Sensei has asked me to write an article so that you all know how I manifest my Zen practice in my daily life. You may see on Facebook and social media that I run a community-based martial arts gym with my partner Adam, we teach children & adults the virtues of Honesty, Compassion, Loyalty, Courage & Respect – these have become the strong values of our academy and set us apart from the rest. But maybe you are unaware of how I manifest my Bodhisattva vows, so I hope this short piece will give you all a very honest insight into my work and daily practice.
In August I was going through a particularly tough time. I was on the verge of losing my business and was given 2 weeks to vacate the premises. We found our communications were being ignored by the landlords, we were facing closure. Much of my time and effort was thrown into securing a viable new home for our business, not only for the martial arts side of things BUT for all the community and drop in clients we have that I give my time for free to help and support. Not having a hub where people can come and chat, share their problems and for me to work with them to find some peace, was an issue.
For example, during all this I have been supporting a long-time friend. A usually strong person, he has faced a few setbacks over the last few years including a failed business, financial stress and ill health. It has been important to me to help guide him with mindfulness and meditation exercises as he has always supported me when I have lost my way. He told me he was “lost” and worried about the future. Getting him through this period, to me, is part of what being a Buddhist priest should be all about. He tells me that the compassion I have shown him has helped him remain strong.
After much hassle, we did find another home for Team Mushin and within 4 weeks we began trading at our new premises. Please remember that Mushin is a community interest group and all volunteers, including myself & Adam, do not draw a wage. All subs go back into the business to help us provide a community hub for youngsters (and anyone in need!) to feel safe, we are not just a martial arts club. Our work has produced some amazing and dramatic results.
I follow and take my priest foundations seriously and, as Ken always told me, ”keep it playful”. I sit almost every day, I light incense in my dojo and chant the sutras every morning. I offer my pastoral duties freely to those in need. I am finding that these are being asked for more and more and are indications that generally people in my sphere of influence or in my community are more stressed. I see more worried/anxious people than I have ever seen and bringing them the benefits of things like meditation or just a safe space to unload their issues, is important to me and helps me achieve those things that my priesthood demands.
I was once told by a good friend that I chose the right martial art to study, the samurai art, as it teaches you to hide your true emotions, meaning I can still help people when I need help myself. However, I find it helps me look at life in a different way. My Zen practice gives me the space to approach things with a fresh view and an open heart, it teaches us to follow a path, stay on course and see things through. It is this that pushes me through any personal issues and allows me the energy to continually help others without depleting myself.
Recently, a friend said that it doesn’t look like I deal with my demons. I ask you: what does that actually look like? Roshi says, “Your practice doesn’t have to look like anything”. Do you see me crying in anguish when the Grenfell fire took place in London – the horrifying memories it brought back of being trapped on a balcony with nowhere to go and watching my family die? No, because I was filled with anger and rage that this could happen forty years on and people were so engaged in who to blame rather than looking at the despair of the families. Like others I became emotionally overwhelmed and, yes, I cried. It’s then that I turn to, lean on and draw from my experience as a Buddhist. I say this, do you see this pain? Or do you only see when I am through the other side? This is one of my “demons” that I believe will always appear throughout my life and learning how to move forward is my continual and yet painful practice.
Again, I ask you, do you see me empathising and feeling the pain of a young child who has been bullied to the degree of wanting to take their own life as they do not know how to move forward, reminding me of my childhood experiences and feeling of no escape? Do you see me comforting & working with that child to get them to see their own way forward and their self-worth? Nor do you see me when I retreat afterwards to unburden my feelings.
The past year I have been working with someone who has become a close friend who had lost his way through alcohol. He is now 14 months dry and has found his purpose in life. He is studying in Manchester University and wants to become a paramedic. He says I have inspired him to believe in himself and with continued effort he can achieve his goals. We chat each week and he is now a great support to me in my times of doubt with my practice.
As said, it’s been a tough six months or so and, thanks to the support of my fiancé Adam and close friends, we are slowly making headway. Buddhism is about living in the world and helping those souls that need it, often at the expense of our own needs. I try to live this daily.
Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them.
Desires are inexhaustible, I vow to put an end to them.
The Dharmas are boundless, I vow to master them.
The Buddha Way is unsurpassable, I vow to attain it.