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

by Rev. Koshin Schomberg

Section XXIII
Master and Disciple

Since Shakyamuni Buddha's time, every Buddha and every Ancestor has continued to Transmit the TRUTH constantly, this fact is very clear.

Great Master Keizan
Denkoroku (Transmission of the Light)


Two Important Facts about People

These Reflections in a Disciple's Life are about my training, my spiritual life and experience, as it has reflected my master's teaching. I have not said much about other people (except my master, of course) in this narrative, though other people have been, and continue to be, very important in my life.

There are two facts about other people that are so important that all other facts--and these "other facts" are innumerable--are relatively insignificant. These most important of all facts about other people can be expressed quite simply. The first of these facts is that all people have the Buddha Nature. The second fact is that all people make and carry their own karma.

For the purposes of my own training, the first of these facts means that whatever another person may think, say, or do, my job is to try to recognise the Buddha Nature within the person, within the actions, within the situation. That does not mean that I have to join in what others do if I believe that it is not good for me to join in. It does not mean that I have to idealize what others do. It just means that I need to take whatever is happening as being for my good, and use the situation--whatever it is--to train in meditation, the Precepts, and faith. The question of whether I will recognize Buddha in any person, any situation, is ultimately dependent on my own spiritual choices, not on other people and external conditions.

For my training, the second fact means that I need always to keep my focus on my own actions and their consequences. I cannot do this if I allow myself to get pulled out of my own spiritual center through worry about the actions of others.

I can both make and accept offerings. If it is good, I can offer assistance; if it is good, I can accept assistance from another person. And, as Rev. Master taught me, "You cannot be Kanzeon (Cosmic Compassion) [for another person]." Nor can another person be Kanzeon for me. No one takes the place of the Eternal for anyone else. We all have the Buddha Nature, and we all make and carry our own karma, and we are stuck with all the implications of these facts, whether we like it or not.

This way of training in relation to other people is religious in nature, not psychological. Other peoples' motives are not my business. When I have indulged in speculating about, or doubting, others' motives, I have soiled my own spiritual nest.

My job in training is to follow the Eternal. If I need to say "No!" to something that someone else is doing, it is important for my own spiritual welfare that I be following the Eternal, not a personal opinion, theory or emotional reaction. Sometimes I have managed to hit the bullseye: that is when I have paused to turn toward the Eternal and ask for help. Sometimes I have scored a big miss: that is when I have acted impulsively. Sometimes everything has moved so fast, and there has been so much confusion, that it is not clear for a long time just what happened. In all cases, I have got the consequences of my actions, and every aspect of those consequences has provided (and continues to provide) invaluable teaching.

The Job of the Zen Master

As disciples mature in training, they develop the wisdom of sympathy, and one way in which this sympathy manifests is in a sympathetic recognition of the price that the master pays for doing his job. Even so, disciples can only know the master-disciple relationship from the side of the disciple until they are themselves masters who are training their own disciples. As a master, I look back at my own master's training with awe, for I see now in a way that I could not see when I was younger what a wonderful tool of the Eternal my master was.

There are three good reasons for being a Zen master: first, to express gratitude to one's own master, to all the Buddhas and Ancestors, to the Eternal; second, to fulfill the vow to row all beings to the "other shore" of enlightenment; and third, to walk the path in which one has been led in one's following of the Eternal. These are all really three ways of saying the same thing, though the third reason, while least comprehensible to the brain, most accurately expresses the deepest spiritual reality.

There are two ways in which the job of the Zen master is very difficult. The first way is the one that is most obvious: sometimes the master has to attempt to jolt the disciple out of a delusive state in which he has become stuck. This can be painful and risky. At times it is heartbreakingly difficult for the master.

The second way is one that is not obvious most of the time: the Eternal is always using the master to represent Itself to the disciple. This is something that the master must be willing for if he is to have any peace of mind and heart, but it is not something that the master controls in any way. When a disciple is looking up spiritually, he has a natural respect, love and gratitude for the master; when the disciple is looking down spiritually, he may fear, resent and even hate the master. When the disciple is looking up, he has compassion for himself, and he sees his own Buddha Nature reflected in the mirror that is the master. When the disciple is looking down, he is judging himself, and he sees his own self-judgment reflected in the mirror that is the master. The master can only do his own training; he has to sit still and continue to recognize the spiritual potential of the disciple regardless of the disciple's attitude and behaviour.

Zen masters are ordinary human beings, not magicians. No master can do anything with a disciple who is bound and determined to look down except sit still and wait for the disciple's heart to soften. In some cases, this is a long wait. On the other hand, no master can be such an utter incompetent that he can prevent a disciple who is bound and determined to look up from realizing the Truth.

The Master's Trust

It took me a long time to see that my master was trusting me deeply when she gave me hard teaching. She could see how stuck I was at times, and she trusted her own spiritual instinct in giving me teaching.--And she trusted my capacity to receive that teaching, take it in, meditate with it, and get unstuck. Once the teaching was delivered to me, it was entirely up to me whether I would accept it positively and allow it to help me, or whether I would fight it.

As a master, I have to trust my disciples as my master trusted me. There is no other way forward.


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