Sunday, March 7, 2010

Taming the Bull

(A continuation of the Zen story, "Ten Bulls")

5. Taming the Bull

The whip and rope are necessary,
Else he might stray off down some dusty road.
Being well trained, he becomes naturally gentle.
Then, unfettered, he obeys his master.

Comment: When one thought arises, another thought follows. When the first thought springs from enlightenment, all subsequent thoughts are true. Through delusion, one makes everything untrue. Delusion is not caused by objectivity; it is the result of subjectivity. Hold the nose-ring tight and do not allow even a doubt.

I'm not sure how successfully I am training the bull. I would venture to guess that the most sure-fire way to do so is to sit regularly, on good days and bad, when it is easy and when it is hard. I still struggle with this. Because things have been difficult lately, I have wandered away from daily practice. And when I do sit, it frequently feels rather pointless and frustrating.

One positive note, though: my recent questioning and self-doubt have not led me to the bigger doubt of wondering whether or not Zen is my path. That remains sure and true. I have committed to this, in a way that I seldom am able to commit. I have retained the most important aspects of my practice, as much as I have been able. Last Sunday, I finished sewing my rakusu, after four months of weekly sessions with my fellow sangha members who will be going through jukai. Since much of that four-month period I have been plagued with depression, it truly felt like an accomplishment, a sign of discipline, to have shown up week after week to sew.

I also have managed to continue with this blog, which has become part of my practice. Even though last month I wrote much less than the previous months - still, I wrote. I sat down in front of the computer and tried to find small truths that would help me get through each day.

On Saturday, I served as kokyo/doan (chant leader/time keeper) at Russian River Zendo for the two sitting periods and service that are held there weekly. I did not want to go; I had had an exhausting and physically challenging week. And my body was sore and uncooperative, making the periods of zazen difficult. But I did it; I showed up. Perhaps that is one way of "holding the nose-ring tight and not allowing even one doubt." Because what this Zen story says proved correct; one thought arising from enlightenment led to other true thoughts. Showing up for my commitment helped me to reconnect to the sangha, and to push through my resistance towards sitting, and to find in-the-moment joy even in the midst of my difficulties.


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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