New Morning in Portland, Maine, the Great Perfection, Etc.

After a wiggly and leisurely trip from Moorhead, MN (where those people do talk a lot like the FX show, Fargo, ah-ha, you betcha) through Duluth, MN, the UP (that’s Upper Peninsula of Michigan), Ontario, Vermont, New Hampshire and finally our new home state, Maine, don’t you know.

There are certainly many incredibly beautiful places on this rock. Phew! Mt. Desert Island, in our new home state (like I said), Maine, is especially lovely, take for example the view from Cadillac Mountain (see photo) – the highest point on the East Coast, don’t you know.

So having retired from my career in education, I’m free to do Zen work full time. And I’m really excited about that. For one thing, I plan to breathe some new life into this old blog. Then there are the delightful students that I work with through the Vine of Obstacles: Online Support for Zen Training (now accepting more students).

And I’ll be working in collaboration with others to get Great Tides Zen up and running. We’ve found a place for rohatsu sesshin, btw, and will now focus on October sesshin and especially finding a place for daily practice.

During this transition, there’s an old case that I’ve been rolling around with. It comes from the Collected Works of Korean Buddhism and is a good one for continually beginning again. It brings us back to the beginning of the tradition (where we always are), and when we engage the koan, it brings us back to the root of our own original intention as well.

Case 1. The Greatly Enlightened, World Honored One, Śākyamuni Buddha

The World Honored One, without having yet departed Tusita, had already descended into the palace and without having yet left his mother’s womb, had already completed the task of saving people.

Kunshan Huiyuan’s verse

Without having yet departed Tusita,
He has already descended into his father’s palace,
Although he has already completed the task of saving living beings,
He still dwells in his mother’s womb,Neither does this stem from sublime function,
Nor is it supernatural powers,
Do not establish standards on your own,
Receive the words and understand the source.

Commentary

…Thus, each and every person is like a thousand-foot-high cliff, has already completed their self-cultivation even before the existence of all the eons as great in number as all the particles in the universe, and has also completed the attainment of buddhahood. There is no other face on which they could add rouge and facial powder….

The mythical background here refers to the launch pad for all buddhas, a certain god realm, Tushita, where the nascent buddhas wait for the conditions to be right here on this mud ball before taking birth. The buddha after Shakyamuni, Maîtreya, is believed to be there now awaiting his/her turn to enter the world and liberate living beings.

But the koan tells us that the work is already completed. The great perfection can’t be improved.

A good reminder for me as we begin this work, did I mention? Finding a place for the new zendo, establish the training group, get the word out about our sitting schedule, upcoming classes, etc.

The face of this koan is great faith. It is important, though, to take it to heart and not accept it at face value – what about the Supreme Court’s really dumb Hobby Lobby decision, the people dying in senseless conflicts around the world right now, the 783 million people today who don’t have access to fresh water, the sick and suffering members of our families, and our own seemingly endless greed, anger, and stupidity?

Perfect from the beginning? One might ask, what kind of dope are you smoking? This is the great doubt. Very important in our Zen work.

Or as Dogen more eloquently framed the issue, “If we’re all Buddhas from the beginning, what’s the point of practice?”

Gary Snyder resolved this one for himself, writing in one of his early books (to paraphrase), “Knowing that there’s really nothing to do, we roll up our sleeves and go to work.”

I really resonate with that framing. Thank you, Gary!

So how about you? Do you resonate more with great perfection, great doubt, or great practice? How so?

It is important to know how we lean so we can, from time to time, do the counterintuitive practice and lean the way that we’re not so fond of.

And finally, the koan point is really quite sweet.

“Honey, I’m home!”

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