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A few years ago I remember reading words which meant something like this; If you practice it has to be a true practice, otherwise it is better not to practice at all. This was a statement that hit me very strongly.                                

If you read writings of Zen Master Dogen or Rinzai, in many places they stress that you should find a true Zen teacher for yourself. But how can one know who a true Zen teacher and what true practice is? For beginners, this is very difficult to discern. In contemporary times in this country there are so many Zen teachers, but only a few true genuine ones.     It seems that similar problems existed also in ancient days…

Certainly, coming from Poland where reading of works of Dogen or Rinzai was not my great fortune at that time, I did not know much about who might be a good or true teacher. My karma brought me to a place where there were some questions about it.                                                                                                                                                    If one practices deeply sooner or later one knows in one’s guts. But it was some powerful words of a friend, who was also a Zen teacher, who was kind enough to listen to me and said: Find a true Zen teacher for yourself!                  These turning words and the powerful assertion of my own feelings, was what led me to an action.

I cultivated a strong nen for a while, which brought me to a Zendo where the presence of Patriarchs of old is felt        and penetrates the air. It is a feeling which cannot be described…                                                                            

My practice is supported now by an incredibly strong and powerful tradition. To hear teishos and stories about the life of Nyogen Senzaki, Gempo Roshi or Soen Roshi is a treasure and gift. One feels supported by their effort. And the only thing I want to do is to bow, and bow,  and bow to all of them, to the Universe…                                         But most importantly, true practice opens up the possibility to go to the depths of one’s being, not even imagined otherwise. This is what  I have devoted my life to: Endless Practice, true practice.

Life and true practice goes on effortlessly… It is like a tree.            With proper nourishment of the earth, water, support of the sun and air, and by trimming unnecessary branches, a tree produces leafs and flowers that naturally open by themselves.

If one is lucky to have a true Zen Teacher and has honesty, patience, and a determination in practice, what appears to be impossible will happen.

 

Most Zen students in Zen Centers in this country are familiar with forms of practice such as zazen , sesshin,              and chanting, but there is one which due to cultural aspects has not been well received in the West; this is       takuhatsu, begging. This is truly regrettable…

Being independent seems to be a most cherished value here, and life for most is very comfortable with all things     and gadgets in one’s life. Yet I do notice that if someone’s car breaks, his or her entire day is a disaster and suddenly nothing can be done! Perhaps most people are not even aware how much they depend on others and how much their life is supported by others’ effort and the natural environment.

I remember my monk friend, who was sent to Japan to practice in Shogenji, wrote about his takuhatsu experience there. This was something he had never done before, nor had he ever experienced  in his life in the USA. Yet doing takuhatsu was very deeply transforming for him.

When I went to Bukkokuji I also witnessed takuhatsu days. Monks and laymen practitioners would dress up in robes, straw sandals and wear huge hats. The hats do cover their eyes, so they can only see down. They go on certain routes into villages with begging bowls or bags. Chanting in front of villagers’ houses, they wait for someone to come out.  Whether someone comes out or not, whether someone puts money, food, or a stone in one’s begging bowl, one should not judge and should be grateful for whatever comes. When someone is putting an offering into the bowl, monks       do not see the person, just their hands, giving hands.                                                                                                 This was something, my monk friend said, was so powerful; seeing these hands, giving hands, old hands, young hands.

Bukkokuji is a very old and small temple unlike the large training monasteries, but sesshins there are the most attended in Japan. I did hear the story that one day a young American Zen student wanted to donate a huge sum        of money to repair the temple, but Tangen Roshi did not accept it and did not see any reason for repairs. He never asked for money.                                                                                                                                                 Yet for the short time I was there, every single day I noticed villagers quickly sneaking into the Hondo so nobody would notice them, then leaving baskets with fresh vegetables in front of the altar. Some days there were so many things      on the altar that it looked totally overloaded with boxes of rice, cookies, and some other stuff.                                   And all the necessary food for thirty something residents came from begging.                                                          Where there is a harmonious Sangha practicing honestly, whatever is needed to support their practice seems to be provided in some miraculous way…

Begging can help one realize that there is a great interdependence among all forms of life, and that we should accept whatever comes with sincere and humble gratitude. Personally I feel very strongly about it, since my life appears to be constant begging. I consider myself an extremely independent person, in mind and heart and life, yet I have to ask for a lot of help. Living in a culture where this is not well accepted makes it even more true takuhatsu. Over the years my bowl has contained some stones, for which I am grateful too. There is perhaps no better way to learn about the human condition. Truly, karma arranged for me a life which is an opportunity to practice Zen in all aspects.                       How can I not be grateful for this?

However endless the Buddha’s way is, I vow to follow it.