by Ven. Jinmyo Renge sensei
Dainen-ji, December 8, 2001
This Dharma Talk was presented during the ceremony before the Sangha in which Ven. Jinmyo Renge sensei was publically acknowledged as a successor in the Dharma of Ven. Anzan Hoshin roshi. "Den-e" means "Transmission of the robe."
During this recent time of Menju, one of the practices I was given was to study and create several documents. One was a document listing the names of all of the Buddhas and Awakened Ancestors of my Lineage based on a similar document made by Roshi years ago. It was written in a very fine hand, listing the names of the Seven Buddhas and the names of the successive Ancestors. A red thread representing a bloodline links them. Now it was time for me to make my own document. I was looking forward to the prospect of doing this, though I am not by any stretch of the imagination artistically gifted. I went to an art supply store, bought appropriate paper and two pens of the type used by architects.
The paper and pens remained in the bag next to my desk for a few days while I contemplated just how I was going to go about doing this without disconnecting my computer to make space. I finally decided to use a long side-table Shramon had provided. It was too narrow and would not allow me to turn the paper, so it would be necessary to stand the whole time I was working on it, but I thought "Well, that's okay. Standing while doing this is probably a good thing."
Standing back, looking at the first few words I'd written, I thought, "Oh, no. This is no good. This is the most important piece of paper I've ever written on and my script is horrible."
Get another piece of paper. Start again.
Well, the script was a little better, but the font size I'd used was inconsistent and the words were getting smaller and smaller and smaller.
Get another piece of paper, start again.
Several days had passed by this time, and it finally began to dawn on me that there really wasn't time to engage in a self-taught course in calligraphy and if I didn't stop arguing with myself about how it looked, it would never be finished. The Buddhas and Awakened Ancestors were not particularly interested in my calligraphy style anyway. They must be far more interested in what I understood and what I didn't, and how I would use whatever skills I could draw upon in this situation.
So I opted for my best grade four printing and continued around the circle.
Um, who is Kapimala?
Oh no! I'm supposed to know this. Especially since Roshi embodies and communicates so much about the Lineage. Hmmm. I'll tell you what, Kapimala, how about if I apologize and make the promise that I'll come back to your name later so that I can finish this? Kapimala was, of course, predictably silent which did not make me feel at all better.
Aha! I know about Nagarjuna, I've read books about him. I could know more about him, but at least I know a little and I know how to spell his name, right Nagarjuna? Nagarjuna was, of course, predictably silent, which had a disquieting effect on my momentary self-congratulatory mood.
One by one, the names appeared on the paper, some familiar, some not at all familiar, all of them raising questions. But after so many false starts I was happy that at least they were being written. And then I came to Buddhanandi.
A? What? That's not supposed to be an A, it's supposed to be an H! Oh no. How did that happen? It happened because you weren't paying attention. How could you not have noticed that? How could you have put pen to paper while thinking about something else?
Er. I did. Okay, so what does this mean? This means my attention span is shorter than I thought it was. You mean I have to be able to do this entire chart with open attention? Yes.
The Buddhas and Awakened Ancestors might not have been saying anything about whether or not I knew their personal stories, but even if all of them had appeared in my room at that moment, all talking simultaneously about why it was necessary to do what one is doing with open attention, the point could not have been clearer.
My personality and its characteristics condition how I express the Dharma. But they are not the Dharma. The Dharma is the realized-practice which is passed from Teacher to student. Each of these people sat. They sat for many years, examining how they understood the Teachings, how they understood their own practice and it was through this process that they eventually became Teachers.
I finished the document. It is not a work of art, but it is clear and legible. My own name appears on it, threaded into the circle.
My journey to Zen practice started a long time ago. I always wanted to practice. At three years old, I would slip between the curved back of the couch and the wall and build something resembling a Butsudan out of cardboard boxes and cloth. It wasn't an altar, a holy thing. It was just a raised platform where I could put stuff that I considered important. I put all of my favourite books on my platform, books such as Alice In Wonderland, Gray's Anatomy, assorted Dickens and the Oxford Dictionary, all very carefully arranged. It made sense because it was quite apparent to me that I had to learn how to read before I could do much else. I spent hours arranging and re-arranging books and other special objects on my cardboard box.
My reason for mentioning this is because it really was very telling. As a monk, one of my duties over the best part of the past years has been the daily cleaning and care of Butsudan. But a lot happened between, of course. I travelled extensively, I married twice, I had three daughters, I worked and I sat. A lot.
It's not so easy to find a Teacher.
There is a traditional saying that it is as rare to have a precious human birth in which to find a true Teacher as it is for a turtle swimming in the ocean to surface and put it's head through a wooden yoke floating on the surface. I surfaced time and time again, and for the most part, all I found was floating debris. What I mean by that, is that in this part of the world, there are many religious and philosophical systems of training that cobble together Teachings that originated in other parts of the world, taught by people who do not really understand them, and you don't want to be lost in the realm of birth and death and find yourself trying to hang on to one of these. I had encountered and did zazen with several Zen and Tibetan Buddhist Teachers but their instructions didn't ring true for me. I already had all kinds of states. Why would I want to create more through concentrating on this or that?
However, amidst all the confusion I encountered, there was one Teacher who lived in Philadelphia that I studied closely with for about five years. I will always be grateful to him. He was an ancient Sufi Teacher, a Tamil, who looked like a spider monkey and his name was Bawa Muhaiyaddeen. He himself told me he was not my Teacher - that I had not yet met my Teacher. But he protected me and kept me out of trouble. He used to say that he was a bit like a traffic cop, that his job was to point people in the right direction. In my case, he kept pointing to Canada.
It took me a long time to get to Canada . After living in Philadelphia, I lived in Florida for a few years. I threw myself into my work and I sat as much as I was able, but I knew what I wanted to do and needed to do, and at a certain point, I could not do otherwise.
I remember in one teisho Roshi presented, he said something to the effect that after a while some people just can't buy into the old wallpaper pasted up over open space. Most will just live with it, even if it begins to peel. Others just can't keep their fingers off of it and keep pulling away little strips. Well, I reached the point where I was standing up to my knees in strips of torn paper and it was becoming unbearable. So I sold my business and my home and moved to Canada to find my Teacher.
Sounds very simple, but it isn't. Bawa was not big on maps or names, so I had no idea what to look for or where to look. I ended up in Kanata , wondering what on earth I should do next and feeling very disillusioned. By happenstance, I heard about a Zen monk living at the Zen Centre of Ottawa, which was at that time Zazen-ji located in Chinatown . I thought, "Well, who knows, maybe she'll have something to say that will make sense." So I made an appointment to see her.
This was of course, none other than Shikai Zuiko O-sensei, who at that point was a novice monk. She listened to me and she helped me to peel away the wallpaper, with an enthusiasm that was completely unexpected. She was not a friend, but she was more of a friend to me than anyone I had ever met. And has been ever since, helping me in ways too numberless to mention. Some of those ways were sometimes difficult for both of us to go through but I am grateful for all of it. She is closer to me than anyone else I have ever known other than Roshi. I will however say that the jubon I am wearing under this koromo is one of three made for me by her during her free periods of the Rohatsu O-sesshin we have just finished.
Soon after meeting her, she asked me, "What do you really want?" I explained that I felt I had far too many ideas and concepts and strands of beliefs, a bit like a soup with too many ingredients in it, all mixed up with a lot of disappointment. What I really wanted was for someone to shine a light bulb behind my head, project my thoughts on to a wall and say, "Okay, that one's okay. That one? That's absolute garbage, get rid of it." Her response was to suggest that I attend an Introduction to Zen Workshop.
A few weeks later, I attended what was to be the last Beginner's Mind Workshop Roshi presented. I walked into the Zendo, along with a group of other people, took my seat at the very back of the room and found that I was seated opposite him. He began to speak and I could not stop smiling. To jump the gun a bit historically, I have never heard a teisho by Roshi that didn't reveal what I was up to, why it wasn't such a good idea, how to be beyond ideas and how to be that which is real.
After that, and for the next few months, I attended every sitting I could. I listened to every teisho tape I could get my hands on and I read all of the books. If there was an opportunity to go to the Zen Centre to attend a sitting, I would re-arrange numberless details of my life to get there. Eventually I was accepted on probation as a deshi, a formal student.
One evening following a formal sitting, Roshi asked me if I had any questions, and of course, I did, so he invited me to sit at the low table in the kitchen at Zazen-ji with him and just ask away. After a while, most of the questions I had been carrying around for donkey's years had been answered and I fell into silence. We just sat for a while drinking coffee.
Suddenly Roshi looked at me and said, "Don't internalize. Come out." That really caught me off-guard. I wasn't expecting him to be able to see that I was doing that - lurking behind my eyes, thinking this and that. Which shows how little I really understood then about him and us all. Although I was not signalling it in any way, he could see exactly what I was doing. So I came out a bit and said what I was thinking and feeling. And retreated again.
Once more he said, "Come out". So I did, and then retreated again. He said, "Come on out and play". We stayed up all through the night and he pulled me out from behind everything I was hiding behind moment after moment for hour after hour although I had exhausted any stories long ago. At 5:30 or so the next morning, when the other formal students arrived for the morning sitting, we were still sitting at the kitchen table. So Roshi led the sitting and I did the bows and chants and fell asleep on my zafu.
Now it's suddenly ten years later and I'm sitting on a zafu putting you all to sleep with my story. That's all right. Everyone's stories about themselves are boring. But I hope I have given you some indication of the depth of commitment that Roshi has to his students. And of the great opportunity that I have been given and taken. And of the support given to me. I would like to thank not only Roshi for everything and Shikai O-sensei for so very much but all of my monastic juniors and everyone that I have practised and worked with. Roshi's commitment to all of his students everywhere, even those of you who haven't sat with him yet let alone had coffee or tea, comes out of his unshakeable commitment to and embodiment of the Lineage of Awakened Ancestors. As someone allowed to hold his Lineage, I can only try to always match that commitment and hope to also embody this Awakening activity more and more completely.
While making the traditional sake offering to the scroll of our Teacher's Teacher, Joshu Dainen Hakukaze zenji, in the Kaisando this morning he and I had a little chat about this. Well, it was mostly me talking but he had such big ears there no doubt was some kind of listening as I said, "I promise." When I turned there was a piece of lint on the floor for me to pick up so I guess that was his comment. Later this morning, during Jodo-e, I offered incense in the Kaisando, the Butsudan in the Zendo, then went outside to offer incense to Sakyamuni and peer up at the morning star but it was already light out by the time I got there. I was just raising the lit incense to offer it when I noticed someone outside the hedge walking by, their face inclined towards me. A flutter of self-consciousness moved up but I couldn't find anyone for it to refer to so it just opened out and there was the flash of a thought like, "This is the world. It includes everything: the sky, the person, the sound of morning traffic, offering the incense." In offering the incense, Sakyamuni Buddha as the offering of all of this, was there in the incense stick and its smoke. I'm speaking as if Joshu zenji or Sakyamuni were doing this or that but that's not what I mean. It's just that I have something to express and I'm trying to find a way to say it. What I mean is:
I ask all of you, having already given me so much support, please help me further to always do the work of the Way for all beings.
Have a good night.