December 23 2021
As we approach the holiday season, we asked Bob Joyner to offer some thoughts about practice and its importance not just on the cushion but in every day life.
I am often encouraging students to take their practice, that is what they have experienced on their cushion daily in zazen and during Intensives and Sesshins, into their daily lives. Unless we do this, we are not really endeavouring to fulfill the fourth Great Vow of embodying Buddha’s teaching. If we do not do this then at best our Zen practice becomes a hobby. Of course, occasionally I am asked how do we do this? This brings to mind the following well known story.
One day a man approached Ikkyu and asked him to write down some maxims of the highest wisdom to help him in his efforts. Ikkyu took up his brush and wrote “Attention”. “That’s not much,” the man responded. “Please add more.” With this Ikkyu again wrote ‘Attention.” The man said that he still didn’t see much depth written there, so Ikkyu wrote “Attention” a third time. This upset the man who angrily demanded what does that word “Attention” mean? Ikkyu gently responded that “Attention” means attention!
We should all take this to heart and pay attention to all we do for attention is no other than mindfulness which goes to the very heart of Buddhist practice. This paying attention should be included in all we do and if we follow this advice, we will find for ourselves that work and tasks become lighter and easier. Be warned that this is not easy to maintain. When we begin this practice, we will discover how difficult it is and at the start of our conscious efforts if we can maintain attention for a few percent of our time then that’s alright, that’s good, for you have planted an acorn. Now with continual nourishment (effort) a mature oak will grow. It just takes time as Wumen cautions us in MU Case 1 – slowly we purify ourselves – the same injunction applies here.
Our efforts will result in more simplicity in our lives and a focus on our practice. You will discover that this includes the Grave Precepts, for everything is woven and not interwoven whilst each thing stands in its place. Unless we carry our practice into our daily lives, we have not really taken up Buddha’s teaching in its complete fullness.
Just begin and do your best, see where it takes you in your overall practice. When we shop, we will find ourselves asking whether the purchase is actually necessary, and if needed whether an alternative might aid in the fight with Climate Change? When traveling, will we use public transport, car, rail or even air? Do we actually need a car and if so what size, what fuel, etc.? Thus, our attention filters into all we do, whether our view is narrow on a particular topic or of an encompassing width of awareness. Now we can begin to understand attention and the importance that Ikkyu knew and thus conveyed a practice that could be undertaken at any time anywhere.