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Buddhadharma : Fall 2014
FALL 2 0 1 4 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 39 We also know that there are invisible pres- ences all around us. There are comedies, trag- edies, soap operas, rap music, and 911 calls in the room, but we can’t hear them if we don’t have the right receiver, such as a radio, computer, cell phone, or TV. The range of light and sound that our human bodies are able to perceive is quite narrow. It seems entirely possible that there are many unseen forms of existence surrounding us. Perhaps they dwell in other dimensions of space– time. Why not be humble and ask them for assis- tance? Our asking makes us a receiver, a vehicle through which they may be able to move and act. If our practice at Great Vow Monastery is any indication, prayer is alive and well in West- ern Zen. We hold chanting services four times a day in which the word “pray” comes up again and again. We pray for the well-being of a list of people who are ill and for serene transitions for those who have recently died. We pray that the world be free from violence, war, and disasters. We pray for assistance from all the enlightened and holy beings who have come before us. We express our deep gratitude to our dharma ances- tors and pray that their vows will be fulfilled through us. We pray to maintain steady practice up until the time of death and beyond. One chant begins, “Our deepest prayer is to be firm in our determination to give ourselves completely to the Buddha’s Way so that no doubts arise, however long the road seems to be” and ends with “Our further prayer is not to be extremely ill or to be suffering at the time of departure... so that we can quiet the mind to abandon the body and merge infinitely into the whole universe.” We pray with meals. We reflect with gratitude on all the beings whose life energy has flowed into the food in our bowls, sacrificed so that we might have more abundant life, and we pray that all beings will be as well nourished as we are. We pray to be able to turn obstacles into fuel for enlightenment. We pray to cultivate a mind like a lotus, growing pure and upright out of the muddy water of delusion. Before beginning our work, we pray that our labor will purify our hearts, benefit the earth, and help free all beings from suffering. We pray that we will cultivate, accomplish, and manifest the enlightened way together. We do not pray to a person or god named Buddha. We pray to the whole that gives rise to, and has agency through, the many. We pray that enlightened qualities become our continual way of living, bringing benefit to us and all we encounter. We direct metta toward our self, silently asking, “May I be free from fear and anxiety. May I be at ease. May I be happy.” Once we are replete, we turn those prayers toward oth- ers. We also recite vows, which are a kind of prayer-wrapped intention. “Beings are number- less, I vow to free them... The Buddha way is unsurpassable, I vow to become it.” In that act of vow we find humility, and in humility, we again enter prayer. Dainin Katagiri Roshi, in Returning to Silence, wrote, [F]inally you say, “Please.” Please make me simple. Please make me free. The moment that you call, saying “please,” is called Avaloki- teshvara. There is no subject who is calling and there is no object you are calling upon. Because the one who is calling upon something is simultaneously what one is looking for. That is Avalokiteshvara. The prayer is not directed at ourselves, yet we are the place where the prayer is answered. Our purest form of daily prayer is zazen. In zazen, the restless activity that separates us from everything-that-is settles. Boundaries dissolve and we become light and transparent, completely receptive. Heart and mind become clear and open. Then each breath is the sacred, original breath, moving across the face of the earth. Sound, light, and touch are the play of existence arising end- lessly out of emptiness. There is nothing lacking, nothing to ask for—except that everyone else be able to experience this perfect ease. When everything becomes a unified whole, how can there be anyone to pray to? Living in awareness of the continual gift, of the outpour- ing of all that exists, from the bottomless font of the unknowable—is that not a quiet and delicate form of prayer? Zen practice continually asks us to find ease in the tension of paradox. We have nothing to pray for or to, and we pray continuously—at the same time. We pray to no one, and we pray to and for everything. There is no sense to it, but this is our practice. As an elder teacher said recently after performing a long rain ritual dedicated to the well-being of plants, animals, and all living beings suffering from drought, fires, and famine, “This is like wise, foolish men filling a well with snow. It is meaningless, but we have to do it.” JAN CHOZEN BAYS ROSHI is co-abbot of Great Vow Zen Monastery in Clatskanie, Oregon. She is the author of Mindful Eating and How to Train a Wild Elephant. BRINKMANPHOTOGRAPHY