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

by Rev. Koshin Schomberg

Section VI
Two Arrows in Mid-Air that Meet

When the heart does not pick and choose, the Unborn takes the lead.
When we no longer wander in confusion, our karmic inheritance will know peace.
Success and failure, close by and far away--
These will no longer be opposites.


Pre-leap and Post-leap Jitters

In the course of training, we make many leaps of faith. Most do not seem like very big leaps, though appearnces can be deceptive. The bigger leaps are fewer in number. All leaps of faith are leaps into the unknown. Not surprisingly, I have always experienced the jitters before a leap. But there are post-leap jitters too. The pre-leap jitters can be expressed as, "What am I in for?" The post-leap jitters can be expressed as, "What have I got myself into?"

Training/enlightenment is a continual process. In this process, the pre-leap jitters are also post-leap jitters. Looking back on my training, if I focus upon one leap, such as that taken in the first kensho, I can see that there was apprehension (to say the least) leading up to it; and then there were years of struggle with the implications of the step that had been taken. This same post-kensho struggle is the pre-"sange of 1987" struggle, and so on.

Sometimes I have experienced these jitters as intense fear. But more often the jitters have had the quieter character of being "disturbed by the Truth"--one senses more is needed, more is to come, and one does not know exactly what that "more" is. The contemplative life does not leave much room for complacency.

I have not always known that I had the jitters before or after a leap: sometimes it only becomes clear in retrospect. But if I look back carefully and in detail at the course of my training, I can usually identify the thread of the jitters running and interweaving with other threads of experience. I have described in Section IV of these "Reflections in a Disciple's Life" the experience in which I was shown that, if I kept up my training, I would have the option at the time of death of picking up more karma for conversion. I have also described the response of unconditional willingness that instantaneously arose within me. (See "The Heavenly Heart in Section IV.) I had a very quiet case of the jitters for the next five years after I took this leap.

Five Years Cooking a Question

From 1990 to 1995, I lived and trained with a question as my constant companion, though the question spent most of the time on the "back burner" of awareness. This was the question: If I am offered the choice at the time of death of picking up more karma to shepherd back to the Eternal, on what basis would I make the decision?

This question was of the utmost importance to me, and I had no idea what the answer might be. All the time I lived with this question, I could see that it was based on some kind of misconception. For example, I could see that if there is no separate self that undergoes the process of death and rebirth, then whatever "I" might decide at the time of death, "I" would not be the one who had to experience the consequences of my choice. This thought gave me no help whatsoever. I was stuck with a quiet worry about how I would make what seemed--and seems--to me to be a critically important decision with grave consequences (never mind for whom!).

So I went about my daily life, my daily training, with this question always hovering in the background. I never doubted what I had been shown about the choice that I might be offered at the time of death; I never doubted the willingness that had surged up within me: I just did not understand something very basic. And I knew that one day I would need to understand it. In the meantime, I was going through a wonderful time in my spiritual life, and I was never deeply distressed by my constant companion. It was a very quiet case of the jitters.

There are two aspects of ignorance. The one that gets us into big trouble is the aspect of "willful ignoring" of our True Nature. There is also the ignorance that is very simply just not getting it. The willful act of ignoring makes us more blind to the the Eternal and to the law of karma. This blindness is the just not getting it, and out of this blindness we more readily do the willful act of ignoring. So my simple question, which exhibited the "just not getting it" type of ignorance, had considerable momentum of dark, willful ignoring behind it. This makes for a real spiritual question--perhaps a question that will only ever have urgency for one person. But if you are that person, you need help.

I had told Rev. Master about the experience that gave rise to my question shortly after it happened, but I did not voice the question. In fact, I never came right out with the question. I had said "Yes!" in unconditional willingness, and whatever confusion was in me about what that implied, my allegiance was to that "Yes!". I trusted that somehow there must be a way to make the decision when the time came to make it. So even while I lived with the question, I knew that the Eternal would help me find the answer one day. So I let the question "cook" in my meditation and training for four years.

The Answer

There came a time when the question was fully cooked. The way I remember events unfolding is as follows: I wrote Rev. Master a letter in which I somehow managed to express my puzzlement without actually asking the question outright. I received no response. Several months later (I think it was in the first half of 1995), I was visiting Rev. Master at Shasta Abbey. I again wrote her a note without, again, coming out with the question directly. Toward the end of this visit, Rev. Master invited me down to her office for a cup of tea. I took a seat and the chaplain who was attending Rev. Master at the time discreetly vanished. Rev. Master just chatted for awhile. I do not remember what we spoke about. After a few minutes, Rev. Master paused. She mentioned my note. She looked right at me and said, "The leaf goes where the wind blows and does not disobey the wind."--I felt a very subtle and quiet movement within my hara. I knew that my question had been fully answered. The arrow of the answer had hit the arrow of the question head-on.

Leaf and Wind

In the metaphor of leaf and wind, the wind represents the Will of the Eternal and the leaf represents our personal will. When our personal will is not in harmony with the Will of the Eternal, we create suffering. Yet all the while, our personal will--indeed, all that we are--is of the Eternal: "I am not the Eternal, and there is nothing in me that is not of the Eternal." And what is the "Will of the Eternal?" Rev. Master always emphasized that the Precepts describe the Will of the Eternal. In other words, to follow the Precepts truly is to follow the Will of the Eternal.

If this is so, there must be more to the Precepts than meets the eye.--Either that, or there is less to the Will of the Eternal than it seems there has to be. I had read Rev. Master's Commentary on the Precepts so many times that I had it pretty well down in memory. Yet the essential point of that Commentary had always eluded me. This was not due to any lack of clarity in Rev. Master's explanation. Something in me was just not yet ready to understand the Precepts at the level at which Rev. Master was explaining them.

The choice at the time of death whether or not to pick up more karma and shepherd it back to the help of the Eternal does not seem at first to be a Preceptual choice. It does not have to do with refraining from killing, stealing, lying, etc. Yet it is indeed a Preceptual choice if we understand the Precepts as a description of a life lived in harmony with the Eternal. This way of viewing the Precepts emphasizes Preceptual Truth--the true Spirit of the Precepts. This is the focus of Rev. Master's Commentary on the Precepts. (The Commentary makes up most of the text accompanying Plate XII [Plate VIII in the first edition] of How to Grow a Lotus Blossom. It is also available on the website of North Cascades Buddhist Priory: Click here to go to this website. Then click on "The Precepts" in the menu on the left.)

What was I missing?--There was another leap that I needed to take so that the deeper causes of my ignorance could receive the help of the Eternal. When this happened in 1998, the door of the Precepts swung open. I will be discussing this period in my training in a later Section of these "Reflections in a Disciple's Life."


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