by Rev. Koshin Schomberg

Chapter 20

Service to mankind is another name for Zen training.

--Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett

Such action and most unpretentious work all foolish seem and dull,
But those who practice thus this Law continually shall in all worlds be called
Lord of lords unto eternity.

----from The Most Excellent Mirror, Samadhi ( Hokyozammai) by Great Master Tozan, translated by Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett


Each individual's choices--each individual's actions--have effects that ripple out throughout the world. And the world is full of beings. Therefore, there are limitless opportunities to benefit beings while living an ordinary daily life.

Action that genuinely benefits self and other transcends the opposites of selfishness and unselfishness: it just does the best for everyone and everything in this particular situation. To the worldly eye it may look selfish, or it may look like self-sacrifice: but the truth is that it is coming from a Place that transcends these opposites. It is "just doing that which needs to be done."

In the monastery, we do morning service, plant and weed the garden, feed and walk the dogs, eat meals, mow the lawn, rake the leaves, set out new incense sticks on the altars, check the air-pressure in the tires of the vehicles, prepare meals, wash the dishes, clean bathrooms, check in on a sick monk, reply to a letter asking for spiritual advice, have tea with congregation members, sit together in formal meditation, do a memorial service requested by a friend or relation of someone who has died etc., etc.---day in and day out, year after year. And none of these activities is more important than any other--they are all aspects of our daily training.--They are all "that which needs to be done." Therefore, they are all the work of a Buddha.

This "work of a Buddha" is a continuous flow in which need and response manifest naturally: we prepare food; we eat the meal; we wash the dishes; our bodies are tired; we rest; it is time to meditate (for the need to meditate is as great as the need to eat or rest--greater really); we go to the meditation hall and meditate--and so on. All around us, all day long, there are things that need to be done. Each thing that needs to be done is an opportunity to meditate, to show respect and gratitude, to make an offering, to do Preceptual practice--in other words, to train.

By giving ourselves wholeheartedly to this Flow, we come to recognize It as the Flow of Immaculacy. However, if we go through the day ignoring what needs to be done, complaining, treating our own bodies and minds and the world around us with disrespect, we blind ourselves to the Flow of Immaculacy even while It is the Reality of ourselves and everything and everyone around us. Thus, the attitude of mind with which we do every action throughout the day has a direct effect upon our own spiritual well-being.

Do Not be Ruled by Emotions

One does not have to wait until one feels grateful or compassionate in order to act in a grateful and compassionate way: one can act compassionately and respectfully even if one is feeling sad, or afraid, or angry. This is something that every trainee in a properly running Zen monastery begins to learn right away: feelings are one thing; actions are another. Feelings are how we reap karma; actions are how we make karma.

Nowadays, perhaps due to the influence of certain psychological theories, many people seem to identify integrity with giving full and open expression to their emotions. To wilfully indulge emotions is a good way to keep the wheel of suffering rolling, but it has little to do with real integrity. True integrity is being true to the Buddha Nature. Sometimes our feelings help us do this; but sometimes we have to work hard to prevent feelings from influencing our actions in order to act in a way that is true to Buddha Nature.


Enlightened activity is endless bowing; endless bowing is enlightened activity.

Even in the most difficult circumstances, there are two things that we can always do: we can always turn to the Eternal for help in pure meditation; and we can always bow--if not with the body, then with mind and heart.

From the perspective of Buddhist training, the life of service is a life of bowing, that is, a life of gratitude and respect. To truly bow is to recognize Buddha in another person, another being, a particular situation.

We can prepare food, or sweep the floor, or drive the car, or rake the leaves, or talk with a friend or spouse with an attitude of bowing or with a careless and complaining attitude. That which determines our attitude and the way in which we behave is not our feelings and it is not the external situation: it is our own choice--the choice made in this very moment.

And we can choose one attitude in one moment and another attitude in the next. Whenever we catch ourselves indulging negativity and choose to adopt a more positive attitude, we help both ourselves and others. For the whole universe benefits whenever any being's mind brightens.

Rev. Master Jiyu called this process of choosing a positive attitude of mind rather than allowing oneself to drift into negativity "grasping the will." There is no better way to learn to do this than to pause now and then and bow.


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