

Although I don't remember much of the details of what we talked about, I do remember great relief. My question were answered, I was given instruction to actually do something and this person was certainly good fun to be with. There was laughter. One thing I remember clearly. Sitting face to face was a little unusual and a little uncomfortable and so, in a habit that I had tended to use in such situations, I slipped into averting my gaze, just the right of her head. Self-consciousness would bubble up and I would look away. We talked and again I attempted to avoid self-consciousness by averting my eyes. And again. Suddenly, she stopped, paused, and in a horror movie style whisper said "Is there something behind me, I should know about" She had seen what I was doing, shown me with humor and gentleness and directness that she knew exactly what I was doing and was now offering me opportunity to release what I was doing. To drop the attempt to cover over uncomfortable sensations and do the only sensible thing in this situation, engage her fully by looking at her face to face. She was being honest and it very refreshing. This is essentially what the practice environment and the Teachings are for. They help us to see the ways we tend to narrow and avoid the openness of experiencing and to remind us again and again, that we need not do that. Facing the wall in zazen we face ourselves and all of the ways we will limit ourselves.

The Shingi, the rules of deportment of Monastic training says Monastics look each other full in the face when speaking or listening whenever possible. Do not wander (evade) with mind, eye or actions

There is nowhere to retreat to. There is nothing to hide from.

Yesterday, after a cold spell the weather became warm and the Hatto fans were needed. They has recently been carefully cleaned, bagged and stored in the back of the attic. As I went up the stairs to retrieve them, fragments of complaint and grumbling rose and fell. "I'll only have to clean them again…why me…it is really that hot". When I came back downstairs Jinmyo osho was standing in the hallway. She burst out laughing. "Grumble, grumble" she said and punched me playfully on the arm "I heard you all the way up to the attic".

And the relentless way that the Roshi shows me again and again how foolish and unnecessary it is to take any of my story lines seriously is wonderful. I have never laughed so hard, so long and so often, as when sitting face to face with him. Anyone who has sat in the Hatto for any length of time will vouch for the laughter of Roshi and students, interspaced with the occasional shouts, that fills the building. And echoes down the hallways from students meetings with the Dharma teachers in Daisan. The building reverberates with the joy of recognizing and releasing our stories. 

I cannot pinpoint a time when I knew that I would take monastic vows. I realized very soon after visiting Dainen-ji for the first time, that I would end up here. It really didn't seem like a decision but more of a recognition. I can only describe it as a sense of coming home each time I visited, even though as an Anagarika I would be taking home leaving vows in recognition that there is nowhere we can call home. I emigrated and took monastic vows because it was obvious that this was the only sensible thing to do.

Three years after the head is first shaved when taking postulant monastic vows it becomes time to take full monastic vows. Roshi has said that it takes this long to finally stop thinking about being a monk. We no longer look down at the robes and think,

'Oh, look. I'm a monk" It is no longer special. It is just what needs to be done.

Tomorrow morning the schedule will continue, the residents will get up early to prepare the practice rooms for the sittings and then sit with the students who come to the monastery. And the next day. And the next. The schedule goes on and there is always work to do. And there is always this moment and it is always the right time to practice.

I would like to sincerely thank my seniors and juniors for their exemplary practice, endless generosity and numberless kindnesses. And my deepest gratitude to the Roshi for his continuous work, as he said in a teisho this week, to make us Buddhas,  to keep us out of trouble and have the best time possible.

The gift that is offered is immeasurable. It is the gift of this moment. To receive it we need only take responsibility for whatever we have understood by following through with the instructions received and facing the ways we tend to be with honesty and humor. We can then either continue to propagate the ways we tend make ourselves and others suffer or make the only choice that is a real choice and release this by opening past tendency into this life as it is.