Photo graph of man on a train with a blurred scene out of the window.

At Home Everywhere – Manu Myōshin Bazzano

Witnessing a tokudo ceremony gets me every time. At the Spring sesshin this year I heard Roshi say that receiving the homeless vows implies, among other things, being at home everywhere. An attractive suggestion. And a difficult task. It brings up memories of long flights, of giving in at last (after idle movie-watching and desiccated airplane food) to settling in on a seat above the clouds – home and dwelling, nothing to do, nowhere to go. A Zendo in the sky.

Witnessing my two younger Dharma brothers bowing, voicing their intent, experiencing a strange new birth in their white kimono, being dressed. Nothing now is between you and the sky. Roshi’s humour, humanity, fragility and strength brought tears of joy and sadness to my eyes. Memories of my own tokudo, January 2004, in Ameland, an island off the Dutch coast, a desolate and romantic place shielded by ever-shifting dunes, whipped by cold Northern winds and rain.

‘Will you maintain it? Will you really maintain it?’ ‘I will’. Three bows.

Memories of stumbling each time on my long kimono. Can I be at home everywhere? I would like to be; I am trying, and there are times when I do feel at home in strange places. Mostly though I am sceptical of ‘home’, and often feel chronically incapable of ‘being at home’. It feels to me that home is bound up with ownership and possessiveness – a fence around this bodymind, my tiny flag of identity on my arbitrary little patch, painting my two eyeballs on relentlessly shifting phenomena. All the same, I say ‘Welcome’ when friends come to visit. What do I mean? Welcome to my home?
‘Are you a guest here?’ Ryōkan Sensei asked me at the Spring sesshin. ‘Yes’, I replied without giving it much thought. That question might have been simple and factual, but it still reverberates. Do I belong here? Or am I passing through? The story of my life is encircled within these artless questions, and I wonder if others feel the same.

Someone said that a bodhisattva is a host. I understand that to mean a host to others and to myself – to ‘parts’ of ‘myself’, including those bits I don’t particularly like. Not always an easy task, but one that seems worth pursuing. How can I be a good host? Here is a thought: maybe by remembering that I am at all times a guest – of experience as it unfolds each moment, and a guest on this fragile planet.

I felt so welcome at the Spring sesshin after a long time away from our lineage, after twenty years of wondering. It felt overwhelming. Am I a guest here? Yes. At the same time, and before I can think it, my skin recognises the fact that I am at home. My heart knows it. Tears of joy and gratitude. Thinking of the dead who walked and sat and sighed within these very same walls. The stone setters of three centuries ago mentioned by Suigen Sensei. Vivid memories of our dharma sister Sharon Rinsho Ive who passed away not long ago, still sitting strong here, among these walls, her laughter still echoing outside the building during a break in the timid sun.

My home is the black cushion where I sit in the morning, while hearing the rain on our plastic roof. My home is in transit, our flat a rented place. Will we be more at home when we’ll finally buy a flat with a balcony for her marigolds and geraniums, a table and two chairs overlooking the woods; when we’ll invite there our dharma friends to sit with us on Saturday afternoons no matter what the season or the weather? Will home ownership make me grow deeper roots despite the sense that the ground shifts, that the Earth’s tectonic plates realign as we speak?

‘So are you going back to the congregation? Are you joining the fold again?’, a very dear friend familiar with Zen practice asked me recently. ‘Isn’t faith the main thing and isn’t faith separate from the sangha, the group – the collective? Isn’t faith personal, hence giving us the capacity to be fluid and nondogmatic and not having to follow rules and protocols?’ I read her message early in the morning and it hit me.

The way I see it at the moment, I replied, is that we need both. I need both. Being alone, a stranger, a guest, a nomad. Story of my life! The exhilaration of travelling light, the sweet inconsolable melancholy of the Ronin, a samurai without a master. At this time though, community (of the heart, rubbing off one another, feeling each other’s pain and joy on the skin) is paramount. And friendship, the crowning of love. Please allow me to say this: the joy of friendship with that jewel of a man, Keizan Roshi. The joy of reconnecting after a gap of more than 20 years
I am also not afraid of rituals – I wrote to my dear friend. I love them, containers of immeasurable grief and ecstasy, circles in the sand inviting the presence of the living and the dead, of the yet-to-be-born. My beloved Nietzsche so wanted a community like the Pythagoreans had, and part of his tragedy and dark glory was to be forever without one. True, institutionalised/hyper-professionalised ‘society’ has shunned me, feared me, vilified me and nearly killed me. And yet.

All my courses, seminars, workshops, sitting groups I now see (it might change tomorrow) as attempts at creating a common dwelling with other fellow travellers.

Inexplicably for someone who cherished and cultivated doubt all his life, I found services, bowing and chanting, moving and heartbreaking and heart opening. And easier to move along to with a mercifully shortened kimono. I found communal zazen within a lineage powerful and subtle (imperceptible mutual assistance, in the words of Dōgen Zenji) and inspiring in facing the certainty of my death with greater serenity. There may be disappointments, someone suggested. Sure. Meanwhile I rejoice in this newfound love.