Thursday, March 18, 2010

Correct and Incorrect Lives

We closed our class on the Diamond Sutra last night at the zen center. I always find the end of a practice period a little bitter-sweet. You've worked hard a as a group, meditating, studying, examining the messes of your lives, and celebrating the joys - and then it's done. For now. And for the particular group involved, at that time and place, it's done forever.

Even though I've been ranting a blue streak lately about various issues in what I'm now going to term "Global North" convert Buddhism, including barely examined race and class biases, as well as the struggle to attract lots of younger folks, today I want to express deep gratitude for my home sangha, Clouds in Water.

We have these student talks as a part of each core practice period class, a wonderful opportunity to learn from each other and also prepare something to share with each other. I spoke about a passage from Chapter 6 of the Diamond Sutra last week, which I also wrote about in this post. The week before that, a dharma sister of mine spoke about another section of the sutra, and then gave heartfelt talk about fear and fearlessness, concluding that fear itself often is the very ingredient we need to cultivate fearlessness. And last night, another sangha member, who has been around awhile, but often hanging about on the edge, gave an impassioned exposition on the levels of space present within our own zendo.

A trained architect, he led us through the physical space, speaking of how the towering pillars of our old warehouse building were both powerfully upholding the emptiness of the space for us, and also are still alive in every crack and split present.

He then spoke of the social space present, how the way we set up the cushions, the alter, the screens, and even the unused materials speaks to how we function socially within it. He pointed to the visible and invisible boundaries between each zabuton, and also how those reserved for the teacher or teachers were set apart, the distance between them and the rest denoting a basic respect and reverence for the teacher's seat. He also spoke of how the alter, cushions, and everything else points to "correct" ways to engage, and "incorrect" ways to engage the space.

It was really funny listening to him speak of all this as he stood on one side of the room, clearly in an "incorrect" place. Correct and incorrect here are not about right and wrong, really, but more about how one fits into the flow, or blocks it. This, to me, is an important distinction to make in our lives. There are times when one needs to be in "an incorrect" place, to act in "an incorrect" way, in order to provide a block visible enough to jar people out of their collective sleep and/or madness.

Ne finally spoke of the spiritual space present in the zendo, and how the other two uphold that final one, which is not really describable in words. It's more than a feeling, I'd also say, but I know that every time I step into the zendo, I can feel the heartbeat of meditation practice past, present, and future. There is no denying it's presence once you are open to it.

One of the great values of sangha, as I see it, is the ability to experience different shades of light flashed upon the same teaching. You hear the teacher's wisdom. You hear the wisdom of your fellow students. You also hear the ways in which everyone struggles, is muddled, is overly confident or overly timid. It's a constant reminder that there is no single path to awakening - that each of us moves through the world in slightly or greatly differing ways. And that is beautiful, and also a great vehicle for cracking through our dukkha (suffering).

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