Temple of Peace

Adult practice: Part 5
Too much is not enough?!

"You don't have to behave like a baby too!"
My daughter Megumi was born in June, and since then I heard this remark quite a number of times from my wife. When a baby is born, sometimes its older siblings start to behave in a baby-like way to attract their mother's attention, which is directed towards the newborn. This starts to be a problem when the father, who should rather care for the baby himself too, is the one who becomes infantile and pretends to be a baby. It is especially a problem, when the father writes about "adult practice" every month in the shit paper. Does he try to pretend to be an adult, just to hide the fact that he really is just a baby himself? Maybe it is because he himself is still a baby that the infantile people around him bother him so much? Anyway, "adult practice" has to start with reflecting on ourselves, it seems.

Last month I was talking about "training" and "practice" and came to the conclusion that "adult practice" means to live as a buddha and bodhisattva - "practice" meaning "to live" while an "adult" is a "buddha and bodhisattva". In Japanese, the word "adult" is written with two Chinese characters which literally translate as a "great person". Usually they are pronounced "otona" in Japanese, but as a Buddhist technical term they are read "dainin". "Dainin" in fact happens to be a translation of the Sanskrit "mahasattva", which means nothing other than a "buddha and bodhisattva". In most countries, you are considered an adult when you turn 18 or 20 or 21, but how many of us can claim to be true adults, that means mahasattvas, just because we have reached that age? Even though we claim to practice what we call the "buddha way", too often we are only adults by age, while our practice is as childish as ever. So, what does it mean to be a true adult?

In the "Eight awarenesses of true adults" fascicle of the Shobogenzo, Dogen Zenji lists eight characteristics of a true adult. The first two are "small desire" and "knowing that one has enough".
When I was practicing as a monk in a Rinzai temple in Kyoto, one day our group could just not seem to get enough money on our daily begging round, so we wound up begging until we realized that we would not make it back to the temple in time for lunch. Being late is not an option in Rinzai Zen, so we had to use our money to hitch a ride in a taxi. The first question the driver asked was:
"Have you never heard of the first two characteristics of a true adult?"
"Of what?!", the leader of our group replied.
"I mean the truth that you will always have enough if you don't desire more than life at this precise moment has to offer to you. The more you try to get, the more you will suffer." - In Kyoto taxidrivers usually know more about Buddhism then Zen monks, who train there to get licences as "full fledged Zen priests".
"You talk to much", was all our leader could say. It seems he was no match for that driver.

But really, it is easy to say that "you will always have enough if you don't desire more than life at this precise moment has to offer to you." It is not so easy to realize and mainfest it in one's life, though. We never seem to get the satisfaction we are looking for. We can't never get what we want, and we can't even really get what we need, or at least that is how it seems to us. Or isn't "satisfaction" the absolute minimum that we expect from life? This, again, puts us in line with that big child that still wants "candy, toys and satori", we cry for happiness and satisfaction just like a baby cries for milk.

Zazen at Antaiji is good for nothing. You do not gain spiritually, and you do not get any pocket money either. You end up loosing - loosing ideas and ideologies, and you even end up spending your money buying things for the temple. As an unsui (monk practicing under the guidance of a master), I was not really worried about this. I was convinced that Zen practice is about loosing rather than gaining, and who would ever expect to get paid for Zazen? Begging during the winter break would usually yield enough money to pay for the health insurance (about 150 dollars a year) that covers 70% of hospital bills, although not enough money to pay for social security (about 120 dollars per month) without which you will have no support during old age. But isn't poverty a matter of course for a Zen monk, and how could we worry about our old age, when we should practice as if we had to die today?
Now, as the abbot of Antaiji, I still find myself without a personal income, and my perspective has changed: I have to take responisibilty for my wife and baby now. How am I supposed to provide for them? As an unsui, I could take time off during the winter to beg, now someone has to take care of the temple - which leaves almost no time for personal begging. As an unsui, a tooth brush and some underwear would be enough possesions, now a growing child demands more expenditures. What will happen when she starts to go to school? What about college? What happens when I die?
If I think about life in this way, it will be impossible for me to realize that I have enough with what life offers to me at this precise moment. Even if someone gave me a million dollars, I would still be worried about the future, about inflation, about thieves... I would never have enough. How childish!
I have to remember what I am here for: Adult practice. I made the decision to become a monk and practice at Antaiji, I agreed to become abbot, and I also married and had a baby out of my own will. What could I possibly complain about? Even without money, I and everyone in Antaiji have air to breath, water to drink, and whatever vegetables to eat that grow in the garden. Even though the harvest is poor this year, I never heard of anyone starving to death here. Dogen Zenji says that you have to be poor to practice the way. What better life than this could I be wishing for then?

Poverty of course does not mean only few material possesions. First of all, it means purity of mind. Sawaki Roshi says:
"If the glass of water in your mind is completely full, it will flow over when you receive more. You have to empty that glass of water - that means to throw away your personal ideas and ego attachments. Only thus can you develop an attitude that allows you to listen to and accept everything that your true teacher offers to you."
Adult practice starts with letting go off our egos. Without this attitude, we will never get what we want, because we can not listen, we can not accept the teaching, we see no instruction, we develop no faith in zazen, and after a couple of years of "practice" we will finally realize that we are just wasting our time - blaming it on others or on zazen, without seeing that it is the "glasses of water" in our own minds that are overflowing with ego-centered ideas. "Too much" is the reason for our never getting enough. To find real adult satisfaction, we do not need more - we have to lose more, let go off ourselves.

Maybe you have enough already, still I would like to continue to explore the world of an adult for a little bit more next month.

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