Attending the Temple

This text was first published in The Diamond Sword, a collection of talks by Kongo Roshi, Zen Buddhist Temple of Chicago, first edition 1987, second edition 1992, pp 1-4

I would like all of you to make note of your attitude right now, of the general atmosphere - the air, the tome that you feel in a group setting such as this. This is the value of coming to a Temple. Often people ask me if I think it is necessary to come to the Temple. After all, isn't practicing zazen (Zen meditation) at home adequate? Sure, anything is adequate. But
there are two sides to every coin, and adequate is just adequate.

Anyway, you come to the Temple. This is the testing place. Understand though: we are not testing you; you are testing yourself. It is an entirely different matter from sitting at home where you may jump up to answer the telephone, jump up to go to the john, jump up to make yourself a cup of coffee, or feel free to twist, scratch, or belch. No, we don't do that in
public. That is common sense. So to sit with others affords us an excellent opportunity to cultivate the art of sitting with refinement. To paraphrase Dogen Zenji, this is the silent sermon of zazen.

Zazen is a serious matter and should be approached as such; otherwise you become too slack in your practice and then wonder why there is no progress. In the study of the many modes of practice in Buddhism, zazen remains primary. Zazen is the ultimate method handed down from Shakyamuni (the historical Buddha, 566-486 BC) to you over thousands of years until now with
no change - it's an intangible, heart to heart transmission: beyond word, beyond writing, beyond thought. You can't find it in the pages of a book - only in your heart.

The Genjo Koan, the ultimate koan which we all must face, is "What is life all about?" and the ultimate answer is "Look inside!" You won't find it outside. If you want to find that out the hard way, this is your prerogative. Zazen is the easy way, the easy practice, but paradoxically it is difficult. It is hard to find the time. But it is a matter of priorites, right? You pay your money and you make your choice. You say that you don't have time for everything; you're very busy. Then, something else must go; that's all. There are no options available, period. That is, if the intelligence of zazen makes sense to you. If it doesn't, then "keep on walking." But if it does make sense, then jump in with both feet and don't look back over your shoulder. If zazen makes sense to you as a spiritual training method, and you sense this either intuitively or as the result of your own hard work, you will come to know the value of zazen. So, continue practicing assiduously. Don't slop around with a kind of "hit and miss approach": once, twice this week, three times next week, a half hour today, an hour tomorrow. Practice. Practice daily. It is really amazing how much dead time we have on our hands, so enliven that dead time and continue sitting, continue sitting. We should strive for sincerity and constancy in our practice.

Don't concern yourself so much about reading. We read entirely too much, and because time is such a precious commodity, put it to use in zazen. And, anyway, you are reading the remnants. Somebody forgot to flush the spiritual toilet. What you are reading is what somebody else left behind for you. They are walking away; they are moving on. So we are going to devour these words and become enlightened. This is spiritual garbage picking. In zazen you learn to read your own book!

And there is another word - enlightenment. Spit it out of your mouth. Gargle, brush your teeth, if you have to, but get rid of it. Better yet, put a finger down your throat and vomit it up. Enlightenment is intrinsic; it is a quality of being. Dogen Zenji (1200-1253), the founder of our Soto Zen sect, always emphasized that zazen and enlightenment are one and the same. Enlightenment is manifest through the sitting practice.

This seated meditation that we are practicing today is the practice of enlightenment. This practice, which is almost three thousand years old, is coming down right into your lap. So don't look anywhere. Don't seek anything. Try practicing zazen purely, truly, honestly, without looking for a reward. Then the reward comes automatically. In a sense, you have no choice in the matter once you cease hindering yourself. We get in our own way. No one else gets in our way. What's between the ears is what gets in our way.

Zazen instructs you in how to leave yourself alone. Zazen smoothes that jagged edge in life. Smoothe, smoothe, and why not? Don't we have enough of the opposite? The world is going mad. The more so now because things are generally faster, wilder. The world has become surrealistic. So work; continue to feel outside what you feel sitting here in the Temple this morning. Feel the strength, the support that you derive from others around you, and let that profundity work for you. Take it with you. When practicing zazen this evening, this afternoon - whenever - feel that strength, and especially allow yourself to feel it when not sitting. Again, stop getting in your own way. Let the faith that grows out of your zazen permeate your everyday life.

In addition, read the Heart Sutra. This is very important. What we chant before and after the service is the quintessential message of Buddhism. The Heart Sutra is called the "heart" because it contains the very kernel - the heart - of wisdom. Maha prajna which is that intuitive wisdom beyond intellectual wisdom, indeed even beyond wisdom itself, is the wisdom that makes everyday ordinary knowledge small and incomplete. It's one thing to be a "wise guy"; it is another thing entirely to be wise.

Keep a special place for yourself at home to practice zazen. Burn incense. It is amazing how these little adjuncts assist you. You are, in a sense, making an association with the Temple by recreating the tone, the atmosphere, the odor of the incense, the Hannya Shingyo chant (the Heart Sutra) and of course, the sitting itself.

Daily, daily, every day make some time. Remember that a bucket is filled a drop at a time. Don't get disheartened and don't let time just go, for there is no more despicable and yet pathetic phrase than "killing time." Grab yourself by the horn, hang on, ride for all you are worth. Then you will always be living in the present. Practicing Zen is not just going to church on Sunday. Those days are over. Zen is everyday life, everyday practice, So you have to change your attitude accordingly. Practicing your religion once a week just won't do.