A few years ago I remember reading words which meant
something like this; If you practice it has to be a true practice, otherwise
it is better not to practice at all. This was a statement that hit me very
If you read writings of Zen Master Dogen or Rinzai, in many
places they stress that you should find a true Zen teacher for yourself. But
how can one know who a true Zen teacher and what true practice is? For
beginners, this is very difficult to discern. In contemporary times in this
country there are so many Zen teachers, but only a few true genuine ones.
It seems that similar problems existed also in ancient days…
Certainly, coming from Poland where reading of works of Dogen
or Rinzai was not my great fortune at that time, I did not know much about
who might be a good or true teacher. My karma brought me to a place where
there were some questions about it.
If one practices deeply sooner or later one knows in one’s guts. But it was
some powerful words of a friend, who was also a Zen teacher, who was kind
enough to listen to me and said: Find a true Zen teacher for yourself!
These turning words and the powerful assertion of my own feelings, was what
led me to an action.
I cultivated a strong nen for a while, which brought me to a
Zendo where the presence of Patriarchs of old is felt and penetrates the air. It is a feeling which cannot be described…
Most Zen students in Zen Centers in this country are familiar
with forms of practice such as zazen , sesshin, and chanting, but there
is one which due to cultural aspects has not been well received in the West;
takuhatsu, begging. This is truly regrettable…
Being independent seems to be a most cherished value here,
and life for most is very comfortable with all things and gadgets in one’s life. Yet I do notice that if someone’s car breaks, his
or her entire day is a disaster and suddenly nothing can be done! Perhaps
most people are not even aware how much they depend on others and how much
their life is supported by others’ effort and the natural environment.
I remember my monk friend, who was sent to Japan to practice
in Shogenji, wrote about his takuhatsu experience there. This was something
he had never done before, nor had he ever experienced in his life in the
USA. Yet doing takuhatsu was very deeply transforming for him.
When I went to Bukkokuji I also witnessed takuhatsu
days. Monks and laymen practitioners would dress up in robes, straw sandals
and wear huge hats. The hats do cover their eyes, so they can only see down.
They go on certain routes into villages with begging bowls or bags. Chanting
in front of villagers’ houses, they wait for someone to come out. Whether
someone comes out or not, whether someone puts money, food, or a stone in
one’s begging bowl, one should not judge and should be grateful for whatever
comes. When someone is putting an offering into the bowl, monks do not see the person, just their hands, giving hands. This was something, my monk friend said, was so powerful; seeing these
hands, giving hands, old hands, young hands.
Bukkokuji is a very old and small temple unlike the large
training monasteries, but sesshins there are the most attended in Japan. I
did hear the story that one day a young American Zen student wanted to
donate a huge sum of money to
repair the temple, but Tangen Roshi did not accept it and did not see any
reason for repairs. He never asked for money.
Yet for the short time I was there, every single day I noticed villagers
quickly sneaking into the Hondo so nobody would notice them, then leaving
baskets with fresh vegetables in front of the altar. Some days there were so
many things on the altar that it looked
totally overloaded with boxes of rice, cookies, and some other stuff. And all the necessary food for thirty something residents came from begging.
Where there is a harmonious Sangha practicing honestly, whatever is needed
to support their practice seems to be provided in some miraculous way…
Begging can help one realize that there is a great
interdependence among all forms of life, and that we should accept whatever
comes with sincere and humble gratitude. Personally I feel very strongly
about it, since my life appears to be constant begging. I consider myself an
extremely independent person, in mind and heart and life, yet I have to ask
for a lot of help. Living in a culture where this is not well accepted makes
it even more true takuhatsu. Over the years my bowl has contained some
stones, for which I am grateful too. There is perhaps no better way to learn
about the human condition. Truly, karma arranged for me a life which is an
opportunity to practice Zen in all aspects.
How can I not be grateful for this?
However endless the Buddha’s way is, I vow to follow