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Thread: Thoughts on Engaged Practice

  1. #1

    Thoughts on Engaged Practice

    I've had an opportunity to reflect a bit on my own engaged practice and Global Day of Service activities. In the course of doing so, as we enter the New Year, I started rereading Uchiyama's Opening the Hand of Thought - this is my third time through, and it is like rediscovering an old and new friend at the same time. Reading the book has helped frame my thoughts, and I thought I'd share my observations with you.

    One of the objectives we had as a group in designing the Global Day of Service was the hope and expectation that periodic commitments of service to others and/or in the community would gradually blend seamlessly into practice - i.e., that the boundary between the two-week service periods and the "rest of the year" would melt. I've certainly had to commit myself to periods of service to others, often "holding my nose" in the process. Giving an hour (much less a full day) to a food bank was a big deal for me, with my 'busy and important life.' In my practice of Buddhism, I have struggled with the relationship of my small (competitive) self to my large (universal) self.... and still do. The boundaries between self and other seem to be natural terrain features of our personalities.... but so are the seeds of universal, or original self. For me, these seeds lay (very) dormant for a long time.

    Uchiyama has helped me frame a couple of observations. As my Zen practice has progressed, I no longer look to my teacher as a "father" figure, or someone who is going to tell me what to do, or give me something to lean on. I have discovered instead the notion that teachers are all around us, and that we practice with "good friends" who help us along the way. We learn from one another, and as Uchiyama's student, Shohaku Okumura observed, Uchiyama

    ...said that he never faces his disciples: he faces the Buddha and walks in that direction as his own practice. And if I want to practice with him as his disciple, I should also face the Buddha and go in the same direction with my own feet.

    Big revelation for me who always saw priests as authoritarian figures - taking responsibility for my own practice. The notion of a good friend sharing the path, its ups and downs, is exhilarating and scary... sometimes we go "off the grid" existentially. That's where groundlessness comes in. So far so good. I still fall into the trap of thinking my practice is better than so-and-so's practice, etc. So the ego still rears its ugly head, more than I care to admit.

    Three years after taking the precepts, I am only beginning to understand the vow I have taken to save all sentient beings. It's one of these mission impossible type directives: we could never possibly save all beings. But Uchiyama helped me out with this too...

    As Buddhists, this is our vow or life direction. We vow to save all sentient beings so that this self may become even more itself. This is the direction we continuously face.

    So in our practice, there is a transformation in the direction we face, from facing the Buddha, to facing ourselves and others - all sentient beings. Well, I faced the Buddha because I needed something to focus on, before I realized there was nothing to face but ourselves.... soon the boundaries between ourselves and others dissolve (they were never there but our minds made it so)... and indeed in facing the Buddha we face all beings. In committing myself to service I am no longer serving others but taking care of life itself... of the universal life force, and that in turn is caring for myself. Service is no longer something I view as separate from my existence, or small self. It is a barometer of the extent to which I am living my vows. When I care for others I am caring for myself. The satisfaction and contentment I have gained from this journey far exceeds any pleasure I derived from a big salary, new car, or big house (and I have none of these any longer). I do however, take my place in the stream of life as it is. No more and no less. What a gift.

    And I come back to Uchiyama:

    Only when you thoroughly understand this will everything in the world settle as the self pervading all things. As Buddhists, this is our vow or life direction.

    I don't pretend to even thoroughly understand just a little bit. But I have had a glance.

    Last edited by Yugen; 01-09-2013 at 12:52 AM.

  2. #2

    Indeed, when we help, serve and do good, we are serving life. And there is great joy in that.

    When we work and help others, we vanish and become life cultivating life and metta. In turn, we get a better world to live in.

    Thank you for this beautiful beautiful reminder of what practice and service are.


    Please remember I am only a priest in training. I could be wrong in everything I say. Slap me if needed.

    The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. Mr. Spock

  3. #3
    Treeleaf Unsui Shugen's Avatar
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    Nov 2007
    Cincinnati Ohio Area (Northern Kentucky)

    As a priest in training, please take everything I say with a pinch of salt

    Meido Shugen
    明道 修眼

  4. #4
    Thanks for your honest thought.
    Deep bows.
    The best way to honour the women of the Prairies who won the right to vote a hundred years ago isn't a monument. It's you going out to vote.

  5. #5
    Thank you Yugen,

    These truly are timely reminders and personally, this really hit home.

    When reading your post I found myself reflecting on my own life and how might I be more compassionate toward others.
    Unfortunately, sometimes its easy to become so wrapped up in our own personal dilemmas we forget there's a world of suffering around us.

    This is something that attracted me to Buddhism, it teaches compassion toward all sentient beings.
    May I show compassion toward all sentient beings...

    Once again thank you for such an important post.


  6. #6
    Thank you Yugen.

    倫道 真現

    As a trainee priest, please take any commentary by me on matters of the Dharma with a pinch of salt.

  7. #7
    Thank you Yugen for sharing your thoughts with us.

  8. #8
    Yours is a wonderful post and a hard look in the mirror. Thank you for sharing with us.


  9. #9
    Wonderful, Yugen.

    Gassho, Jundo

  10. #10
    Thank you

    Kōshin / Leo

    P.S. Yup, I know, my English sucks

  11. #11
    Thank you for your glance was very illuminating and inspiring.

    If I am posting, I have sat today.

  12. #12
    Thank you Yugen - greatly appreciated!


  13. #13
    Gassho Yugen
    thank you

  14. #14
    Treeleaf Unsui Shokai's Avatar
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    Mar 2009
    Sarnia, Ontario Canada
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    Gassho Yugen, I'm on my second read with Uchiyama's "Opening the Hand of Thought". If I can realize only a fraction of what you display I will consider myself fortunate.
    Thank You
    仁道 生開 - Jindo Shokai "Open to life in a benevolent way"
    Remember; sages love mountains and mountains love sages.

  15. #15
    Thank you for your kind words - the thing I am fortunate in is that we learn from one another, and practice together. I have learned much from your wisdom, and reflections.

    To paraphrase Soko Morinaga (because I am not clever enough to come up with my own catchphrases) - it is enough for me if I can only be mindful of the extent of my own stupidity.

    Deep bows

  16. #16
    Neika / Ian Adams

    寧 Nei - Peaceful/Courteous
    火 Ka - Fire

    Look for Buddha outside your own mind, and Buddha becomes the devil. --Dogen

  17. #17
    Treeleaf Unsui Shokai's Avatar
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    Sarnia, Ontario Canada
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    Thanks Yugen but, I can't imagine ever reaching to the extent of my stupidity. Much like science has now concluded about the universe, I believe it to be infinite

    nine bows and gassho, Shokai
    仁道 生開 - Jindo Shokai "Open to life in a benevolent way"
    Remember; sages love mountains and mountains love sages.

  18. #18
    Thank you Yugen.

    Whenever I have served the big self, it has only been serving the little self in transcendental drag...but it is better than mean self-serving. The quality of the vows have changed a lot. They mean something different now...they mean more, but are less noble maybe... because I am less noble ( not to say others can't be).. less noble but more ready to get out there and mix it up. It is more like seeing a spill on the kitchen floor, and cleaning it up.. because someone has to do it. I think that's it for me.. someone has to do it.

    Gassho and much respect, Daizan.

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