Hierarchy and Equality

In this practice, each one of us is given a challenge, and we have to come up to that challenge, whatever it is. If you are a new student, you have the challenge of being a new student. If you’re an older student, you have the challenge of being an older student. You have the challenge of your practice position and your relationship to the other members of the sangha. Hierarchy exists in the vertical relationships of all societies, while equality exists in the horizontal relationships. Both are necessary and where they meet is where we find our true position at any moment. In this way we can relate to everyone in a harmonious way, hopefully free from self-centeredness and willful ambition, honoring everyone’s position while feeling satisfied with our own. It doesn’t matter what our position is. If we take responsibility for our position, we have a way to go which for all of us is both unique and the same.

On a chessboard each of the pieces has a hierarchical position. Some have more power and some have less but those pieces which have more power have to be able to share that power, and all pieces have to work together for a common purpose on a basis of equality. That takes skill, the skill to allow people to feel that they have power no matter where they are in relation to everyone else.

By power I don’t mean dominance. There is a difference between dominance and power. And there’s a difference between hierarchy and power. Hierarchy merely means “position in relation to everyone else.” But it doesn’t necessarily mean dominance. People associate hierarchy with dominance. If I say hierarchy I often get a reaction, “Oh, you mean dominance.” But I don’t. I just mean “position in relation to everything else.”

Student: “Are Hinayana and Mahayana two different things?”

Sojun: “They are two aspects of one practice. The Hinayana is like, ‘What am I doing?’ the Mahayana is like, ‘What are we doing?’ There are two aspects of Mahayana practice: self-cultivation on one hand, and saving all beings on the other. Hinayana, for me, simply means narrow focus, while Mahayana means wide. Our practice could be seen as Hinayana practice with Mahayana mind.”

Student: “When you are cutting carrots can you have both at the same time?”

Sojun: “Yes. When you are doing something, it’s like, ‘What am I doing?’ but then there is also, ‘What are we doing?’ If you are a tangaryo student, sitting five days as your entrance requirement to be a Tassajara student, it is easier to think, ‘What am I doing?’ But if you are the Abbot you have to think, ‘What are we doing?’ But actually all of us need to think about ‘What are we doing?’ All of us need to think about how we are relating to the whole. If we take up the responsibility of ‘What are we doing?’and completely become one with our position, then we contribute to everyone’s practice because all positions are connected. In the kitchen, it’s true we just cut carrots. But it’s also true that we stay aware of what’s going on around us and move with the entire situation in a harmonious way. That’s called, ‘Being the Boss.’ “

I trust everyone to take care of themselves. I remember a teacher saying, “I‘m responsible for all the students.” But I don’t feel that I’m responsible for all students. I definitely respond, but I’m not responsible. Ultimately everyone is responsible for themselves. Buddhist or Zen practice is to find your way through your own effort. What I try to do is help everyone find the authority within themselves to stimulate their own effort. I don’t have any method. My attitude is to encourage everyone as much as I can. When you respond to encouragement then we have something to work with.

(from the February 2003 BZC Newsletter)