Returning to One and Expressing It in the Zen Priest Style

“The ten thousand things return to One” – by Shodo Harada Roshi from his new and incredibly lovely book, The Moon by the Window: the Calligraphy and Zen Insights of Shodo Harada, composed of about a hundred pieces of his masterful calligraphy and pithy Zen comments.
Harada Roshi expresses the bodhisattva heart – specifically the interconnection of zazen and service – so clearly and inspiringly.
The above is from the Blue Cliff Record #45: Zhaozhou’s Cloth Robe. A monk asked, “All the myriad existences return to One, but to where does that One return?”
Harada Roshi comments, “If it is not clear where the One returns to, then our Zen is a poison, separated from the actual world, a nihilistic trap to which all of humans’ abundant, creative capability is lost.”
Wonderfully put, old guy.
And that brings us to the Zen priest issue. Dear One James over at his Monkey Mind blog has a recent post about where to become a Zen priest, an open letter to someone who asked him about it. 

Even though I mostly agree with the practicalities of James’ practical response (although I don’t know enough about San Francisco Zen to recommend it or not), I’d respond differently.
Primarily, I’d want to ask, “Why do you want to become a Soto Zen priest?” and then push that issue into the ground, not just for a couple sesshin, but for at least several years. 
About three years into studying with Katagiri Roshi, I told him that I wanted to be his disciple. Roshi sat quietly, too quietly (I can feel it still), for a long time and then said, “It is not so easy, anyway.”
Then about three years later, without my bringing it up again, we were working on scheduling some event. Roshi offhandedly said, “Can’t do it that weekend because that’s when you will be ordained.” 
“Okay,” I said. Nice to know.
I once heard Leonard Cohen (maybe in the “Fresh Air” interview) say that if his teacher, Sasaki Roshi, had been a physics professor in Heidelberg, then that’s what he would have done. He wasn’t really interested in being a Zen priest. It was the person that he was drawn to study and being a Zen priest was how that could happen.
My experience with Katagiri Roshi was quite like that. I didn’t become a priest in order to become a Zen minister. There was no apparent career path. Unlike some of my friends, I didn’t feel all excited about shaving my head, wearing different clothes and using priest oryoki.

What drew me was Roshi’s quality of being. I just wanted to put myself in his shoes, walk with him and somehow get from how he walked, how he vacuumed the stairs, how he said “Good morning,” from where he came. 
Heart-to-heart intimacy was primary. All things return to One was primary. And then he taught me how to wear the robes, how to bow, how to perform priestly functions, how to study the buddhadharma, etc., mostly by not telling me anything but by allowing me access to his life.
But heart came first. Returning to One came first.
Where does One return?
In this context, if a person’s response does not suggest an expression of intimacy through a Zen priest’s lifestyle, without the stinky poison of nihilistic Zen, then I’d suggest waiting for a while and looking more deeply at this life.

Restraining the Nevertheless Deluded One: Vine of Obstacles Turns Two
Practicing Through Snow and Cold (or Whatever Afflictions May Visit)
Zenshin Tim Buckley Dies: One Heartbeat, Ten Thousand Buddhas
BTW, We Have to Remove Your Feet: Being Mortal, Waking Up, and Dying Together
  • Mike Haitch

    Currently I'm reading a book on the art of communication. One interesting idea is splitting out "what" and "how" for a particular objective. If you are clear onthe "what" then the "how" becomes more adaptable.In the case of priesthood it can be easy to conflate the two. Lots of people may become priests but for different reasons. For some "become a priest" is both what and how. For others I may be "save all sentient beings efficiently" for others it may be "avoid everyday liffe" or "be speciall" or "rebel against parents"In extreme form it may be "the best way to save all sentient beings is to avoid them as much as possible living a special life behind Walls".This evening I had a vegetable soup. Or maybe I was looking at lots of drowning vegetables. Either way it was eaten.

  • Mike Haitch

    And thinking about my day in the office I couldn't spot anyone who needed saving. We all had jobs that needed doing but that didn't seem to be one of them…..

  • Larry

    There is no leaving or returning.

  • Monk in the world

    Dare I say that titles are fingers pointing to the moon. And may I say that the moon has many phases before it can become full. And may I say a title does not a priest make. I would not have wanted me to be my chaplain fifteen years ago…but after almost 25 years, I wouldn't mine me being my chaplain.I think most people don't know what they are asking in the beginning of these journeys. That's why programs are no more than the skeleton. Life creates the meat on the bone.Dosho says, "Dear One James over at his Monkey Mind blog has a recent post about where to become a Zen priest, an open letter to someone who asked him about it."My guess is the place "where" you become a priest is in your body/mind.To use a Christian word, you must incarnate it, to use a Buddhist word, you must actualize it.If you asked me 26 years ago why I wanted to be a Methodist Minister I would probably had said, "God has called me." That was a bunch of ego bullshit. If you ask me now I would say it does not matter…it does not matter if I am a Methodist Minister, a Soto Zen Priest.what matters is the "one thing", no matter how you dress it up! And the "heart-to-heart intimacy" with the truth. Dosho is it possible he was the truth and it is that truth we long to be intimate with? The way, the truth, the life…hmmm?Enough words…they stink!Bows,Alan

  • Dosho Port

    Rev Alan,Thank you for the sweet perfume of you ministerial life, wafting from your words. Strong connection between my last 2 posts that I hadn't noticed until your comment this morning. Exactly right on the title does not make a priest part and deep appreciation to you for offering your experience here. Its been helpful for me to clarify my thoughts on this and am grateful for all the comments. Another post is brewing!Palms together,Dosho