Life has its ups and downs, and coupled with my innate questioning and sceptical nature, I guess I wasn’t ready for the kind of commitment that Zen requires. And yet I’ve been plagued with the kind of ‘big’ questions that Zen challenges us to ask and explore: ‘Why am I here’ ‘What does it all mean’? etc. Zen often encourages us to work with a question, usually a big question. One of my big questions is how to live my life. Every day it I find myself returning to such questions. Practice has taught me do this; to remind myself in whatever situation I’m in, to return, to either my breath or occasionally to bring up my koan. At other times I may simply ask: What is this? What is my life now? I don’t think that I’m committed enough. Instead of attending the zendo on a Wednesday and sesshin twice a year, I feel I should attend Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. A lay practice isn’t easy. I know I will remedy this as my practice deepens. I now get edgy if for some reason I can’t go to my room, light a candle and some incense and just sit. The loss of my father caused me to question my own life and made me realise the importance of the practice and the need to commit myself to it on a regular basis. I don’t want my life just to slip by. I want be able to appreciate it as my dad did his.
And so my rakusu is another stage in that commitment. Having taken shoken with Sensei at Crosby last year I’m now looking forward to Jukai in November. Sitting at the kitchen table sowing and chanting, “Namu kie Butsu, Namu kie Ho, Namu kie So,” and actually getting to enjoy it proved to be a revelation to me and, in the end, gave me an insight into the practice itself, into how it challenges us to face ourselves and deal with who and what we are, the pleasant and the unpleasant stuff, because in the end that’s what I suppose we do – or at least what I do, to run away and refuse to face myself, my fears, anxieties and hang-ups. I had put off making my rakusu for so long. What was I running away from? What was I refusing to face? Myself? My life? I think so. Scary things can happen on that cushion. There are aspects of yourself that you’re not prepared to look at and practice challenges you to do that: through sitting, Sensei’s talks, your own reading and reflection, the challenges of koan practice; it all works to force you to face yourself. What happens in our life can do the same. This practice has taught me that, even though at times it can be painful. So now my rakusu is completed, and I’m proud of it. I say to myself I should have done this years ago but I don’t think the commitment was there. I was still too sceptical. I also wasn’t prepared to look at myself and examine my life. Taking the precepts is a big step but as Sensei says we use them as a guide and not a rigid rule for our lives. That helps, knowing that we can only do our best. I’m simply doing the best I can. I’m really looking forward to the ceremony in November.