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Thread: The Incense Burner...The Greatest Teacher

  1. #1

    The Incense Burner...The Greatest Teacher

    When I was studying with my teacher, Dai-En Bennage, during one of the sesshin, I was assigned the duties of the Chiden (One who cares for the altar). One of the things we had to do was to clean the incense burners after evening sitting and everyone had gone to bed. To get the ash in the burner just right so that it will hold the stick of incense without falling over (ash too loose) or not break the stick or make it hard to put in (ash too hard), took great mindful practice. I learned why this was so important when the next day after my tending to the incense burner, during morning service Dai-En inserted the stick of incense and it fell over. She glanced over to me with a firm but compassionate look. She knew right then that my mind was not clear in my duties.

    It seems like such a small thing, but this is how she transmitted her Dharma. She used to say to me, "Daiman this practice has nothing to do with how much you know about Zen or Buddhism, it has everything to do with how you carry yourself, how you walk, how you clean your bowls, how you tend to the altar. That is how I know when a student is ready."

    Just wanted to share this today as I reflect back on my practice during Ango. We manifest the Dharma in everything we do, which is why it is always important to me to take great care of each thing I do.

    Gassho,

    Bill (Daiman)

    Sat Today. LAH.

  2. #2
    Thanks for sharing. There are great lessons in small tasks wholeheartedly and mindfully performed. Cleaning the altar, clearly is one of them

    Sat Today lah
    Bion
    美音

    -------------------------
    Please consider whatever I might say as my own ideas, experiences and understanding, and not zen doctrine.
    Join me on Insight Timer
    Help me feed those in need by joining my Share The Meal team HERE

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Bion View Post
    Thanks for sharing. There are great lessons in small tasks wholeheartedly and mindfully performed. Cleaning the altar, clearly is one of them

    Sat Today lah
    Yes, and now the Sewing Bodhisattva has shown up and we will see what great teaching will be shared with that.

    Bill (Daiman)

    Sat Today. LAH

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Daiman View Post
    "Daiman this practice has nothing to do with how much you know about Zen or Buddhism, it has everything to do with how you carry yourself, how you walk, how you clean your bowls, how you tend to the altar. That is how I know when a student is ready."


    Sat, lah
    求道芸化 Kyūdō Geika
    I am just a priest-in-training, please do not take anything I say as a teaching.

  5. #5
    A beautiful reminder, and one I greatly needed today. Thank you.

    Gassho,
    Nengyoku
    Sat
    Thank you for being the warmth in my world.

  6. #6
    Actions sometimes speak louder than words. Habitual actions can alter and guide our minds, which is why I believe you can see a persons habits in their actions. I believe the simple act of doing the actions, as asked of us by our teachers, is in itself a means to self guide us. Guide not in the sense of a destination to reach, but in the sense that the very actions we are at times asked to do in themselves, if done right, help to make the conventional mind quiet.

    I will go and check the ash in my incense burners now.

    Sorry for running long.

    Gassho
    Rousei
    /st
    浪省 - RouSei - Wandering Introspection

  7. #7
    I take the middle way on this. Sometimes, the Japanese ... not only in Zen, but in other arts, sports, in general ... can be too bound to rigid form and "the one correct" way to do things. Some westerners, in Zen and other Japanese arts, can double down on this, trying to be "more Japanese than the Japanese." I do not think that is the case for the wonderful Dai-En, but I have seen it many times. I have seen Japanese so attached to right form that it locks them in, and they cannot be a bit "loose" or think outside the box. On the other hand, I have seen folks in Zen and elsewhere who are too loose ... just negligent ... and do not pay enough attention to form.

    The middle way is like the lute string: Not too loose, nor too tight, thus the harmony of beautiful music is possible. One must have some freedom, not exhibiting negligence and uncaring, nor fixation and "OCD" about our traditions either. I have been to Japanese places very focused on form and procedure, but with very little actual understanding of Zen history, teachings, wisdom beyond the costumes, elaborate ritual and shiny temple decorations. I prefer to be respectful, careful yet not overly obsessed about it. One must know and honor form, but there is so much more.

    Maybe I have been too long in Japan, coming up to 33 years now. I don't romanticize the Japanese focus of proper form so much any more, because I know its limitations. The emphasis on form and ritual actually existed in Japanese culture long before Buddhism came to these shores, and it is not as rigid in many other Buddhist countries, where there is a difference between respectful and attentive form (good) and fixation on form (bad). In our priest training program, we try to walk that middle way between respect and rigidity.

    I have rarely seen incense fall over in all these years.

    Gassho, J

    Sorry to run long

    stlah
    Last edited by Jundo; 09-25-2022 at 02:03 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  8. #8
    Thank you for sharing

    Gassho, Tomás
    Sat&LaH

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    I take the middle way on this. Sometimes, the Japanese ... not only in Zen, but in other arts, sports, in general ... can be too bound to rigid form and "the one correct" way to do things. Some westerners, in Zen and other Japanese arts, can double down on this, trying to be "more Japanese than the Japanese." I do not think that is the case for the wonderful Dai-En, but I have seen it many times. I have seen Japanese so attached to right form that it locks them in, and they cannot be a bit "loose" or think outside the box. On the other hand, I have seen folks in Zen and elsewhere who are too loose ... just negligent ... and do not pay enough attention to form.

    The middle way is like the lute string: Not too loose, nor too tight, thus the harmony of beautiful music is possible. One must have some freedom, not exhibiting either negligence and uncaring nor "OCD" about our traditions either. I have been to Japanese places very focused on form and procedure, but with very little actual understanding of Zen history, teachings, wisdom beyond the costumes, ritual and shiny temple decorations. I prefer to be respectful, careful yet not overly obsessed about it. One must know and honor form, but there is so much more.

    Maybe I have been too long in Japan, coming up to 33 years now. I don't romanticize the Japanese focus of proper form so much any more, because I know its limitations. The emphasis on form and ritual actually existed in Japanese culture long before Buddhism came to these shores, and it is not as rigid in many other Buddhist countries, where there is a difference between respectful and attentive form (good) and fixation on form (bad). In our priest training program, we try to walk that middle way between respect and rigidity.

    I have rarely seen incense fall over in all these years.

    Gassho, J

    Sorry to run long

    stlah
    Indeed, the middle way is the way of being respectful to the fullness of this moment and not trying to box it in. Dai-En seems to have relaxed a bit more as the years have gone by. When I went to sit with her in assisted living, she had two small zafus under the bed. She said, "Daiman you take this one," handing me the one with kapok in it. "And, I will take the whoopee cushion, she said as she showed me her blow up zafu. She always had a bit of a sense of humor, but I think over the years she relaxed more and so it was free to come out.



    Gassho,

    Bill (Daiman)

    Sat Today. LAH

  10. #10
    There is also a power in the Japanese Zen (and other arts) way of "throwing one's self" into pure form and care, all to find oneself again in the "body memory" of the actions. If one's body memorizes the steps of the pattern, one can forget the self, let the body just do its thing (I believe that professional dancers and athletes know this too), as the mind shuts off into neutral and the body just knows what to do. It is a great power of the Japanese tea ceremony, for example, with its so precise forms to be mastered (no quick teabags here!), every motion well studied with the body.


    Zen ritual is very similar ... such as Oryoki eating ...


    This emphasis on "Kata" (proper form) is one of the great STRENGTHS of most traditional Japanese arts, including martial arts.

    On the other hand, it can become very rigid, formulaic, tradition bound, deadening, stifling and obsessive-compulsive too. I have posted this many times before, but there is a Japanese series of videos making fun of their own tendency to do this, such as this one on eating sushi. Let me just say that half of the "rules" in this video are made up, and most of the others are exaggerated or so true that they are funny:




    So, middle way here, like the strings of the guitar, not too tight and formulaic, not too loosey goosey.

    Gassho, J

    stlah
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    There is also a power in the Japanese Zen (and other arts) way of "throwing one's self" into pure form and care, all to find oneself again in the "body memory" of the actions. If one's body memorizes the steps of the pattern, one can forget the self, let the body just do its thing (I believe that professional dancers and athletes know this too), as the mind shuts off into neutral and the body just knows what to do. It is a great power of the Japanese tea ceremony, for example, with its so precise forms to be mastered (no quick teabags here!), every motion well studied with the body.


    Zen ritual is very similar ... such as Oryoki eating ...


    This emphasis on "Kata" (proper form) is one of the great STRENGTHS of most traditional Japanese arts, including martial arts.

    On the other hand, it can become very rigid, formulaic, tradition bound, deadening, stifling and obsessive-compulsive too. I have posted this many times before, but there is a Japanese series of videos making fun of their own tendency to do this, such as this one on eating sushi. Let me just say that half of the "rules" in this video are made up, and most of the others are exaggerated or so true that they are funny:




    So, middle way here, like the strings of the guitar, not too tight and formulaic, not too loosey goosey.

    Gassho, J

    stlah
    Personally, I find great joy and inspiration in our forms and the almost ritualistic nature of some of our practices and in the way they are a continuation of the devoted practice of many generations before us. Pouring ourselves into a form requires no thinking or judging of it, no like or dislike, no need or lack of it. The zafu does not always need fluffing before we sit on it, and an empty room does not require a bow, the wooden statue of the Buddha cares not whether we advance to the altar in shashu and come back in gassho or we just step up to it and zazen is zazen whether in front of a wall or an open field, yet we stick to the forms and I cherish many of the lessons learned because of them. I also very much appreciate how reasonable your approach to formal practice is in general and I learn much from your ease where I am stumbling over rigidness.

    Sorry for running long!

    Sat Today
    Bion
    美音

    -------------------------
    Please consider whatever I might say as my own ideas, experiences and understanding, and not zen doctrine.
    Join me on Insight Timer
    Help me feed those in need by joining my Share The Meal team HERE

  12. #12
    One I just posted to a European Soto monk friend is this, the ritual of folding the Koromo (not the Kesa), but the robe below it ... usually black, not red. I am not as careful about it as I should be (not compared to my wife, who treats her Aikido Hakama with tremendous care, slow folding).

    This Japanese Soto priest has a video which is the best visual demonstration I know. Folding is a wonderful practice all its own.


    Or this other on how to hang the robes before using the toilet (better not be in a rush! See the last 2 minutes for the "speed" version )


    As a side note, I love that the guy always wears a mask in all his videos (even from before Covid) ... the "Masked Priest" ...

    Gassho, J

    stlah
    Last edited by Jundo; 09-24-2022 at 02:02 PM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  13. #13

    The Incense Burner...The Greatest Teacher

    He’s got some other videos, right? Like the taking off robes in a hurry one.. That was him, right?!
    Folding the koromo is no small feat ( especially if if it’s the traditional one with the 7 pleats and the 90 cm sleeves ) ..

    PS: ah.. never mind, you’ve posted the video I was talking about

    Sat Today lah
    Last edited by Jundo; 09-24-2022 at 02:02 PM.
    Bion
    美音

    -------------------------
    Please consider whatever I might say as my own ideas, experiences and understanding, and not zen doctrine.
    Join me on Insight Timer
    Help me feed those in need by joining my Share The Meal team HERE

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    There is also a power in the Japanese Zen (and other arts) way of "throwing one's self" into pure form and care, all to find oneself again in the "body memory" of the actions. If one's body memorizes the steps of the pattern, one can forget the self, let the body just do its thing (I believe that professional dancers and athletes know this too), as the mind shuts off into neutral and the body just knows what to do. It is a great power of the Japanese tea ceremony, for example, with its so precise forms to be mastered (no quick teabags here!), every motion well studied with the body.



    Zen ritual is very similar ... such as Oryoki eating ...



    This emphasis on "Kata" (proper form) is one of the great STRENGTHS of most traditional Japanese arts, including martial arts.

    On the other hand, it can become very rigid, formulaic, tradition bound, deadening, stifling and obsessive-compulsive too. I have posted this many times before, but there is a Japanese series of videos making fun of their own tendency to do this, such as this one on eating sushi. Let me just say that half of the "rules" in this video are made up, and most of the others are exaggerated or so true that they are funny:





    So, middle way here, like the strings of the guitar, not too tight and formulaic, not too loosey goosey.

    Gassho, J

    stlah

    Ah, Jundo. Thank you very much for this. This is exactly what I am talking about here. Dai-En having spent 30 years in Japan most of which was living a temple life, learning these forms from her was priceless. Losing our self in the practice for me is shikantaza in every act. The guys at the sushi counter cracked me up though. I could never imagine doing that in the US. Although, I think it is very beautiful, polite, and respectful.

    Gassho,

    Bill (Daiman)

    Sat Today
    Last edited by Daiman; 09-25-2022 at 02:43 PM.

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Bion View Post
    Personally, I find great joy and inspiration in our forms and the almost ritualistic nature of some of our practices and in the way they are a continuation of the devoted practice of many generations before us. Pouring ourselves into a form requires no thinking or judging of it, no like or dislike, no need or lack of it. The zafu does not always need fluffing before we sit on it, and an empty room does not require a bow, the wooden statue of the Buddha cares not whether we advance to the altar in shashu and come back in gassho or we just step up to it and zazen is zazen whether in front of a wall or an open field, yet we stick to the forms and I cherish many of the lessons learned because of them. I also very much appreciate how reasonable your approach to formal practice is in general and I learn much from your ease where I am stumbling over rigidness.

    Sorry for running long!

    Sat Today

    Bion, YES! Exactly. Thank you. This is why the Soto practice is so meaningful to me. It is a way to manifest the Buddha in every little act. The more of these practices I bring in to my life, the more opportunities there are for this kind of living. Everything is a manifestation of the Dharma. If our practice is paid attention to in this way, we are a conscious manifestation of Dharma. In this case, practice and enlightenment are not two.

    Gassho,

    Bill (Daiman)

    Sat Today
    Last edited by Daiman; 09-25-2022 at 02:43 PM.

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