© Rafe Martin 2014
Zazen sitting is the foundation of our practice. But getting up, leaving the zendo, and living meaningfully is the point. Realization experiences, moments of actually dropping attachment to the concept of an interior, gaining/losing self are milestones but not yet the end of the road. Hence our name – “Endless Path Zendo.” The Buddha attained most deeply. Then he got up and got to work. Joseph Campbell, speaking of the hero or heroine’s path, says that overcoming obstacles, getting to the top of the mountain, finding the castle in the clouds, saving the prince or princess, and marrying him or her are metaphors that delineate the first half of the journey. The second, equally important half of that universal journey is the return, the ongoing work of coming back into the community and working for the good of the many with the gifts the inward journey revealed.
The Buddha getting to work helping others fulfilled his Path. It is why he left home to start with. One of the sets of guidelines he left us are the so-called Ten Precepts, or items of good character. These ten points of correct action make it clear that living ethically is central to a path of realization; is, indeed, the heart and soul of it. Without ethical, which means wise, which means compassionate, which means less self-centered, less harm-causing to ourselves and others thoughts and deeds, the Path is hard to find, hard to stay on, and hard to walk. We ourselves create too many obstacles.
All of us carry problems we created in the past – however you interpret that past – as earlier in this life or in endless past lives. All of us carry past karma even as we create new karma by how we live, and speak, and act now. Our life is nothing but the expression of, the workings of cause and effect, a great network of forces of will and decision and effort we live within.
How we live now can change karma for the better. Seeing even slightly into the Emptiness beyond all separation is deeply significant. Kensho or realization means intimacy with all that lives and does not live. But the decision to live by the articles or items of good character is equally important, as is the willingness to repent, that is, own, resolve, and not repeat harmful thoughts and deeds. Such personal decisions actualize a path of practice/realization, stabilize it, and make it real.
This is summed up and brought into focus as well as given poetic depth, by the Jukai ceremony. Our ceremony is the complete Soto Jukai, which comes to us from the 12th Century great founding teacher, the Japanese Zen Master Dogen who in turn received it from his teacher, Ru-Ching, in China. But it all began when the Buddha got up from under the Bo-tree after complete and perfectly enlightened realization. to dedicate himself to helping others. This is perfect enlightenment perfected, expressing itself as practice/realization. Sitting is one half the story. Realizing the great Way is one half the story. Living a compassionate life is one half the story. Mathematically it makes no sense. Yet there it is. We might also say that each is 100% of the story. The point is that Zen practice is not, “Now I’ve got it and I’m done”. No matter where we are, there is always a next step to be taken.
Jukai is a way of taking our practice seriously, of saying – no, of vowing that “It’s not just what I do in the zendo or dokusan room – it’s also what I do in my actual daily life.” We can take Jukai many times. Each time we find greater understanding and a deepening life path becoming accessible to us. We all start somewhere. With each Jukai we take yet another step forward.
Roshi Kapleau used to say that Zen is not above morality, morality not below Zen. Anyone who thinks that Zen’s “Emptiness” means “anything goes” and throws decent ethical behavior out the window is making a grave mistake. Emptiness means love. Love means attention to our behavior. This is where we become responsible to ourselves, to others, and to the practice. As Dogen says, “The teisho of the actual body is the harbor and the weir. This is the most important thing in the world. Its virtue finds its home in the ocean of essential nature. It is beyond explanation. We just accept it with respect and gratitude.”