From Bringing the Sacred to Life: The Daily Practice of Zen Ritual by John Daido Loori Roshi
In America we usually have a negative reaction to “observing reflection and gratitude.” We tend to rebel against the teachings and try to change them to suit our own particular perceptions of what we think they should be, stripping the teachings of their richness by eliminating an important part of the upaya, carefully evolved over centuries of practice. At the other extreme, there are also people who, under the guise of Zen practice, blindly imitate the sounds and forms of the training. This is definately not what Zen is about. Great faith, great doubt and great determination (the Three Pillars of real practice) keep that rote imitation from happening. Great doubt working in dynamic tension with great faith along with the deep commitment to continue, keep the student’s actice edge alive. Zen training is neither rebelling nor comforming. What is it then?
The dynamic between great faith and great doubt in Zen practice is still one of the most attractive to me. Both the absolute skeptic and the most feverent practitioner fall into the same trap – the trap of extremes. When we blindly accept or reject tradition and thousands of years of evolving practice we, in essence, ease our practice.
When things become easy we lose the great determination pillar of our practice. The three things are so intricately wrapped together that when one fails (or we fail one of them) our practice becomes stale. It should never be easy. We should expect and continue to struggle.
This is lost in the “American Zen” that John Daido Loori Roshi describes. For many practitioners expectation of ease and expediency becomes the primary concern over the actual practice. Some contempory methods (The Grand Marketers) that have received plenty of marketing push seem to present all of the results without any of the actual work or practice. I don’t mean to write another post lamblasting the practice of others but I think that any practice needs to balance faith, doubt and determination. If it isn’t then it is time to re-examine. It becomes a cookie-cutter practice. When a teacher insists that their method leads to enlightenment (especially when it comes with a nice price-tag) but without any actual possible doubt, my flags go up. My largest issue is that enlightenment does not come in one shape and size. It is worked towards and no path is the same. Promises are meaningless. And that is what you get when you purchase an expensive program…promises.
I didn’t mean to start ragging on the Grand Marketers in this post. My post was to answer John Daido Loori’s question
“Zen training is neither rebelling nor comforming. What is it then?”
Understanding. Zen (any sect of Buddhism for that matter) is a process of understanding. Not understanding in the Socratic meaning with an empty vessel being filled with the words of another. The vessel is never empty or completely filled. Little bits go in and out that flavor our understanding which is expressed by and a result of our practice over time. Flavors will include the teachings of others, our own random backgrounds and prefered methods of practice. A constant flux.
Is there tension in the works of the “Grand Marketers”? Or do they provide a tonic of ease through salesmanship, flash and illusion?
Don’t skip the flux and don’t look for easy answers. Enlightenment will never come from a Marketer, it will come from time and effort.