I may as well start with a bit of an introduction:
I'm studying to be a Zen priest in the Five Mountain Zen order. I'd taken 16 Precepts (or 10, depending on who's counting), originally at the San Francisco Zen Center with Dairyu Michael Wenger. I sat with a Soto group that was affiliated with SFZC originally called Elberon Zen Circle, which changed to Monmouth Zen Circle/Compassion Ocean Sangha. That would be Monmouth County, NJ, USA.
I moved to bucolic Mercer County, also in NJ, and although Trenton is in Mercer County, where I am really is bucolic. There were wild turkeys in the yard a coupe days ago. There are deer around constantly. I'm amazed. There are also turkey buzzards, which are honestly ugly as hell (not to pick and choose on an appearance level, but YEESH), and their presence indicates that some poor woodland creature has gone on to prove its impermanence. I continued to travel half-way across the Garden State (tomatoes mostly, it would seem) to MZC every week. I was Ino & Doan. (Ino was once described to me as the "Liturgical Bouncer" and the Doan, at least in my case, prepped the altar, rang the bells and so on during zazen and services). Kotatsu John Bailes travels down from Massachusetts once a month to conduct a one-day sesshin with them, and he's a fine teacher. He's the one that told me to read Red Pine's Heart Sutra & Diamond Sutra translation/commentaries, and once I had done so, I asked him some questions. I'm OK with paradox; I quite enjoy it in fact. But...
(If you've never read either of these prime Mahayana Sutras, please do so if you're inclined toward the Zen path. If you continue on the path, you probably will at some point, so enter the stream, with or without raft. The raft is only a metaphor, and so is the stream, so drowning is unlikely. Unless you want to talk about metaphorical drowning, in which case, yeah, you probably will. But that's OK).
So, Kotatsu asks me, "What does a Bodhisattva have to stand on?" My original response was, "One side of the river," as in the be the boatman to ferry the sentient beings to the other side, in that great Bodhisattva, "After you," way that Mahayana Buddhism is all about. Nope, not the answer. Eventually, somehow the Buddha came to me: "Nothing." I got the Dharma gold star, at least it felt like it at the time. That simple revelation opened everything wide. "All dharmas are no-dharmas" actually made sense, and not on some intellectual level. It just made sense, like daytime is bright, night-time is dark. Mr. Kotatsu, great teacher. He asked questions, and I had to find the answer. He pointed, and after being initially entranced with the finger, saw the moon. He provided the raft, pushed it away from the shore, and I had to figure out at first whether to paddle, then how to paddle, and then to stop thinking about paddling and GET ON WITH THE PADDLING. Metaphorically, of course.
So here I find myself in Mercer County and Kotatsu only comes down once a month, and driving across the state to sit a couple periods and do a bit of walking meditation wasn't enough at the time. Yes, clinging, craving, desire, dissatisfaction with the present moment, etc., etc. In a word, dukkha. In other words, no surprise. But that dukkha led to my stumbling upon Original Mind Zen Sangha, my current home. I didn't even use a search engine to find it; I was thumbing through a newspaper, and it caught my eye. I've been there in Princeton since Week Two.
But it was weird...they didn't face the wall. They walked counter-clockwise. They didn't do the Dogen-prescribed half-a-foot-length steps while walking. They didn't run back to their seats when walking was done. And they didn't use the Japanese words zafu, zabuton, zazen, kinhin, dokusan, etc. That's because it's not a Japanese-based Zen. In fact to be accurate, it's Seon (Korean Zen), but since this is the US, and everybody has heard of Zen and not Seon, we go with Zen. The Great American teacher is Seung Sahn, who came over from Korea in 1972 to spread the Dharma, and at least initially, to fix washing machines. Mighty weird stuff.
To top it off, OMZS did koans. Or kong-ans. Having been a shikantaza-sitting Soto guy for all those years, what did I know for kong-ans? I looked down on them, thought of them as mental masturbation, not Reality in and of itself. Note my switching between "we" and "they." "They" was then, "we" is now. (Fortunately there's no grammar-check, or it would have just exploded with laughter or pity). For all that I thought I "knew" about the Dharma, including that there is no-Dharma, I found myself in a quandary of dualism. Just sitting good, koans bad. Facing walls good, facing forward bad. Clockwise good, counter-clockwise bad. Well, maybe not bad, just heretical.
So now here I am, studying in an M.Div program at Buddha Dharma University, which the Five Mountain Order runs. I'm working on freaking kong-ans. Due to space reasons, I sit with my back to the wall, facing out. And Andre Doshim Halaw, the priest at OMZS, is naming me Abbot. Go figure. We're adding another night of meditation at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Princeton, in addition to the one we have on Sunday.
Since Zen is all about seeing one's True Nature, tearing away the veils of delusion that prevent us from realizing our own Buddha-Nature, I'll sum this up thus:
Can't wait to see what else I don't know! I think Sung Sahn might approve of that. But WHAT THE HELL DO I KNOW?!?