“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.