Our second post, in the series “Every Morning”, is a reflection on Buddhist training, by Mo Henderson. In it, she reminds us that “Every morning is an opportunity to begin to see again and to trust what is actually happening naturally.” Thank you, Mo!
Beginning daily life
‘When I was at Eiheiji monastery, my life was really perfect because all the 120 monks practised according to a schedule. We got up at 2:00 a.m. and went to zazen. Even though we felt sleepy, we just went to practice. There was nothing to bother me, and every day my life was just like organic energy, going perfectly.
But after three years I went back to my small temple. Immediately my situation was completely different. My temple was at the foot of the mountains, far from the village. Just a cat and the old priest were there. I had to do many things: wash clothes, fix the meals, doing everything by myself. It was completely opposite from life in the monastery. My life became very busy, just like a business. There was always something to do. Time was haunting me. Everyday life was always haunting me, and I was very confused. So even though I understood zazen in the monastery, it was not good enough. There were still lots of things I didn’t know.
Daigen Katagiri-Each Moment Is the Universe
Someone in a social media group I belong to gave reference recently to Dainin Katagiri’s experience (above) at Eiheiji monastery and, although very different, it triggered memories of my own experience as a lay person on retreat at Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey in Northumberland.
I first attended Throssel in the late 1970s and received instruction and guidance on how to practice sitting meditation (Zazen). Over the years I have attended many more retreats, the longest being 3 months. When on retreat I was so well looked after and joining the community brought a sense of belonging, with warmth, hot meals, showers and good nutrition, all within a daily schedule, which included meditation periods, dharma talks and discussion. There was nothing to be responsible for apart from my own attention to following the schedule. The sitting meditation periods seemed to come and go with ease and, after a few days, I began to feel a ‘flow’ which seemed to bring everything together as it naturally is. I began to be more aware of those around me and of what needs to be done as a community.
In the early days going home was quite a culture shock! I was immediately confronted with all the different identities most of us experience in our daily lives. Being a mother, wife, daughter, sister, employee and now Buddhist lay person, how was I going to make time to develop a suitable schedule of continuing practice and to fit it all in?
Early attempts were without success, only the weekly meditation group brought respite from a totally busy daily life. I remember thinking I was a total failure and needed to try harder, why couldn’t I be like ‘others’ who seemed to be much more successful than myself? How on earth did they manage to get time to themselves? Gone was the ‘flow’ of life I had experienced at the monastery.
After battling for what seemed forever, I realised I had a habit of dividing myself into parts, I was viewing all the different roles in my life as separate entities, one part being a mother, another being a wife, and so on, not to mention work, gardening, pet care etc..etc. No wonder I felt exhausted and unsuccessful in time management. At the monastery I had learned an important lesson in living a wholesome life, I eventually realised the schedule was geared to help me let go of being attached to what I was doing and to continually let go, change and move on to the next event.
Every morning we had early sitting meditation and events changed throughout the day, until tea and quiet time last thing in the evening. I believe the ‘flow’ of life I experienced was due to just simply having the opportunity to be there wholeheartedly without distraction, allowing everything to unfold, without me choosing to identify myself with any particular role. Could the busy lay life I had at home unfold in this way?
I very slowly discovered this may be possible, without needing to stick to a set schedule and without thinking I owned my own time. While on the one hand, it was good to have a plan, on the other hand, I needed to be flexible within that. In my view, acceptance of what actually happens each day is essential and the time devoted to things and others is not ‘my’ time, it’s just the continual practice of being with daily life. This involves paying attention to whatever arises. The roles I had were still the same, but somehow they didn’t feel as apart from each other.
Sometimes I feel the ‘flow’ of energy in a wholesome way and other times I can get distracted. Being part of a sangha community is always a reminder for me to continue practice in daily life and to remember not to neglect the formal sitting meditation, which, I believe is fundamental to being still and aware in order to see and trust life and to know that truth embraces everything. Looking around me, I believe I can begin to see the wider sangha, friends, neighbours, animals, and nature more clearly and learn from them too. Every morning is an opportunity to begin to see again and to trust what is actually happening naturally.
‘When we teach and enlighten things by ourselves, we are deluded.
When all things teach and enlighten us, we are enlightened’.