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Basic Forms We Follow

In our zen practice we have basic forms we follow. We bow when we enter the dharma room and before we sit down. We bow 108 times in the morning. We chant mantras and dharanis and sutras. We do seated meditation with our hands in a certain form. When we do walking meditation there is a certain way to do that. We approach and open the altar in a certain way. Almost every action in the dharma room has some form that we follow. Inevitably when someone comes to practice there are usually strong opinions about those forms – some positive – some not so positive. What is it about all that bowing anyway? And why chant? Why do this, why do that? One of our members said that he always felt the forms to be a way of keeping alive the practice of meditation itself – as though the forms were a kind of anchor. A lovely way to think about those forms. One of the books central to our particular zen school is “Elegant Failure” by Zen Master Wu Kwang. This particular book looks more deeply at some of the kong-ans used in our school, giving the history of the characters in the kong-ans and clarifying some of the language. Today, while reading through some favorite passages, something he wrote really struck me. “When you really face the fact that there is nowhere to go and no choice, then you enter your situation completely. Your mind does not keep saying, Well, maybe I’ll do this, maybe I’ll do that. There is no choice. There is only this moment, moment by moment by moment. And at that moment you can open to the simplicity of your being and of your connection with others.” When you enter the dharma room that is what you get to experience – no where to go and no choice. You enter a space, albeit self-imposed, in which you do not get a choice about what to do or not do. You simply follow the form and your reaction to the form lets you see your own particular karma. Some of us like chanting. Some of us like bowing. Some of us just want to sit. Some of us have problems bowing to the altar. But, regardless of our emotional reactions, we have no where to go and no choice. We just do it. And in that doing, we get to experience a microcosm of our life outside the dharma room. Everyday, we are confronted with situations in our lives that are hard or good or happy or sad. We cannot escape that. But what we learn in the dharma room during practice is this “just do it” mind. This is a mind of acceptance of the situation we are in. This is a mind of openness moment to moment of whatever life brings us.

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