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Buddhadharma : Fall 2010
BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY FALL 2 0 10 96 Way of the Weeds Y ou have-a to cut the grass-a,” said my Italian friend, translating the instructions of the work leader. She pointed to a field of grass and handed me a pair of small garden scissors. Fire ripped up and down my spine at the thought of bend- ing for the next two hours, cutting endless blades of grass. I had chosen to be here, at this Soto Zen temple near the small town of Fidenza in northern Italy, but now I wanted nothing more than to escape. I had spent three years practicing under Seisen Roshi at the Sweetwater Zen Center in San Diego before my husband’s work resulted in our family moving overseas to Naples, where I was happy to discover a small Soto Zen community. Though we came from different lineages, when I showed them my rakusu we immediately bonded like family. With no teacher in Naples, the group took several trips a year to the Fudenji Temple to participate in sesshins and receive dharma teachings from Maestro Guareschi. I eagerly agreed to come along, especially after surfing the Fudenji website and admiring the photographs of a serene temple surrounded by acres of forest and farmland. We left Naples for a nine-hour car ride to the Fudenji Temple, where we would spend the weekend. Only after I had arrived did I learn that this particular sesshin was devoted to work practice—samu. “Samu!” I cried. For me, sesshin was about zazen. Back in San Diego, I had often found excuses not to participate when a work period began, or at the very least I had counted down the minutes until it was over. Now I was stuck with six hours of intensive samu each day, mostly doing yard work on the temple’s vast grounds. When my friend handed me the scissors, the work leader said, “Vieni qua.” (“Come here.”) I followed her not to the sprawl of grass, but to a small patch of weeds behind a yurt. “Ah-ha,” I sighed, relaxing as I realized the task before me was just this patch, not endless grass. Work that only minutes ago had made me gripe now looked easy. I stooped over and began, my eyes always focused on the very last weed at the end of the patch. But when I finished, the work leader assigned me another patch...and then another. I weeded the Japanese rock garden. I cut tall grass growing around a line of plants. I carried boxes of clippings across a field to an area where debris was burned. The practitioners at the Fudenji Temple adhered to strict Japanese form and ritual. The day began at 4:55 a.m. with the sound of a rattling bell that called me up from my sleeping bag and into the zendo for zazen. The monks emphasized the importance of every movement, giving lessons on how to brush one’s teeth without disturbing others, on how to walk along the halls staying to the left, and on how to hold the sutra book at eye level during the ceremonies. Our meals were served in oryoki bowls, each movement of the spoon and bowls ritual- ized. In charming Italian fashion, the monks also set aside two half-hour periods for café. A dharma talk concluded the day at 8:30 p.m. Maestro Guareschi explained why being attentive to our every movement was important. “The process of our practice is in fact our goal,” he said. “That process never dies, nor is it ever born.” But this attention to detail and the rigorous samu schedule made me grumble most of the weekend. My back ached. My arms itched from mosquito bites. By the end of the second day, I had pulled weeds along steps that climbed up a steep hill and noticed that more weeds awaited me at the top. Even worse, leaves were falling across the stairs that I had already cleared. I hadn’t started anything and I wasn’t going to fin- ish anything. These weeds were endless. This work was end- less. I stopped weeding with the intention of accomplishing anything—I simply weeded. This was my life, I thought. My samu at the Fudenji Temple mirrored my daily activities at home. My work in the office, with my children, and my household duties had no beginning and no end. At that very moment, I stopped being separate from the task at hand. My striving, my illusion that I could begin or finish anything in my life, evaporated. Upon returning to Naples I vowed never to grumble about samu again. But I probably will. The grumble, however, will now contain a spice of appreciation. Because samu has no beginning and no end—it is simply my everyday life. BARBARA ZARAGOZA is an American living in Naples, Italy. She has practiced with Italian Zen Buddhists and for the last two years she has also been the Buddhist Lay Leader facilitating a meditation group on the American naval base where she lives. Journeys By Barbara Zaragoza ILLUSTRATION KIM SCAFURO