by Rev. Koshin Schomberg

Part XI

When you are able to drop external things, leave behind worldly attachments and live in purity, then you can enter right inside the Treasurehouse of the Buddha.

The Purpose for Living

Whenever a great swatch of spiritual need finds its way to the Help of the Eternal, the question of one's purpose for living arises. This can be understood as, "Important work accomplished.--Where do we go from here?" This question came to the forefront in Rev. Master's retreat in 1976 immediately following her deep sange (confession and conversion). For Rev. Master, the answer to the question, "What is your purpose for living?" was, "My purpose is to be a monk." (Plate XI; first edition, Plate VII.)

But what is a monk?--She describes the bewilderment that initially accompanied this question: "I have been a monk for many years but--what is a monk?" One possible answer to this question then arises: Perhaps the meaning of being a monk lies in living--or trying to live--in perpetual tranquillity. Rev. Master considers this possibility and recognizes that there has to be more to the meaning of being a monk than this: "It is beautiful to sit beside this lake [of stillness] but what is the point? To sit beside a lake looking at the moon for eternity? This is all? . . . A voice whispers, 'Delusive peace is unmasked. This is the lake of quietism. Here you do not stay.'" (Plate XII; first edition, Plate VIII.)

And so, recognizing that if she tries to hold on to the experience of stillness and tranquillity she will bog down in delusion, Rev. Master goes on in search of the true meaning for her of being a monk.

Harmonizing Body and Mind

After letting go of "delusive peace" Rev. Master writes, "If I am to be a live monk I must know the harmony of body and mind for the body will not know peace until the mind ceases from evil." (Plate XII; first edition, Plate VIII.)

"The body will not know peace until the mind ceases from evil."--This statement shows Rev. Master's understanding of the fact that non-Preceptual action--which always originates in non-Preceptual action of thought--causes knots of tension in the body. These knots of tension store spiritual need. Suffering is the signal that the spiritual need exists and is waiting for the Help of the Eternal.

How can the mind cease from evil.? This question is answered in Rev. Master's great Commentary on the Precepts (Plate XII; first edition, PlateVIII). Here we see that the mind will not cease from evil as long as we wilfully ignore our True Self, the Buddha Nature (or Eternal, or "Lord of the House" [please see Part I of these Reflections for an explanation of the ancient origins of this term]). Somehow we have to orient ourselves toward, and bring our actions of thought, speech and body into alignment with, our True Self.

Rev. Master's Commentary on the Precepts emphasizes the importance of using pure meditation to distinguish actions that are truly good to do from those that are not good to do in each situation that arises. Rev. Master understood that "pure meditation" is far more than quieting the mind: it is taking refuge in the Buddha Nature. To "take refuge in" someone or something is to turn to him or her or it for help. This is why "asking the Lord of the House" receives so much emphasis in How to Grow a Lotus Blossom. I will discuss this "asking" in some detail in Part XII of these Reflections.

The aligning of our actions of mind and body with our True Nature is the meaning of "knowing harmony of body and mind." And for Rev. Master, devoting one's life to harmonizing body and mind with the Eternal is what it means to be a monk.

Renunciation of the World

Rev. Master used to say, "We retreat in order to advance." In the context of monastic renunciation of the world, this means separating ("retreating") from the world for the purpose of giving oneself wholly to the Eternal. Renunciation would be a bleak choice indeed if it was just a turning from the world. It is because it is a turning toward the Eternal that it is the true Path of ancient Buddhas.

There is the formal renunciation of the world at the time of monastic ordination. And then there is on-going training in renunciation, which is a continual challenge. Monks cannot be shielded from their own karmically-inherited deluded views and externalized longings. Nor, in the long run, can they be shielded from exposure to the doubt and confusion embodied in the opinions that circulate in the world around them. Daily life offers innumerable opportunities to choose what we will put our faith in, what we will value in our deepest heart, what we will hold fast to.

Training in renunciation is letting go of shadow-refuges and holding fast to our True Refuge, the Buddha Nature. Even in the darkest, most difficult conditions, we can turn in pure meditation to the Buddha Nature for help. Then we find the light of the "residual Buddha Nature"--the innate, inextinguishable capacity to look up--within ourselves. The beginning chapters (Plates) of How to Grow a Lotus Blossom show Rev. Master in great darkness and difficulty. And they show her turning away from worldly paths that lead to despair, and turning toward the Buddha Nature. When she writes at the end of the text accompanying Plate III (in both editions), "Better by far to bleed upon the mountains; better by far to trust in, and remember, the kensho.," the "kensho" to which she refers was her first great experience of the Buddha Nature. Remembering the kensho was a way of holding fast to the Lord of the House in the midst of great darkness.

One can love the world and renounce the world for a greater Love. In the ordination ceremony of the Soto Zen tradition, the new monk recites, "Being apart from my family in order to seek the Truth, I vow to help others." We train for self and other; we renounce the world for self and other. Why?--Because within the Eternal there is no real distinction between self and other: need is just need, wherever it happens to be located; Help is just Help, wherever and however It manifests.

Renunciation is not remote from the experience of anyone who has truly meditated for even a single moment. Great Master Dogen's words, "Cut all ties, give up everything. Think of neither good nor evil, consider neither right nor wrong." describe the attitude of mind of renunciation. And these words occur in an explanation of meditation (Fukanzazengi, which translates as "Rules for Meditation") that is used by both monastic and lay trainees. "Cut all ties, give up everything." could also be expressed as "Offer all that arises and passes to the Eternal."--"Think of neither good nor evil, consider neither right nor wrong." could also be expressed as "Do not worry about external things: entrust everything to the Eternal."

This offering and entrusting is the true mind and heart of the monk. Whenever anyone truly meditates, the mind and heart of a monk manifests. All beings possess the Buddha Nature, and there is no difference between the meditation of beginner and Zen master, monk and layman, man and woman.

Some trainees continue to live in the world in order to fulfill important responsibilities, yet through sincere training develop the heart and mind of a monk. When the responsibilities are fulfilled, some of these trainees become monks. There is a long tradition in Buddhism of people quietly disappearing into monasteries when their family responsibilities have been fulfilled.

But most lay trainees never become monks. The path of the lay trainee is not an inferior path to that of the monk. Both lay trainees and monastic trainees walk in the footsteps of the Buddhas. It is for each of us to determine which path is right for us, and then to live the finest life that we are able to live within the limits of the path that we have chosen.

Cloud and Water

Though Rev. Master and others have used the English word "monk" (as well as some other terms such as "priest" and "priest trainee") to translate words from Asian languages (mostly Pali, Sanskrit, Chinese and Japanese) that denote those who have renounced the world in order to follow in the Buddha's footsteps, there is no English word that fully conveys the meaning of the Asian words. English words such as "monk," "nun," "priest," "hermit," and "friar" tend to have meanings that derive from the beliefs, practices, discipline and institutions that developed in Christianity over many centuries. There is overlap of the meanings of these terms with the meanings of Buddhist terms, but there are also differences.

One term that Rev. Master particularly liked, and frequently used in teaching her disciples, was the Japanese word unsui. This word is written in two characters. The character for "un" means "cloud." The character for "sui" means "water." So "unsui" literally means "cloud and water," but it is used to denote Buddhist monks (priest trainees), male and female.

As a cloud goes where it is blown by the wind, so the renunciate follower of the Buddha goes where the Wind of the Buddha Nature blows. As water flows on and on in rivers and streams and clings to nothing, so the renunciate trainee goes on and on in training, continually letting go of externals in order to hold fast to, and harmonize fully with, the Lord of the House.


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