HOW TO GROW A LOTUS BLOSSOM: Reflections in a Disciple's Life

by Rev. Koshin Schomberg

Section II
A New Beginning

If you are in a hurry to practice the Truth, soon you can meet Buddha; in daily life Shakyamuni was, is and will be walking, stopping, sitting, lying down, talking and seeing by, in, through and with you and is not separate from you even for a moment, being all of you.
--Great Master Keizan


Great Doubt

After the fall monastic retreat in early December, 1976, I lived enveloped in a great spiritual darkness, and the practice of meditation, both in the Meditation Hall and in every activity, was my sole focus. Whenever my attention started to stray, I would feel so sick at heart that I would immediately come back to the present moment. Plate IV of How to Grow a Lotus Blossom is a very accurate representation of my spiritual state at this time: I was on hands and knees spiritually, but I was moving forward, and I had a deep intuitive conviction that the Path I was walking was the right one. In the narrative of Section I of these "Reflections in a Disciple's Life" I have described briefly the way in which I was first drawn to quiet sitting in the midst of intense fear without ever having been formally introduced to meditation as a religious practice. I have also described how, as a new monk, I applied meditation in the midst of the activities of daily life ("mindfulness") as waves of fear swept through me. I was now in a greater spiritual darkness, but the spiritual effort that I needed to make was the same effort that I had made before. Rev. Master had told me, "Just don't worry about external things." I took this to mean that I needed to turn within and meditate, letting go of everything else. This is what I did.

The darkness in which I was enveloped contained that same deep fear, but even deeper and blacker self-hatred and conviction of utter worthlessness. I had had glimpses into these darker regions before, but now I was immersed in them. Formal meditation became a great refuge for me. This was not because the darkness was any less at this time. But I was drawn so deeply within in meditation--deep down into the "hara" (physically, the region from the sternum down to the pubic bone)--that I would experience a blessed relief from the pain: it was still there, up at the surface, but "I" was down below it in an indescribably safe Place. At this time, I began to quietly get up before the wake-up bell and sit in meditation. And when the bell came around, I literally ran to the Meditation Hall.

I also began to weep in a way I had never done in my life. I would weep through the whole of Morning Office. I would stand and sing, and tears would pour down my face and soak my upper robe. As this happened, great waves of longing love rose up my body and burst into consciousness in feeling. So many times during the next year I heard Rev. Master respond to a question with the words, "Just long for the Lord of the House." This was the "longing love" that I was experiencing.

Somewhere I had acquired a copy of Thomas 'A. Kempis' The Imitation of Christ. I read a little from this book each day during this great crisis in my life. I still have this book and greatly value its teaching, of which the following passage is an excellent example:

"If thou intend and seek nothing else but the will of God and the good of thy neighbor, thou shalt thoroughly enjoy inward liberty. If thy heart were right, then every creature would be unto thee a looking-glass of life, and a book of holy doctrine. There is no creature so small and mean, that it doth not set forth the goodness of God. If thou wert inwardly good and pure, then wouldest thou be able to see and understand all things well without hindrance. A pure heart penetrateth heaven and hell. Such as every one is inwardly, so he judgeth outwardly. If there is joy in the world, surely a man of pure heart possesseth it. And if there be anywhere tribulation and affliction, an evil conscience best knoweth it."

The Eternal is not narrow-minded and uses all things to help us. I have my share of Christian karma, and I believe that my reading of The Imitation of Christ at this time provided a form of teaching that it could more easily comprehend. Such means are not infrequently employed. On Page 43 of the second edition of How to Grow a Lotus Blossom (Plates XIII-XVIII), Rev. Master describes how she had a Christian absolution read in order to help bring peace to a karmic remnant inherited from a woman who died without absolution and who, at the time of death, "longed for absolution of her sins in the words of her old Church".

The state that I was in at this time is sometimes called "Great Doubt". All things, all beings, all spiritual, mental and emotional states of beings possess the Buddha Nature. The Buddha Nature of sceptical doubt is revealed in Great Doubt. Sceptical doubt denies the validity of anything that challenges complacency. Great Doubt denies the validity of any external refuge. This state is expressed in the Litany of the Great Compassionate One: "All, all is defilement, defilement, earth, earth. Do, do the work within my heart."


During the two months that I was in this state, I was fortunate indeed to be living in a monastic community led by a great Zen Master. I can imagine well-intentioned relatives and friends of a person going through this in the world looking for a good mental hospital to which they can have him committed. I was withdrawn in intense concentration; I spoke almost not at all; and I know that the great pain I was in was clearly evident to everyone around me. Yet I was left entirely alone. I did my job; I followed the schedule--and I cooked that anguished spiritual need over the fire of meditation for all I was worth. Looking back now, I am very conscious of the fact that the merit of the training of everyone in the monastic community was helping me look up in the midst of the darkness. The Sangha Refuge is.

In early February, 1977, Rev. Master stopped by the place where I was working. Ostensibly she was just taking a look at how the work was progessing. But I know now that she had received "the green light" from the Eternal: It was time to give Koshin a hand. She gently asked me how I was doing. I do not remember my exact words, but somehow I communicated that I needed help. She said, "Is there anything we can do?" We arranged that I would come to her house in the evening and do some meditation. I stayed until everyone else had left. Rev. Master went to bed in the room next to the one I was meditating in. All was very still. I was close enough to Rev. Master that I could ask a question in a normal voice. I asked, "How do I step off this cliff?" Rev. Master heard me, but did not answer. The answer came from within me, "Just live in free fall." I said it out loud. Then I went back to my own room and went to bed.

In asking, "How do I step off this cliff?" I showed that there was still a remnant of expectation in my heart. The answer, "Just live in free fall." was telling me, "There is nothing you can cling to, so just let go completely." Somehow, I must have done this.

Three days later, on February 8, Rev. Master again came to my workplace. That night I again went to her house. This time there was just her and Rev. Master Daizui, her head chaplain, who had been with her, and given great assistance to her, throughout her retreat. Rev. Master Daizui said something to me about the love that I showed in my work, and the rocket went off. A great blast of energy went up my back and through my whole body. And then the memory of some very painful events from my childhood flooded my mind and I saw myself as a boy--a boy and something more: an immaculate Being. In a matter of seconds this immaculate Being travelled up my back to the top of my head and then came down the front of my body into my hara. Rev. Master thundered, "What is your purpose for living?" I cried out, "I want to love!" My mind and body were instantly flooded with indescribable Love and with the equally indescribable certainty of full Recognition of the Eternal. I cried out, "My Lord and my God!" and great waves of the Water of the Spirit--Love beyond human comprehension--swept through me. I had found That for which I had been searching my entire life.

Confirmation of the Teaching

This experience changed my life so deeply that I tend to think of it as the real beginning of my life. While both faith and understanding were deepened in this experience, there is really one great Truth to which I awakened on the night of February 8, 1977: the Eternal is, and the Eternal's Love is vast beyond my power to comprehend. (For me, this is one Truth, not two Truths. It would not be true to my actual experience to describe as being "two Truths".) As I wrote right at the beginning of these "Reflections in a Disciple's Life", I cannot remember a time when I did not know that God is. But this was the intuitive "knowing without knowing" of faith. On the night of the kensho I experienced the Eternal with my whole being.

In the Foreword to the second edition of How to Grow a Lotus Blossom (called "Kenshos" in the first edition), Rev. Master writes:

"In the first kensho one goes through all the stages mentioned in this book as taking place in the third kensho with this difference:-in the first kensho the stages flash by so quickly that the whole kensho is only comprehended as one flash. One goes, as it were, from earth to heaven by rocket, or a lightning bolt, with no time to take notice of the journey before one has arrived. The third kensho takes place slowly and deliberately with plenty of time to comprehend each step of the way. For example, in the first kensho one jumps, of necessity, beyond the opposites and knows for ever afterwards that one has jumped. In the third kensho the opposites are looked at slowly and dispassionately and then deliberately discarded; the first kensho is a swift comprehension of grace; the third kensho starts as a deliberate act of will."

When I read this passage I marvel at its accuracy. Compare, for example, Plates XXIII-XXIX of How to Grow a Lotus Blossom with my description of the karmic jangle from my childhood and the appearance of the "immaculate Being". What I experienced in a few seconds, Rev. Master experienced over a period of four days. In its essence, the experience is the same because the process of conversion is the same regardless of the level at which conversion happens. The relative levels of Rev. Master and myself with respect to the complete conversion of karma were very different at this point: she was very far along in the process; I was just beginning. But the process is the same. Rev. Master used to say that there are not greater and lesser kenshos: every experience of the Eternal contains the whole of Enlightenment.

This kensho saved my spiritual life. It was a new beginning of my life and my training--a beginning, not an end. Within minutes of that great flash, I was conscious of the constituents of self beginning to "reboot". One layer of the spiritual need had dissolved into the Great Immaculacy. But many more layers, some of them deeply anguished and confused, still existed. Life would be easier for a short time. Then it was gradually going to get very difficult.


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