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Lions Roar : March 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2009 46 volume of which darkens my mind in a long, dense shadow of never-ending mundaneness. What about me? i always think and often say. What about what i want to do? There is an hour every day when i most des- perately want to leave home. and the thing is, i should. My Zen teachers always tell me that this is the best way to take care of my family: to leave. but as i gather my robes, pack my towel and toiletries, scribble instructions and secure the back- ups and surrogates, load up the refrigerator, empty the hampers, call in the favors, anticipate every what-if, as i ready myself for a day, a weekend, or a week away in a practice retreat, it can seem so completely otherwise. My family needs me, i argue with my- self. how will they possibly manage when i am so vital to their smooth functioning? To their very life? The arguments are obvi- ous, at least to me, and so convincing that i rarely notice that i’m the only one arguing. My family is always fine, whether i’m at one place or another. but with practice, i see it, instead of seeing only the long, dense shadow of my ego. i hear it, instead of hearing only the noisy drone of my internal arguments. Those of us with families practice on this balancing point: wobbling between the should and the could, the can and the can’t, the leave and the stay, the home and the monastery. What a waste! What a misery! The life we have is always the only life there is. The question is never where will we go, but how will we live and whom will we serve? The stubborn inclination is to serve ourselves, and so we usu- ally do. We do it even in our understanding of the teaching. bud- dhist literature is full of the seeming opposition between the householder, or layperson, and the home leaver, or renunciate. The danger in making interpretations from what we read, rather from our own experience, is that we take the words either too literally or not literally enough. Those of us on the householder side of this dualism might use our lifestyle choice as a self-lim- iting excuse, a reason to exclude ourselves from making the full commitment to and realizing the full benefit of an everyday, liv- ing practice. Thinking that way only cheats us, and our families, out of certain joy and freedom. i encourage you to open your eyes to the wondrous truth and immediacy of buddha’s teachings in your family life. To hear your child’s whine, your dog’s bark, and your partner’s snore as the temple bell hastening you to a life of selfless service both on and off the cushion. To no longer separate the life of a house- holder from the life of a home leaver or separate yourself from the life before you. but i’ll warn you: it takes practice. Without practice, you may well have buddhism in your home, and a lot of it. but there will never be a buddha in your world until you leave your egocentric home for good. For the home we must leave be- hind, so we can care for our family and all others, is the home we have made of ego. The ancient rules of monastic life are designed to help us do precisely this, and their principles can be incorpo- rated into family life too. but the question remains: where in a monastic tradition can the modern parent find specific teaching and practical insight for managing home life? The answer is given to us: by never leaving the monastery. Wherever we are, when we quiet our ego- centric mind and return to a state of undistracted awareness, we have entered the monastery. There is no reason this awareness cannot be cultivated in our own home with diligent, daily prac- tice. There is no reason we can’t carry this awakened state with us, into the seamless and fluid movement of household activity. reason alone is the reason we don’t. it is popular to think of parenthood itself as a practice, and be- cause our children relentlessly challenge our dominating author- ity, ramming headfirst into our dictates, parenthood certainly is a practice. but too often we use parenthood to rationalize the absence of any other practice. That is a mistake. Without the steadying foundation of a meditation routine, ideally supported by regular participation with a sangha and teacher, the practice of parenthood quickly degenerates into the mere practice of an egomaniac. Why? because i said so! (My ego proves its menace to me all the time.) When Zen patriarch Dogen opened the remote eiheiji (eternal Peace) Monastery in the thirteenth century, he set down instruc- tions by which monks should live and work together. Through the precision of his enlightened words instructing how to wash one’s face, sew, and cook—as well as run the zendo—we can see that no one activity is more important than another, no more sanctified or spiritual. not one aspect of our lives is outside the path or beyond the Way. You should quietly engage in the sustained practice of “not leaving the monastery.” in my Zen tradition, the lineage of the late Taizan Maezumi roshi, we have the rare opportunity to practice in what some might deride as an anachronistic form. our retreats closely fol- Wherever we are, when we quiet our egocentric mind and return to a state of undistracted awareness, we have entered the monastery.