With One Heart
3rd waterfall above Ragged Point, Monterey County.
Shih Fu, Great person above,
Shih Fu, we won't be able to be with you on your birthday this year but we will bow to you nine times here on the road and wish you many happy returns, with all our hearts. Here are some of the recent mind-changes on three steps, one bowl:
Heng Ch'au, Kuo Chou Rounds and I bowed around a steep rise and wham: there before us stood the next three weeks of our lives, etched in green stone and blue water: twenty miles of awesome rocks in the slanting afternoon sun. The first sight of the sheer cliffs and the sinewy twisting towers falling straight to the fault azure ocean took my breath away. We could see tiny flechs of sun glare on glass: cars and campers rolling on a tiny thread of highway stuck on the mountainside halfway between oblivion and nowhere. We were going to bow on this road? My first impulse was to follow an old habit energy thought and let my mind take a vacation from the work.
But I couldn't do that. A new internal, yang energy that's been slowly building took control and brought my heart back to focus on the work. What came to mind was this passage from the sutra lecture the night before:
Although he causes all existence to be purified,
He does not make distinctions amid all that exists.
And he is caused to be happy, with a purified mind.
In one Buddhaland he relies on nothing.
In all Buddhalands it is the same.
Nor is he attached to conditioned dharmas
Because he knows that in the nature of these dharmas
There is nowhere to rely.
And I applied it to this situation: only hours before I had been bowing on Huntington Drive, outside Gold Wheel Temple in L.A. where was there any dharmas to rely on there? Where was L.A. now? When I was in L.A., where were these mountains, this ocean? How was this moment any different from that moment? I couldn't find any differences; So what was there to hide from? Why take a vacation in false-thoughts? It's nothing but the sad little ego looking for a way out of the pressure of slow, steady work on the mind-ground. What would Shih Fu say? “Everything's okay. No problem. Use effort. Fear is useless."
So I opened my eyes and took another look at the landscape before us. "Hey! What a beautiful, pure place to cultivate in. What a fine Bodhimanda! My heart seemed to take wings and soar out into the clear air above the mud of my afflictions. When these boulders have turned to dust I vow to still be on the Bodhisattva path, working to end the sufferings of all living beings.
Now we're concentrating on the basics: giving, holding precepts, patience, and vigor. Along with all the Master's disciples we are working to give the world a City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, a place where precepts will be the ground rules for being a person. As for patience, well there's lots of chances to practice patience on this mountainside. Kuo Dzai Schmitz who is sharing the work with us this week patiently endured some of the most contrary weather of the whole trip and he's traveled seven miles of the most dangerous road we've faced. The further he goes the more he seems to like it, despite the poison oak that grows everywhere, the venomous ticks that inhabit the underbrush, the sunburn, the mad Big Sur wind, the freezing rain that stops as soon as we take our robes off and then starts again when we change back out of our raingear. Bowing in place below the sign for the Monterey County line, I thought to ask if Kuo Dzai wanted to take shelter from the elements. His answer would have been a slow smile and "Everything's okay, no problem. Let's stop counting the bows and stay right here until we all get enlightened."
My answer: "Sounds good, but we've been instructed to go for the bit and the big is making three steps one bow to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. Enlightenment is going to have to take care of itself."
Kuo Chou's visit last week and Kuo Dzai's this week have been inspiration for Heng Ch'au and me. Sincerely religious men, these lay disciples of the Venerable Abbot really made the most if this opportunity to practice the Master's Dharma. It was wonderful to watch them discover the same "Three Steps, One Bow" that Heng Ch'au and I have experienced.
Speaking of beautiful Bodhimandas, this trip has taught us an appreciation of the monastic environment. How fine are walls, a roof, and a clean floor; Sometimes I feel that the obstacles to our meditation that arise are my karmic debt. I did not make the most of my chance to cultivate in the ideal meditative space of Gold Mountain Monastery. Now that I really want to do the work, all sorts of obstructions arise: each one becomes a test of patience, resolve, and gung fu: wind, insects underfoot, cramped quarters, rain and sun in excess, traffic, nightfall, head and cold--all these dharmas help us forge a vajra resolve that the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas will come into being quickly and easily. Then when someone brings forth the heart to cultivate the way, they will have a pure place to do it. They won't have to endure any hassles before they sit in meditation. I'm not complaining: Heng Ch'au and I have never felt happier or stronger. Although our schedule is fixed-and timed to the minute, with all of Nature's changes there's never a dull moment.
All the same, when you get down to it, these clumsy corpses we walk around in are such a drag: We waste so much time looking after our bodies. The only sensible thing to do with them is to cultivate the Way. I like the Ten Practices Chapter: he has just made a vow to reincarnate in a huge, vast body so that no matter how many living beings are hungry, the flesh of his body will suffice to satisfy their needs. Then the Bodhisattva contemplates all living beings of the past, the future, and the present. He contemplates the bodies they receive, their lifespan, their decay, and their extinction.
Again he thinks, "How strange living beings are: How ignorant and lacking in wisdom. Within (the cycle of) birth and death they get countless bodies which are in peril and fragile. Without pause these bodies hastily go bad again. Whether their bodies have already gone bad, are now about to decay, or will come to ruin in the future, they are unable to use these unstable bodies to seek a solid body:
"I should thoroughly learn what all Buddhas have learned! I should realize all wisdom and know all dharmas. For the sake of all beings I will teach (this Ireaning) equally in the three periods of time. According to and harmonizing with still tranquility and the indestructible Dharma-nature, I will cause them to obtain peace, security, and happiness."
I carry this passage from the Avatamsaka Sutra in my head now and it has given me heart to keep bowing through many situations where my old skin bag and my common-person's mind feared it could not go. One immediately useful application: when the heat and pressure builds in the legs from Ch'an sitting, all I have to do is review the sutra's wisdom and I find the strength to continue to sit without wiggling or dropping my legs out of full lotus.
"On the path to the worry-free liberation-city." as the sutra calls it.
My biggest discovery of the month of March: "Where there’s a will there’s a way." We are rich in methods to cultivate. What counts in resolving the heart on wanting to succeed. Then the Way opens.
Disciple Kuo Chen (Heng Sure)