by Rev. Koshin Schomberg

Part XII

Great Avalokiteswara views all the world in truth,
Free from defilement, loving, knowing all, full of compassion;
He must always be prayed to, adored for all eternity.

--From The Scripture of Avalokiteswara Bodhisattva
Translated by Rev. Master Jiyu Kennett

The House of Ego

In How to Grow a Lotus Blossom, Rev. Master's Commentary on the Precepts immediately follows the description of her deep experience of sange. Sange is spiritual house-cleaning. The deep sange of the third kensho that Rev. Master describes in How to Grow a Lotus Blossom actually dismantles the house of ego--the illusion of a self that is separate from the Eternal.

Liberation from the dark and painful confines of the entrenched delusion of self is a wonderful thing, but it will not last if one heedlessly rebuilds the house of ego. The deep wish, the deep resolve, to live in a way that does not recreate the spiritual prison of ego is the motive for the thorough, meditative study of the Precepts that resulted in Rev. Master's Commentary.

A Path of Faith

How is the house of ego made?--By wilfully ignoring our True Nature in actions of thought, word and deed.

How can we live in such a way as not to re-make (or continue making) the house of ego?--By ceasing to ignore our True Nature.

How can we cease to ignore our True Nature?--By choosing to take refuge in It, and by choosing to seek and follow Its guidance.

These questions and answers provide an abstract overview of the teaching embodied in much more detail in the Commentary on the Precepts. They outline a magnificent and challenging path of faith. Yet there is nothing in the Commentary that is not contained within a single moment of true meditation, and there is nothing within it that has not been taught for centuries in Mahayana Buddhism, and in Soto Zen in particular.

A True First Step

Great Master Dogen cautioned his disciples, "If your first step is false, you will immediately stumble." (Fukanzazengi--"Rules for Meditation") The truth expressed in these words is strongly emphasized in Rev. Master's Commentary on the Precepts. The wheel of suffering is easily set in motion, but difficult to stop. A moment of inattention, an impulsive action, a careless word--all can have serious and long-lasting consequences. If this is true of actions of speech and body, it is even more true of actions of thought: beings can and do sentence themselves to lifetimes of misery through a single act of self-judgment.

So making the "first step" a true and sound step is very important. This is why there is such an emphasis on "asking the Lord of the House" in the Commentary on the Precepts. We have the Buddha Nature. We can take refuge in the Buddha Nature through meditation. And in that mind and heart of meditation, we can ask for the guidance of our wonderful True Nature.

This asking is a true and sound first step. The way in which Rev. Master took this step is described repeatedly in How to Grow a Lotus Blossom. The emphasis is always on identifying and doing that which is good to do in a particular situation, and on identifying and refraining from doing that which is not good to do. As we shall see, asking initiates a meditative deliberation in which the Help of the Eternal is sought, but in which we also have a continuing responsibility.

Confusion About Asking

Asking the Eternal for help is a simple act. Yet it is amazing how the simplest aspects of the spiritual life can be obscured and complicated by confusion. There are a number of ways in which confusion about asking manifests.

The darkest and most despairing confusion about asking is found in the belief that there is nothing to turn to for help. This belief is a hard shell formed around a great knot of spiritual confusion and pain. Even after experiencing kensho ("awakening to our True Nature"), a trainee can have one or more such karmically-inherited knots of confusion and pain: part of us can "get it," while other parts of us are still very much in the dark. Continued training will soften that hard shell of delusion until one day even the toughest knot is dissolved by the Wisdom and Love of the Eternal.

Confusion can also manifest in the form of the opposites of pride and inadequacy. If we believe we already have (or should have) all the answers, we do not think of asking the Eternal for help. Nor will we ask for help if we are convinced that we are unworthy of the Eternal's attention, or that we have no capacity to hear the Eternal's response.

Confusion in asking can also manifest as asking for miraculous delivery from the consequences of our own actions. The Help of the Eternal is not magic: It will no more free us from the functioning of the law of karma than It will free us from the functioning of the law of gravity. On the other hand, we can turn to the Eternal for help in accepting forms of karmic consequence that are hard to bear.

Confusion about asking does not constitute an insurmountable obstacle. What better reason to ask than the need to find our way through clouds of confusion?

The Why and How of Asking

The choice to ask the Eternal for help is a choice that has consequences. The consequences can be serious, and it is important that the reason for asking be based in real spiritual need. As emphasized above, there is no better reason to ask for the Help of the Eternal than a deep wish to keep the true spirit of the Precepts.

In its most basic form, asking happens every time we look up spiritually. The capacity to look up--and the capacity to ask--is rooted in the Buddha Nature Itself. We all have this capacity and nothing can destroy it. This asking does not require words, but it can make use of them. It can be called "the prayer of the heart."

We can ask for the Help of the Eternal with childlike trust. This keeps our asking in alignment with the prayer of the heart. Childlike trust is sincere, reverential, straightforward and non-insistent--and simple: a moment's pause and "Please help" is sometimes all that is possible in a difficult situation, and often all that is needed. The Eternal knows what is in our heart, for there is nothing in us that is not of the Eternal.

The prayer of the heart is an intrinsic part of the practice of bowing. We can bow and ask for help. We can bow and give thanks. We can bow for the sake of bowing. There is a Soto Zen teaching that Rev. Master passed on to her disciples: "When bowing ceases, Buddhism itself will cease to exist."

Finally, as mentioned above, in asking we initiate a process that we need to keep up with. I will explore another aspect of this process in Part XIII of these Reflections.


Click here to Proceed to Part XIII, "Offering"

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