post by Charla Koren Malamed, MRO
Sesshin had just ended, and to celebrate Earth day, we held our morning service outside in the meadow—Tremper mountain our Buddha, an oval stone our Mahapajapatti, a pile of dirt our incense ash. Shugen invited us to offer ourselves, in addition to the usual offerings of incense, water, and candlelight.
One of the very powerful ways he helped us to do this was to encourage us to open our eyes and raise our gaze. The day was stunning, and the brightness of the landscape seemed to penetrate through the usual contemplative darkness. It was an offering and a receiving, a practice of playing with the challenge of turning ourselves inward and outward at the same time, giving ourselves to ourselves and to the world, receiving ourselves and the world, all at the same time.
It was vivid, and compelling, and very moving. And this was especially true standing with the sangha, in the moments when my gaze settled on them, transforming what is often felt to be a distraction into a dissolving of inner and outer.
The dedication for the Emmei Jukku Kannon Gyo Earth Day service:
Kannon Bodhisattva perceives the cries of the world and so compassion is shown in all its many forms. She liberates all suffering sentient beings and brings them to great joy. She realizes mind—all beings are one essence. She awakens the heart, and nothing is forsaken.
In reciting the Emmei Jukku Kannon Gyo, and in offering flowers, candlelight, sweet water and incense, we dedicate its merits to: You our beloved Earth, in deepest gratitude for your profound beauty, intelligence, and generosity. May we reflect on your embodiment of patience, selflessness, truth and harmony and strive to live in accord with your teachings. May we be wise and compassionate as we rely upon your soil, air, water, sunlight, and many wondrous beings, and honor and respect you as a child loves their parent. May we appreciate you as the source of life and show our gratitude by accomplishing the Buddha Way together.
After service, I sat in the zendo with the rest of the community, settling in for dharma encounter with Shugen. Usually, before dharma encounter, I have a rush of nerves, a pre-emptive response to the possibility that dharma encounter presents—of standing up and stepping forward, in front of the entire sangha, and of becoming transparent, to them, to Shugen, and to myself.
This time, the rush was checked before it even started. Shugen shared his decision to shift the way the dharma encounter line is formed. Instead of his calling for the line and our spontaneously getting up, folks had signed up for the line the evening before. I suppose this new way sort of worked. It was certainly a more diverse line. It was definitely more dignified. No jostling, no rush, no anxiety, no ramping up of nerves.
For me, dharma encounter is an opportunity to find the edge between the manufactured and the immediate. It is often an expression of immense courage. It can also be an unnecessary stressor, and in this case, there is sometimes a moment when the entire process becomes tiresome. At that point, if I am lucky, there is finally rest. Something of this rest was what I felt on this morning. In this way, the new process seemed skillful.
The question put to us during this dharma encounter was: given the emptiness of all things, what does it mean to care? If all things are empty, why should I care? Because the line was so diverse, we were allowed to peek into very different minds. We heard from someone who showed us their easeful springing between caring and emptiness. Another person sat squarely in the middle of the question itself and didn’t budge—given the truth of emptiness, caring is the only possible response. Another student shared that her experience of love for her mother is her gateway into Shugen’s question of how to find in ourselves that which always cares.