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Buddhadharma : Summer 2015
44 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 2 0 1 5 o Just Bow Anyway Traditional ritual doesn’t always feel natural to us. And that’s all right, says shinshu roberts. ONE AFTERNOON in 1987, while attending a month-long retreat led by Dainin Katagiri Roshi at Hokyoji Monastery in Minnesota, I stood and watched Katagiri Roshi emerge from his cabin accompanied by two attendants. One attendant carried an umbrella in case of rain, and the second carried a stick of lit incense. We were about to have a buffet lunch served at picnic tables in the meadow between the zendo and kitchen. This little procession of three individuals walked down the path toward us, and then, upon reaching the altar outside the kitchen, Katagiri Roshi offered incense and we all chanted the meal chant. Katagiri Roshi and his attendants went through the buffet line first. One attendant carried his plate and the second served him his food, stopping at each dish to ask, “Roshi, would you like this?” before spooning it onto his plate. The two attendants continued to be attentive to Katagiri Roshi in this way throughout the meal. As I watched, I thought, “What’s up with this? Why are these people waiting on him?” I didn’t like that the teacher was being served by his students. It seemed servile. The next day, when we had a formal tea and discussion, I asked him about this dynamic. Roshi patiently put it this way: “The two students and I are like a three-legged stool. They have responsibilities to me and I have responsibilities to them. We cannot function without each other.” What I didn’t understand at the time is that a roshi’s attendants are senior practitioners. It takes skill to know when to come forward and when to step back. Like the stool’s legs, you must act in accordance with the teaching, the teacher, the other students, and the situation. This coordinated, self- less, and appropriate response is a sign of a mature practitioner. As an expression of the direct transmission of the dharma from student to teacher, we say “warm hand to warm hand.” This transmission happens exactly in the way that Katagiri Roshi explained. It happens within the container of form and ritual as everyday life. It happens within, and because of, our encounters with situations carefully crafted to bring forth our realization and our delusion. In the monastery, we silently bow, palm to palm, to each person we pass. Sometimes we are in a hurry or we are angry with someone, but we bow anyway. In this way we learn to let go of our resis- tance or to examine it a little closer. Bowing also frees us to be buddhas together with buddhas. We do not have to be social and make small talk. We can wear out the idea that what we are doing is spe- cial. It is just this—just this moment of acknowledg- ing another person in the mandala of our life and practice. Zen Master Dogen wrote in “The Realization Koan” (Genjo Koan), “To exert and verify myriad dharmas by carrying forth the self is illusion; to exert and verify the self while myriad dharmas come forth is enlightenment.” This perfectly expresses the value of ritual and form in our practice. The way we conduct ourselves in concert with others as we enact ritual practice educates us about the nature of realization. When we engage in a practice like bowing or serving, we must let go of our agenda and our small mind. In that moment, our practice and realization are not different. Yet it is inevitable that we will also get caught. We will resist bow- ing. Or we may feel critical about how others are practicing. We might puff up with pride at our per- formance or feel demoralized by a mistake. In each SHINSHu ROBeRTS is cofounder and teacher of Ocean Gate Zen Center in Capitola, California. Her book on Dogen’s Shobogenzo Uji is forthcoming from wisdom Publications in 2016. stevepalmisano