Friday, March 12, 2010

In the World

(The conclusion of the Zen story, "Ten Bulls.")

10. In the World

Barefooted and naked of breast, I mingle with the people of the world.
My clothes are ragged and dust-laden, and I am ever blissful.
I use no magic to extend my life;
Now, before me, the dead trees become alive.

Comment: Inside my gate, a thousand sages do not know me. The beauty of my garden is invisible. Why should one search for the footprints of the patriarchs? I go to the market place with my wine bottle and return home with my staff. I visit the wineshop and the market, and everyone I look upon becomes enlightened.

Here, at the conclusion of the Zen story, is the real lesson. We do not seek the bull or knowledge of self (enlightenment) for our own benefit; it is so we may bring that expansion of self awareness and compassion out into the world.

Looking once again at this story as a metaphor for a single period of zazen: After we have sought the bull, found him, tamed him, led him home, transcended him...then the bell sounds at the end of the period, we stand and stretch our legs, and we turn and bow to those in our sangha. We finish the morning or evening with a service and dharma talk, and a discussion with our fellow practitioners, supporting each other in our practice by sharing of ourselves. That support can be through direct service, acting as doan or kokyo or tea server, or it can be through asking questions following the talk, or listening to answers. It can even be through something as simple as smiling at others as they arrive at the zendo, creating a community, making everyone feel that they belong.

I am humbled by how many of my fellow practitioners provide direct service to the world in their daily work, as therapists and body workers and counselors, working with the mentally ill, the sick, the aging, and the hurting. I have done that kind of work in the past, as a volunteer, working with the homeless and the hungry, and providing service to survivors of domestic violence and rape. Currently I am not doing any direct work like that, and I miss it. There is something very grounding in such work, even though it is often difficult, because there is a strong sense of connection with the world of dukkha, or suffering. I hope to find a way to return to that type of involvement in the world.

But for now, it is good for me to be reminded that simply being part of the sangha, showing up and participating, provides service, a way of going out into the world. And, of course, there is always the possibility that as my own life is transformed, even those I come into contact with outside of the Buddhist world will be touched in some way for the better.


The text and drawings are excerpted from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings. The story is by Kakuan, transcribed by Nyogen Senzaki and Paul Reps, and illustrated by Tomikichiro Tokuriki. (Comments in italics are part of the text.) Copyright Charles Tuttle and Co.

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