The Practice of Attachment ~ A Guest Post by Rev. Ishu Windwalker

Rev. Talon Ishu Windwalker, NHD, is an engaged, eclectic, Zen minister of the Order of the Boundless Way.  He serves as a hospice chaplain, bioethicist, and cultural consultant in Colorado where he is also an avid ultramarathoner, endurance cyclist, duathlete, snowshoer, and single dad of two boys.  He is currently organizing the Blue Lotus Sangha in the metro Denver area for those wanting to practice in a less rigid environment.  He may be contacted at bluelotuszen@gmail.com.

My spiritual journey has been a very diverse endeavor.  I remember when I decided to return to practicing Zen beyond just zazen, I searched for a sangha in my local community and found a Zen center.  I was thrilled and contacted them right away.  I was informed I would need to attend a mandatory class before I would be able to attend and sit with the group.  Thinking that was for people unfamiliar with zazen, I let them know I had been practicing meditation for a minimum of 20 years.  “It doesn’t matter.  You have to come to the class, and we aren’t doing another class for a couple of months.”  I wondered what could be so incredibly critical about sitting as to require such deep instruction.  Had I crossed into the Twilight Zone of Buddhism? I wondered.   Through the years I have heard similar stories from many frustrated zenners.  “I was so panicked about making sure I was doing everything just right that I couldn’t meditate!” 

I also remember the time when I was doing my chaplain training in a hospital in central Texas and was called for a “Buddhist consult.”  It turned out to be a pregnant woman who was about to have a C-section.  She was concerned because of the precept that “forbids clouding one’s mind,” and she was concerned that she would be “violating the precept” if she allowed herself to receive spinal anesthesia.

An attachment is more than an addiction, more than an unhealthy connection.  It is anything that inhibits our growth and progression.  When one is more concerned about bowing correctly, if they’ve faced the correct direction, if they’re in the correct order of entry than they are about being fully immersed in the moment, in zazen or kinhin, than I would call that an attachment.  Something the Bible summed up nicely as choking on gnats.

There can be too much of an attachment to the cultural trappings of the practice of Buddhism.  The Buddha, before his enlightenment, shaved his head as a symbol of releasing himself from worldliness and attachments.  Today some question why a monk doesn’t shave their head.  Some quibble that we are “watering Zen down” when someone dares wear a robe of a color other than black.  Others are so firmly attached to the concepts of lineage and dharma heirdom that they lose sight of the key components of Buddhist practice:  Compassion and wisdom. 

When Siddhartha Gautama sat beneath the bodhi tree, I highly doubt he worried about if he bowed to the earth appropriately.  He extricated himself from all that he possibly could and opened himself to this breath, this second, until he discovered how to unshackle all sentient beings from suffering.  If we look at the Eightfold Noble Path, we do not find instructions on the incense ceremony, on prostrations, on the correct pattern for walking into the dojo.  Practices, ceremonies, etc., are tools.  They can help us focus, help us settle into a special space, but when we place them above or equal to all other things, we tighten that which binds us to samsara.  This moment, this breath.  This is truly all that matters.

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4 thoughts on “The Practice of Attachment ~ A Guest Post by Rev. Ishu Windwalker

  1. Nice post.

    I liked “Practices, ceremonies, etc., are tools. ” and that you didn’t advocate throwing them out, but just putting them into perspective.

    Cheers.

  2. I really enjoyed your post and I absolutely agree with you and Adam.

    If someone told me I had to wait months to attend a class before I could sit, they would never see my Grumpy butt again.

    It really shouldn’t be that difficult.

    • Sorry for the delay in your comment, Andrea. It got sent to my spam folder for some reason.

      This is one of the reasons I really advocate for small, lay grassroots sitting groups. I also suggest calling ahead before you show up at any Zen center to find out what is required (if anything) before practice.

      By giving a heads up, they knew to expect me and were able to walk me through a full Zen liturgy. I was silent and observant for all of it, soaking in everything I could. While a class is helpful, I think it is unfortunate to turn someone away.

      Cheers,
      John

  3. I enjoy reading your guest posters. In my experiences with religion in general, I’ve always felt that the strict adherence to rituals procedures, sacraments, prayers, etc. sometimes become obstacles in the path instead of guides. Just my two cents. I’m not a Buddhist although I do find that what I’ve learned from my limited understanding makes a lot of sense and I’m eager to learn more.

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