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Buddhadharma : Spring 2008
buddhadharma| 9 |spring 2008 the perfect hot tuB Kenneth Tanaka recalls a traditional story that highlights the main differences between Jodo Shin- shu and other schools of Buddhism. Once upon a time in a small village, there were two Buddhist temples, one monastic and the other Jodo shinshu. the tiny village of some sixty families could no longer afford to support both temples. the villagers had to choose one and aban- don the other. they decided to hold a contest to see which of the two temple heads, the monk or the Jodo shinshu priest, was more fit to be their spiritual leader. When the day of the contest came, a large group of villagers gathered in the village plaza where they had set up a large vat of boiling water. they asked the two, “What will you do with this?” the monk stepped forward first. He was tall and well built as a result of the long, hard training required by his school. He stepped up to the vat with confidence and slowly lowered himself into the boiling water. the head-shaven monk recited the sacred mantras and performed mudra (ritual hand gestures) and focused his mind. It was an impressive sight. the boiling water did not seem to bother the monk at all as he calmly dipped all the way in until his shoulders were completely immersed. the villagers looked on in awe as the monk stepped out of the cauldron, without any visible signs of having been harmed. now it was the Jodo shinshu priest’s turn. He turned to the villagers and asked them to bring several large wooden tubs filled halfway with cold water. the villagers thought this was a strange request, but they did as he asked. as the tubs arrived, the shinshu priest began pouring hot water from the vat into the tubs to make them lukewarm. He then said, “this is perfect for a hot- tub dip! But it’s a waste for me to enjoy this all by myself. Won’t you all join me and enjoy this tub?” many villagers did join the shinshu priest. as the villagers began to appreciate the warm water and the camaraderie, some even began to sing! they had a great time. the villagers were impressed with the monk’s extraordinary abilities, but wondered what would happen after he died. His personal accomplish- ments and training would be of little use once he was gone. On the other hand, the Jodo shinshu priest showed no special abilities. He seemed like one of them, yet he lived by the ideals of sharing, humility, and finding joy in doing ordinary things. this teaching could be practiced by every villager and would live on beyond the priest’s lifetime. so the villagers decided in favor of... Well, I shall leave the conclusion to your imagination. From “The inDiViDual in relaTion To The sangha in american BuDDhism,” BY kenneTh k. Tanaka. puBlisheD in Buddhist-Christian studies, Volume 27, 2007. seeing in the dark That dark place where we feel lost and vulnerable, says Soto lay teacher Laura Burges, is the heart of Buddhist practice. no one wakes up in the morning and says, “It’s a beautiful day. I think I’ll go practice Zen Bud- dhism.” most of us come to practice after some life-changing event that calls into question many of our previous beliefs. Often this event is a loss, a disappointment, or something we perceive as a personal failure. We may turn to practice believing that it will somehow cure us of this sense of loss, heal this regret, ease this sense of failure. practice is coming home to our own true nature, coming back to our own breath, and this is a realm beyond success and failure. Our practice awakens when we no longer turn away from the darkness, from this soft heart of sadness that comes along with our transitory human life. friends die, children grow up and move away, those we love let us down. sometimes we feel mad or sad or incomplete. sometimes we meet with success, sometimes with failure. But we can stay in the soft heart of practice instead of trying to fix it or make it all better. the great american poet theodore roethke wrote, “In a dark time, the eye begins to see.” this dark place where we feel lost, where we feel vulnerable, can be the heart of practice, the place where we begin to see. Our intimacy with this soft illustrations By sErgE Block first thoughts