using the arrow buttons.
by clicking on the page.
the page around when zoomed in by dragging it.
the zoom using the slider when zoomed-in.
by clicking on the zoomed-in page.
by entering text in the search field, and select "This Issue" or "All Issues"
by clicking on thumbnails to select pages, and then press the print button.
displays sections with thumbnails and descriptions.
displays a slider of thumbnails. Click on a page to jump.
allows you to browse the full archive.
about your subscription?
Lions Roar : January 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2011 66 down and lie flat like this when doing their full prostrations,” the priest with the Ken Wilbur glasses explained. that was the big lesson. But already Roshi was rising, and the two priests and nun scram- bling to help ease his rickety, tendon-trembling ascent. now he was going to show us how full bows before the altar and Buddha statue were done in the Zen tradition. Whatever. i was over this little les- son, mentally downshifting as i often do when i privately figure that my teacher is having a senior moment. i was studying the bloody end of a cuticle i’d been nervously gnawing all week when i looked up and saw my teacher staring straight at me—straight through me. he was at the top of the bowing mat, squared off in front of the altar, looking very samu- rai, his hands passing just over his heart, that invisible sword. Behind me was the Buddha statue he was ostensibly address- ing with his momentum-gathering gestures. he looked ever so slightly past me to it. and so i saw how he sees the Buddha. i have never been looked at this way in my entire life. it took me completely off guard. have you ever been fixed with a gaze of total love that was not a smile? he was, in fact, utterly expres- sionless. How do these zen masters do it? i thought. catch you so off guard with something so simple? i watched him find his balance at the top of the key; i watched him extend those tiny, withered hands, the fingerprints worn smooth, out in front of him; i watched him open his arms and widen them in a looping circle, hands meeting at the palms in a prayer gesture or gassho. “taking whoooooooooooole world into your arms. hugging whole world,” he said. for that’s exactly what he did. he took the whole universe into his frail gray arms and brought it back into his chest like a great samurai sheathing his sword, unlocking for me in a single phrase and motion what had for six years been a largely meaningless gesture, repeated by rote, day upon day. “turning Japanese”— aping the customs and rituals of a spiritual tradition so foreign to me—didn’t seem like such a bad thing now. Watching my teacher in action, it hit me all at once what a tremendous container the rituals and customs are for a truly enlightened mind, and what a profound opportunity they afford for a cathartic gathering and releasing of group anxieties and energies. “etai—etai!” Roshi suddenly cried, Japanese for ouch. a few simple movements. the result—utter agony. the wheelchair ap- peared behind him, and as he collapsed into it my heart sank along with him, for i finally realized what i had witnessed that evening: certain crucial aspects of a tradition—and so, a whole way of life—literally dying before my eyes. RinZai Zen CustOMs and rituals don’t come naturally to us Westerners, but in our sangha, our community of practitioners, we heartily participate in them because in the context of this great teacher and his powerful manifestation, they make sense. But what, i wondered, will happen to these customs and rituals when he’s gone? Will we have learned what’s really behind them, or have we just been blindly participating in them, riding on the coattails of our teacher’s understanding? i don’t think most of us will truly know the answer to this until he’s gone. a great teacher is what an old friend used to call a quality problem. sometimes it’s hard to get out from under his or her enlightenment and learn to think and practice for yourself. But we will all have to, and soon. When he sighs deeply and stares out his window, past the snow-capped mountain peaks, retreating deep within himself, Roshi looks like a great mythical animal who knows its time has come, and who must soon go off into the forest to die alone. his tenuous health is like a bubble shifting under a carpet: one day his blue-veined feet are swollen but his back is okay; the next, his sciatica is on fire but he “came out”—got unconstipated—that morning; then his eyes are dried out and his mucus is green, but his energy is genki—good, strong. Where his reach once extended to every aspect of sangha life, a gulf of responsibility now opens up behind him that we must fill. But the question on everyone’s noodle-slurping lips is how? Change a tradition and you change its meaning: this is how traditions die. But follow it to the letter and you become its slave: who wants to be a spiritual company man, a bean counter of the cloth? about a year ago Roshi got the flu, which can be lethal at his age. three of us bore him down a flight of stairs to the town Car, folded him into the front seat, and sped him to Cedars–sinai, where i and his attendant stayed with him for a week, sleeping on the floor and in chairs upholstered with, it seemed, large slabs of granite. i saw him naked for the first time. i helped him urinate and defecate. i spoke to nurses and doctors on his behalf, and he and i watched trashy medical dramas on the tv together. the standards of formality significantly lowered, and a new intimacy developed. We even joked around. “White rice, white flour, and white sugar,” he proudly stated when i asked him his secret to liv- ing a long life. he reminded me of how my grandmother said she used to feel as we braved icy parking lots to her favorite diners: newly game for life with this whippersnapper at her side. More important, watching Roshi in a non-monastic setting gave me new insight into just how seamlessly he had made the Zen tradition his own—and vice versa. an uneasy tension had always existed between my free-spirited self and the hyper-disci- plined, even militaristic conventions of formal Zen practice. But that week in the hospital i began to see that the proper relation- ship between an individual and a tradition is one of tension— healthy tension. this is what produces spiritual growth, both in the individual and the tradition itself: not the individual’s solo efforts nor the tradition’s overarching forms, but the two locked into a single struggle/dance, from which a new kind of person— and practice—emerges. With the full force of the tradition behind him, my teacher searched within himself (the “backward step,” as dogen called it) and eventually broke through, turning himself inside out and tak- ing the outside in. the tradition became personal and the personal universal. as the religious historian Karen armstrong has pointed