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Buddhadharma : Winter 2005
winter 2005| 14 |buddhadharma FRANKOlINSKY Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche makes this joke: “This ordinary mindfulness is not good enough – now I’m picking up a knife, now I’m stabbing this person, now I’m stabbing this person very carefully.” That kind of mindfulness is not helpful. Real mindfulness has a moral connotation of knowing or being aware that what one is doing is either virtuous or nonvirtuous. Knowing that this action of body, speech, and mind is going to produce some happiness now and in the future is the kind of mindfulness that we need – mindfulness mixed with an understanding of and faith in the law of cause and effect. from mandala magaZine (augusT/sePTemBer 2005). an american monK in Japan In the temples of Japan, Jiryu Mark Rutschman- Byler encounters intense commitment and a refresh- ingly literal – and physical – approach to Zen. I went to Japan because I wanted to get closer to the source of a tradition that I was finding myself increasingly connected and devoted to. Mixed in with my motivation was, I confess, a periodic feel- ing that the [San Francisco] Zen Center style had translated and adapted the tradition more than was necessary or even responsible. when com- paring our approach to that of the early Japanese Buddhists (who, I have heard, painstakingly cop- ied the Chinese style, to the extent that they even imported Chinese carpenters to build the temples for the first two hundred years or so), the charac- teristic American certainty with which we had rec- reated the tradition seemed careless to me. I looked back toward Japan to see for myself whether we were too quick in assuming that the transmission of Buddhism was complete. what I found in Japan was at the deepest lev- els no different from what I had been exposed to at Zen Center – it was as though the transmission was in fact seamless. The teachings on shikantaza, the inner diligence of nongrasping, releasing, and totally accepting all things as Buddha, just as they are, were fundamentally identical. The context and emphases of the teachings – the forms and energy of the approach – were, however, very dif- ferent. There was unequivocal monastic dedica- tion, a feeling of being at the pulsing heart of the timeless “Ancient way.” Zen seemed to be lived not with innovation, but just as the great ancestors had lived it. when I first arrived at Bukkokuji, where I wastospendayearofmytimeinJapan,Imeta monk whose hands and ears were deformed from the extreme winter cold of the unheated temple. His swollen, cracked hands and ears embodied for me the intense and total devotion I found there to the formal practice. In Zen classics like Shobogenzo Zuimonki, we read about detaching from our bodies; flinging ourselves into the pains and rigors of monastic life in an assembly under a single teacher; pursuing zazen exclusively; and living in radical simplicity and by takuhatsu beg- ging. when I met this monk whose commitment to temple life had physically damaged him, and who in spite of his seniority was ever a disciple and would never dream of teaching, it struck me that at Bukkokuji those ancient principles were being lived literally. I realized that I’d always added another layer to those kinds of teachings, spiritualizing or abstracting them onto a plane where they referred to my inner orientation more than to my physical life. I was refreshed and inspired by the literal understanding – it addressed my frustrations with Zen Center life, although eventually it became a source of frustration in its own right. I came to question the narrow and nar- rowing view behind it, and what seemed to me to be the adverse effects it could have in the minds and bodies of practitioners. It was hard to go from American Zen into Japanese Zen – it was like starting from zero. I was treated as though I had never heard a word of the dharma or sat a minute of zazen, and I couldn’t help feeling like that was true. whatever Zen per- sona I had cultivated at home was invalid – the roshi berated me for my poor posture, and the other monks, who it seemed to me were always sitting more than me, indulging less, and work- ing harder, either ignored me or offered their candid, scathing assessments of western Zen and western Zen teachers. Practice there was a great gift: I was a beginner again. No matter how much I progressed or learned, when I compared my own diligence and determination to that of the roshi and the many other practitioners there, any pride in my attainments would vanish, and I was left again in the fruitful, if uncomfortable, discourage- ment of the perpetual beginner. from sangha-e!, The online neWsleTTer of The san francisco Zen cenTer communiTy.