Exactly one week ago, in Wada Ji Temple in the countryside of Japan, I partook in a ceremony to receive the robes of a monk. It was an exciting time, and yet very natural and ‘mundane’ in a way. What surprised me most upon my return to Canada however, were the questions I faced about how I felt following the ceremony, and if I felt “any different in any way?”
Before answering these questions, let me start with the story of Mazu (or Ma Tsu), a Zen Master, who as a student spent many hours doing zazen (seated meditation). I will do my best to retell the story as I learned it. One day, Mazu’s teacher, Master Nanyue was walking by and observed Mazu sitting in zazen, and he called out to him, “Why do you sit in zazen each and every day?” Mazu replied to his teacher, “I intend to become a buddha.” Master Nanyue then picked up a roof tile laying on the ground, and proceeded to grind it on a rock. “What are you doing?” asked the young monk of his teacher. “I am trying to make a mirror,” replied the master. “But how can you make a mirror by grinding a tile?” asked the perplexed Mazu. The master turned to him and asked, “How can you become a buddha by doing zazen?”
At this point, here is my interpretation of this zen story, and the connection to my recent ordination. In the story, the young student is so focused on the sitting form of zazen, that he is not mastering the essential principle. When the form takes precedence over the most important aspect of why we do something, we need to step back and remember why we are doing it. In the story the Master reminds his student that when we sit or do something to become enlightened, we destroy the attainment of enlightenment. Upon hearing this, the student suddenly has a moment of satori, or enlightenment.
As human beings, it is easy to get stuck on a form, forget the true meaning of life, the true meaning of the practice, the true meaning of why we are here. The answer exists within each and every one of us, and not in any form.
If you truly understand zazen or Nembutsu or any spiritual practice, you understand that it is not about sitting or chanting or praying, how many hours or years one practices, or any ceremonies you do for that matter. Getting stuck on these external forms, is as if “the cart has stopped moving and we whip the cart instead of the horse”, as Master Nanyue later in the story mentions to Mazu.
When we realize and practice non-abidance (avoiding mental constructs and creating illusions in our daily lives) true wisdom appears, and we know exactly what to do when the cart stops moving. We do not need to do anything special or be anything special in order to be responsible for the life we were given, to work for the benefit of self and others, and all our practices I hope lead us to this realization. Since the ceremony, my wish for the world has increased, my responsibility as well.
And regarding my answer to the question of if I feel any different now?
“Make it a beautiful day.”
Wada ji Temple in Shimane Prefecture, Japan.