This morning, two of the blogs I follow have wonderful posts about real-life practice. Not the dreamy monastic environments of ancient Chinese lore, not the fortunate situations that allow some people to live in Zen Centers and practice some sort of quasi-monastic schedule around work or in retirement, or others to build beautiful Zen Centers inside or near their homes. How do you do it when you're far away from a teacher, how do you do it when you've got kids and jobs and other things going on, how do you adjust and adapt the external form yet know you are doing it "right?"
Adam at Fly Like A Crow shares the dharma of being busy. It's a lovely piece, and here I will share the substance of a comment I left on that entry.
Seung Sahn used to say, if you’re too busy to follow a Zen Center schedule, and struggling even to find half an hour for sitting meditation, do “action zen.” He was suggesting that in the midst of running around, picking up the house after your toddler runs amok, commuting to work, taking your seat at the dinner table, and so on, it is all a chance to find center as when you sit for zazen, to breathe as you do in zazen, to notice whatever crap appears as you do in zazen, and simply do what needs to be done next. It doesn’t have to look like formal zazen every moment (as helpful and even enjoyable as that is).
Your practice doesn’t ever need to stop but at times it might have to change form for a while. Whenever there is an opportunity for instruction or re-instruction, even a one-day or a half-day retreat, seize it with gratitude. Those are opportunities to ground ourselves in the basics, so we can implement them in the midst of all the chaos and disorder.
Zorba referred to family and work life as "the complete disaster" or something like that -- we are training ourselves to practice in the midst of the complete disaster.
Meanwhile, over at Dangerous Harvests, Nathan wrote a beautiful post about keeping a correct relationship with our own "delinquent qualities."
putting on that rakusu is an act of transfiguring all of that, without any agenda. It's moves all of this, as well as anything I think is a wonderful or beneficial part of who I am, beyond good and bad, beyond needs of removing or enhancing.
When I came to practice, I had lots of personal problems and things I wanted to correct. At the time I was encouraged not to go in with some idea and try to reform myself in that image, but rather to examine that project itself. What was this new model and where did it come from? And who was going to do the "improving?"
So I would simply pay attention as I noticed myself stealing other people's time, weedling for certain kinds of attention, organizing certain priorities around gratification more than need, and more. I would watch my actions play out and notice how it affected other people. After a while, some of these things I just didn't want to do anymore, and I stopped doing them but it wasn't about being a "better person" or banishing my "bad" qualities. Something shifted, and that was enough.
That's still my personal practice. It's probably an unending process. In marriage, with such closeness to my wife and child, the ripples from what I do and what I am grasping are very clear.
None of this looks like Buddhist art, and it rarely feels like I am doing it right. But as Zen Master Dae Kwang reminded me once, when you're bouncing a basketball or practicing a shot, you're still playing basketball. There is integrity to practicing, to making an effort and paying attention, and honoring the bodhisattva vow no matter what form the effort takes. You might be sitting early in the morning in your P.J.'s or your undies. You might be finding your breath while standing on the subway. It happens where you are. It happens the way it happens.
If it doesn't look like Buddhism or feel like Buddhism, chuck it. Don't be a Buddhist. Just wake up. And thank you.