Lecture by Sojun Roshi
This lecture is reprinted from the March 2003 Berkeley Zen Center Newsletter.
There is this question. What is our practice? What are we doing? Is it vital enough? Are we sinking into complacency? Do we have enough pressure to feel that we're doing something vital? It's important to have pressure. Some people feel the pressure more than others. One person may feel that pressure is a burden and another may feel that it's okay, or that it's not enough. Each one of us is in a different place in our practice, in our dispositions, in our character, in our strength, and in our ability, in particular, in our ability to accept things as they are and to have equanimity and concentration. We're all different. Even though we have the same practice, there is something about the practice, the fine-tuning of our practice that has to be tailored to each person.
What is it that we can all practice that is vital for each one of us? What is the koan that covers everyone? There are a couple of koans that I sometimes give people, and there are a couple of practices that I sometimes give people. If someone has a very angry disposition and suffers a lot from self-alienation, I may give that person a Metta practice, either reciting the Metta Sutra, or practicing the four aspects of Metta. The first aspect of Metta is to bestow love on oneself, the second is to focus love on someone one knows. The third is to focus on someone one doesn't know, and the last is to focus on someone one considers an enemy, extending from that a love, which includes the whole world, the whole universe and so forth. In any case, all of this begins with knowing oneself and accepting oneself. I introduced the Metta Sutra into our service at Green Gulch because I felt it was something we really needed to think about as a balance to our "wisdom practice."
Dogen Zenji gave us the Genjokoan, the koan of our daily life - how we meet every aspect of our life as the koan, the fundamental point where sameness and difference meet. We have collections of One Hundred Koans, Fifty Koans, and so forth, and those koans are examples from the daily lives of the ancestors. In the same way, our true koan appears within the intimacy of what is actually happening in our life. And so, when we study the old examples, they are not just stories about someone else. Because these stories are so fundamental, we can relate to them as our own.
"What is metta?" is a koan. It is a wonderful koan. "What is gratitude?" is a koan. I often give people the koan of gratitude. No matter what happens to you, just bow and say, "Thank you," whether you feel it's a good thing or a bad thing. If someone insults you, just bow with gratitude and say, "Thank you." If someone compliments you, just bow with gratitude and say, "Thank you." Sometimes it's hard to accept a compliment. Someone may say, "Oh, you're nice, or you did this well." It can be very hard for us to accept that. What are we supposed to say? Anything we say makes us feel either egotistical or evasive. Every time I take my dog for a walk, someone will say, "What a beautiful dog you have!" The dog doesn't care, and it's no compliment to me but I feel obliged to come up with something. So sometimes I say thank you and sometimes I just agree. How do you accept a compliment without being egotistical? As someone said, "How do we cut through?" Right there is our practice. It's not thinking it over, it's "How do we cut through?" If we're dealing with this kind of koan all the time, we don't have any problem about whether there is pressure or not enough pressure, or whether we're at the edge or not at the edge. If you can accept this koan that is always right in front of you, you will be right at the edge all the time. The only problem is the problem of ego. We don't have to know so much. We don't have to be so smart. We just have to be able to stand up in the middle of our life and accept whatever it is.
March 1, 1995
Last revised 3/10/03. [an error occurred while processing this directive][an error occurred while processing this directive]