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Buddhadharma : Fall 2009
19 fall 2 00 9 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly In her journey, Alice experiences all sorts of wondrous things and has conversations with extraordinary characters. She meets talking cards, flamingos that are mallets, a bloodthirsty queen, and a disappearing cat. This world—which Alice finds so unfamiliar, unpre- dictable, and outrageous—is Wonderland. In our own lives, wonder is easily misplaced or lost. We forget that this vast unknowable world and our own lives can never be reduced to polite logic. In the Diamond Sutra, the Bud- dha says, “This world is not a world; and so is provisionally called a world.” Our conclusions and concepts cover the truth of our world. Peeling the crust off our old concept of the world is a journey, a joy, and a practice. Like Alice, we can all find a way that is wondrously lost, that has heart, and that rings true. The Buddha spoke a lot about “the other shore,” a place where illusions fall away and we can see the world clearly. In Zen practice, at the end of the Heart Sutra we chant: “Gone to the other shore: gone, gone to the other shore.” It’s the realm where body and mind fall away and we see that we’re one with every- thing. The other shore has often been thought of as elsewhere, in the future, both historically and in our lives. Many of us want to get there and concoct schemes and plans for reaching it. But it is nothing other than this moment, this life, this death—this Wonderland. If we search persistently and are lucky enough to stumble upon our rabbit hole, we may discover our own Wonderland right under our noses, where it has always been. FRoM woNderlaNd: the ZeN of alice, FoRTHCoMING FRoM PARALLAx PRESS, oCToBER 2009 What CErEmony tEaChEs us The ceremonial forms of Japanese Zen might feel awkward and inconvenient, says Ben Howard, but they are a powerful practice. In the Rinzai Zen tradition, the first interview between student and teacher is an auspicious formal occasion. The required attire includes not only a robe but the white booties known as tabi, which cover the feet and ankles. Tabi are fastened with hooks and eyes located on the inside of the ankle. For Westerners they are difficult to manage, even on the best of days. On the morning of my own first inter- view with Jiro Osho Fernando Afable at Dai Bosatsu Zendo, a for- mal Rinzai monastery, I forgot all about my tabi. They were nestled like sleeping rabbits in the sleeves of my robe. As I pre- pared to leave for my interview, a sen- ior monk noticed my oversight. He gestured sternly toward my feet, and I took his point. Unfortunately, there are no chairs in a Jap- anese zendo. Rather than hunker on a cush- ion, I stood (and at one point hopped) on one foot, then the other, as I struggled to put on my tabi, nearly falling over. Meanwhile, the senior monk was summoning every bit of his Zen discipline to keep a straight face. Embarrassing though it was, my awk- wardness was not unusual. Ceremonial forms abound in Japanese Zen, and to the uninitiated Westerner they often feel as alien as they are compelling. From the relatively simple protocol known as jukai, in which a lay practitioner “receives the precepts,” to the high theater of shitsugo, in which a sea- soned priest receives the title of roshi, public ceremonies acknowledge the practitioner’s deepening insight. And even on ordinary days, when nothing special is being recog- nized, celebrated, or commemorated, a sense of ceremony permeates the zendo. It can be seen in the bows and heard in the bells. It can be smelled in the incense. For the Western lay practitioner, this pervasive atmosphere of ceremony presents a challenge to the skeptical mind as well as the reluctant body. How much Asian ceremony should be included in a West- ern lay practice? How much is essential? In addressing those questions, it is impor- tant to remember that Asian ceremonial forms, as used in Zen, exist primarily to support the practice of mindfulness. Press- ing the palms together and bowing to one’s teacher, for example, is a way of expressing gratitude and respect. But it is also a way of knowing that one is expressing gratitude and respect, and a way of cultivating those states of mind. For those prepared to embrace them, the bows, chants, prostrations, and other ele- ments of traditional Zen can become as inte- gral to the practice as awareness of breath and posture. FRoM oNe time, oNe meetiNg, A BIWEEKLy oNLINE CoLUMN oN THE PRACTICE oF ZEN MEDITATIoN By BEN HoWARD (PRACTICEoFZEN.WoRDPRESS.CoM) kIMSCAFURO