Christmas is an important day for me culturally and personally. While I am not a practicing Christian, the day carries important cultural significance for me and does cause me to reflect on the personal manifestation of the practice of one's chosen faith tradition or spirituality.
Engaged service is an important part of our Sangha, and of my own personal practice. As an incompetent and clueless novice priest, I often ask myself (again and again) what the essential components of practice are - Zazen of course is certainly the central component of our tradition. I have asked myself many times if service, social activism, and/or engaged citizenship is also a critical part of that practice. As time has progressed, for me (and perhaps only for me, as a bumbling novice) I have come to feel that engagement in the world around me is a critical part of my practice - it is an extension of zazen - of my connection to all beings, and all dharmas.
Dogen has a way of helping out just when I need it - I have been reading Fascicle 69 (Arousing the Aspiration for the Unsurpassable - Hotsu-Mujoshin) in the Shobogenzo - Dogen talks about the various ways to "take up the Bodhi mind" - these involve working with a teacher and researching the truth [sic], sitting in the full lotus posture, and making prostrations before the three treasures.....
Another way of arousing the aspiration for enlightenment:
"...is to make an offering of sand or rice water to the Buddha. It is to make an offering of a handful of food to sentient beings. It is to make an offering of a bouquet of flowers to the Buddha. To practice a small virtuous act with the encouragement of someone else, or to bow to the Buddha following a demon's deceptive advice, is also arousing the aspiration for enlightenment."
Practice for me is realizing my connection to others - when we make an offering to the Buddha, we make an offering to all sentient beings. When we make an offering to another sentient being, we are making an offering to the Buddha. We are all Buddhas. We are all in this together. To serve is to acknowledge our common identity, our common humanity, our journey through all of life, with its joy, sadness, suffering, and love - together.
My wife (who is very wise and far more evolved than me) is fond of saying that we should carry the attitude of Christmas into every day of the year. My challenge for the New Year is to keep these wise words in the forefront of my practice. Perhaps we can do the same as we think about our Engaged Service - it is not something to be done a few days a year, but something that is part of our daily practice, and presentation to the world.
Deep bows and thank you all for the inspiration you provide to me - Love those who are close to you not only today but every day - there is no time to waste.
PS - I have gone back and forth between the Nishijima/Cross and Tanahashi versions of the Shobogenzo in citing this fascicle.