It's curious how distinctions between these two Buddhist lineages fade in and out of my mind. Sometimes they seem starkly different and sometimes boundaries blur. It's all good. Perhaps the bumps and bruises of my zen practice have healed. It was a rigorous practice. Rigorous to the point of exhaustion. It was as though exhausting the body and mind, applying one's self so whole-heartedly to sitting meditation, work practice, and sutra study, might somehow release this mysterious thing called enlightenment that was surely trapped somewhere inside. But my shoulders, black and blue from the kyosaku released nothing. They just sat there, straight, upright, unwavering, with visions of Shundo Aoyama as their guide. When my zen group imploded, there were some who said there had been a deficit of compassion in our practice, that we had pushed so hard we missed the target. But those years of practice are my own secret treasure. They tested and challenged me to grow and do more than I knew I was capable of. They brought me home to myself. I came dazed and fragmented and through zen practice the pieces came back together as one. And though the community was a messy soap opera of relationships, I am grateful for the experience of practicing in that time and place with that teacher and that particular group of students.
For some people, reading and understanding Dogen and koans appears to be a playful romp of the mind. Not me. I've always struggled with the idea of studying. Not much patience for that. So it's fairly quick and easy to exhaust my mind. Ha! Thank goodness for those bright intellects and their analytical abilities. Koan study particularly drove me bonkers. Why do we have to keep dinging around with this stuff. Can't we just get to the point!? My snarling impatience was persistent and direct. Let's just get to the heart of it— now! My teacher gave me the name Shingo, which translates— realizing the heartmind, realizing the marrow. The name belies my impatience and reveals his generous spirit. Mu, the first koan given to me by my teacher, has strangely become a part of me. That haunting sound, Muuuu still echos in my mind. And it brings a smile with it.
Dogen must have been quite an extrovert, considering the enormous quantity of writing and talks attributed to him. In my limited view, Dogen zen has the strong flavor of Confucious with it's emphasis on conduct, morals and ethics. While Dogen admonishes us to practice enlightenment, to work hard, to sit zazen like our hair's on fire (it always cracks me up to think of a bald guy saying practice like your hair's on fire), the Tibetans tell us to rest.
Rest in awareness. Look directly at the mind. I'm astonished by the detailed meditation instructions and especially by descriptions of the nature of mind along the way. They call this pointing out and I feel like a blithely wandering traveler, who suddenly discovers a compass. So accustomed to ambiguity, I'm wary of these new pointers. They are shockingly clear. Can this be!? Could it be so simple? All phenomena— thoughts, emotions, the senses, appearances— are tools on the path to lucid, vivid awareness. Rest. Balance. Look. Not too tight, not too loose, as my zen sewing teacher would say. This looking is as simple as the word implies. It does not entail analysis. Conceptual mind chatter becomes an object of awareness, a tool for meditation. Just as a runner builds strength and stamina with various training runs, we develop our capacity to flow in concert with our true nature, by alternating focused meditation techniques with relaxed open awareness. Meditate many times, short times, says Mingyur Rinpoche. So my new practice is mind training. And training requires persistence. And persistence now morphs into each fresh new curious moment— what is this?!
I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.
I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for
may for once spring clear
without my contriving.
If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
but this is what I need to say.
May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.
Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing to you as no one ever has,
streaming through widening channels
into the open sea.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke ~
from Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God