Tag: buddhism

Some thoughts after jukai

Jukai is the Japanese word for the zen ceremony of “taking the precepts”. Basically you vow to take sixteen precepts seriously in your life after some time meditating with each of them. And on the surface they’re kind of weird and dumb. Do not kill. Do not lie. Do good. Why would anyone care to devote so much time and energy to these basic and obviously good things and what does that have to do with zen?

Central to my commitment and enjoyment of zen is the notion that there’s nowhere to run, nowhere to actually escape the demands, responsibilities, and bullshit of life. Meditation is meant to bring you here–in all its complexity and regardless of circumstances. Bowing and chanting too. Part of jukai is sewing a complicated bib, called a rakusu, by hand. There’s you and you’re sewing a rakusu. For hours. You don’t pay anyone else to do it, no prayers will whisk away your frustration at your lack of skill, and sewing it drunk will not make it more fun.

So taking up these confusing and vague statements during meditation is a great way to watch yourself squirm under moral imperatives. Should we do good? Of course! How do we do good? That’s a much messier, much uglier answer.

Zen is also constantly pointing to the deep intimacy of our relationship to everything. Taking the precept of not stealing reminds us that we’re on stolen land. Taking the precept of not misusing sex reminds us of all the terrible violence against women only now coming to the mainstream. Taking the precept of not killing reminds us that the apparent agency and safety of some relies on the exploitation and murder of brown and black bodies. Whether we like it or not we’re deeply implicated in all of this.

So taking these vows and being part of a community that is dedicated to both exploring and holding others accountable to these precepts is a great privilege. Let’s get to work.

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Here is a nice little article at No Zen in the West about the tension between the personal and communal aspects of buddhist practice and how they play into the political sphere. I’ve observed a dangerous inclination for some zen practitioners to be sort of new-agey and have a hands off approach to politics and this article speaks to it well.

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From this article: “The dharma is not an excuse to turn away from the suffering of the world, nor is it a sedative to get us comfortably through painful times. It is a powerful teaching that frees and strengthens us to work diligently for the liberation of beings from suffering.”

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Song of the Grass-Roof Hermitage
— By Shitou Xiqian (700-790)

I’ve built a grass hut where there’s nothing of value.
After eating, I relax and enjoy a nap.
When it was completed, fresh weeds appeared.
Now it’s been lived in – covered by weeds.

The person in the hut lives here calmly,
Not stuck to inside, outside, or in between.
Places worldly people live, he doesn’t live.
Realms worldly people love, he doesn’t love.

Though the hut is small, it includes the entire world.
In ten square feet, an old man illumines forms and their nature.
A Great Vehicle bodhisattva trusts without doubt.
The middling or lowly can’t help wondering;
Will this hut perish or not?

Perishable or not, the original master is present,
not dwelling south or north, east or west.
Firmly based on steadiness, it can’t be surpassed.
A shining window below the green pines —
Jade palaces or vermilion towers can’t compare with it.

Just sitting with head covered, all things are at rest.
Thus, this mountain monk doesn’t understand at all.
Living here he no longer works to get free.
Who would proudly arrange seats, trying to entice guests?

Turn around the light to shine within, then just return.
The vast inconceivable source can’t be faced or turned away from.
Meet the ancestral teachers, be familiar with their instruction,
Bind grasses to build a hut, and don’t give up.

Let go of hundreds of years and relax completely.
Open your hands and walk, innocent.
Thousands of words, myriad interpretations,
Are only to free you from obstructions.
If you want to know the undying person in the hut,
Don’t separate from this skin bag here and now.

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“What are you looking for in these lands of dependent transformation? The Buddha-Dharma is just so much waste paper to wipe off privy filth. The Buddha is a phantom body, the ancestors just old monks. The true Buddha has no figure, the true Dharma no form. All you are doing is devising models and patterns out of phantoms.” –Lin Chi, Zen Master from 9th Century China

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