About a year ago, I had a conversation with someone, who was fairly upset with me. It was something that's come up dozens of times. I'll summarize the conversation, so that it hopefully makes sense and clarifies misunderstanding about the nature of Zen practice as I've experienced It. It went like this...
Questioner: Zen is just to meditate, and get enlightened. You're a zen monk, and you mess it up cause you get into these "Political" issues that has nothing to do with Zen practice. If you stopped you could help way more people.
Seiho: Who told you what Zen is?
Questioner: I'm not sure how to answer that. I got it from all over the place. I've sat with meditation groups a couple times. I've read a lot of books about it. I do YouTube and stuff, and they don't do what you do. You're really clear about Zen but when you drag this stuff in, I feel like it messes it up for people.
Seiho: Feel or think? Wow! I'm didn't know I was such a social-media influencer lol! Are you familiar with the Six Paramita's?
Questioner: No. Zen's just sitting which is why I like it. Zen doesn't do all the number stuff and lists that I can never really remember.
Seiho: Are you familiar with the Jukai vows?
Questioner: I read them in a sutra book but didn't give them a lot of thought, it's not like people seriously talk about them. They're kinda just there.
Seiho: Ahhh. So here it is. What you don't understand, you don't understand. In our culture we have a way of practicing a bastardized version of Zen, which makes it a very incomplete practice. It's not just about sitting pretzeled up. Practice is a kind of jigsaw puzzle. Without all the pieces the puzzle cannot and will not be completed. The "Number and lists," are practices that reflect a complete practice, rather than incomplete.
Paramita's means, practices that guide one to completeness... awakening from sleeping or being so deluded... or person who moves in harmony with life, instead of disharmony. The practices are Generosity of which there's three kinds. Material resources and support. Gifting of confidence and fearing-less rather than fearing more, and Dharma... the grace of one's experience rather than opinion or advice.
The second is ethical conduct. This is about cultivating a relationship with the Ten Precepts that support living in harmony with oneself and others. They are...
1) I promise to respect life. I will not kill.
2) I promise to be giving. I will not steal.
3) I promise to honor the body. I will not misuse sexuality.
4) I promise to manifest truth. I will not lie.
5) I promise to proceed clearly. I will not cloud the mind (with toxins physically, mentally or emotionally).
6) I promise to appreciate and value others. I will not gossip or engage in frivolous conversation.
7) I promise to realize self and other as one. I will not elevate myself and blame others.
8) I promise to give generously. I will not be withholding.
9) I promise to actualize harmony. I will not give way to anger.
10) I promise to experience the intimacy of treasures: Buddha (Universal Identity of Loving Presence), Dharma (Grace), and Sangha (Community and society as a whole). I will not defile or defame them
The third patience... to allow for transformational experience, rather than transacting our way through moments. The fourth is perseverance... to see things through with heart and integrity. The fifth is Joriki... one-pointed, undivided, stabilized my. And the sixth is Wisdom... to be in harmony with our intuitive nature and not just rely on our smarts. It's like having the smarts to do something, but wise enough not to do it, because we see how something could be misused.
All that said, are you still with me?
Questioner: Yes. I've never heard most of this stuff explained to me in this way.
Seiho: Caring about policing, poverty, housing, a caste system that has been dysfunctionally with us for thousands of years... addressing the stress and the harm of people... to helping to end suffering is the entire point of practice. If we come to completeness, and get our so called awakening, but leave others behind, or to suffer, to be excluded and not included in society in a caring and healthy way, we can't possibly be awake. There's a great sadness in my heart that people have not been taught or know the complete practice. On the other hand, I know other people, including myself that are doing everything we can to correct that.
Questioner: But it's still political.
Seiho: We've made policing political... we've made poverty, education, housing, food insecurity, healthcare political, because in our delusion, we've allowed untrained hearts and minds to turn things into what they're not... political, rather than about unconditional and mutual positive regard. And so this is a bodhisattva practice... not just blank sitting trying to get enlightened for oneself. You're free to practice that version of Zen, but that isn't the Zen of the Buddha. I won't stop you. But as I won't stop you, I will not allow you to stop me, from living out my responsibilities as a monk... to take care of the hearts and minds of the people.
Questioner: I gotta think about what you said. It's a lot to take in.
Seiho: I get that. But there is a much much much more simplified version of what I just shared with you.
Questioner: What's that?
Seiho: Examining the life of Shakyamuni Buddha, what I've noticed is his first, middle and final practice is Kindness... Just living kindness to the best of one's ability, moment to moment. All the other aspects I shared with you, are practices that lead us individually and collectively to profound kindness.
Question: Like I said, I never heard it put this way. It makes sense. I'll get back to you, after I've had time. I know I'll have more questions.
Seiho: And I will be here for you.
一We Are the Practice Itself