Though it's been ten days since my return from The Mythic Context retreat at Padmaloka, I'm still carrying around its consequences. Both this, and the previous 'insight' retreat, have stirred up a lot that I'm still accustoming myself too. The Mythic Context, was high octane with devotional practices, prostrations twice a day, a series of very punchy Pujas and prompting pep talks from Padmavajra. I found myself so hyped up by it all, I got used to minimal amounts of sleep, 2 -4 hours on average. On a retreat that's OK, but if that happened off retreat I'd be dead in the water within days.
There were Ordinations during it, so we did Confession Pujas on the nights prior to the Private and the Public Ordinations. I felt my ethical failings acutely,and my confessional list steadily grew longer. My precept transgressions were largely various manifestations of ill-will - petty irritations, dismissive thoughts, long cultivated resentments, grudges, dislikes and smoldering disrespect - highly coloured by egoistic self-righteousness and the over-sensitive patterning of my psyche. I'd also been reading Stephen Batchelor's translation of Shantideva's Bodhicaryavatara, which clearly and concisely points an accusing finger at our essential self-centredness, which just further stirred my ethical pot.
Some Bodhicaryavatara translations tend to over egg the grotesque and lurid elements of Shantideva's frank oratorical style, dressing it up as some sort of medieval zombie melodrama. Batchelor manages to retain more of his essential humanity and hence Shantideva seems a more personal approachable character. Finding myself less provoked and distracted by horrific imagery, it allowed the pinpoint accuracy of Shantideva's ethical compass to strike deeper. One section becoming a new guiding beacon - his urgent imperative to guard and value ones virtue above all else
'When the fire of hatred spreads to whatever my mind is attached to, I should immediately get rid of it for fear of my merit being burned ' - ' Just as men will guard their eyes when great danger and turmoil occur, likewise, I shall never be swayed by the disturbances within my mind,'
If all else fails, then one should become 'a block of wood' to whatever is disturbing ones peace, empathy or equanimity. I saw that I subtly let myself off the hook, overlooking those seemingly minor slights or failings that are nonetheless invidious and damaging. I'm much less inclined to tolerate them since I got back, but as ever its dependent on remaining alert, aware and vigilant.
Another idea, that appears also to have caught my imagination, arose from re-reading Uchiyama Roshi's commentary on Dogen's - Instructions to the Zen Cook. I've always been impressed by the down to earth common sense nature of Uchiyama's commentary. This time it was his closing comments in his chapter on Direction & Goal.
' Much too often we go about our lives holding on to some future goal without thinking about our present direction, or about the direction of our lives as a whole. When we stop projecting goals and hopes in the future, and refuse to be led around by them, yet work to clarify our lives, that is, the direction of the present, then we will discover an alive and dynamic practice.'
As someone who can be 'led around by, and suffer as a result of, the fantasies about who or what I might become in some imagined future, I know what he's pointing to here is a lesson I need to learn. I often experience strong internal turmoil, when the needs and desires of the present become opposed to the desires and needs of future goals. The conflicting pulls manifest in indecision, not knowing what to do with my energy and time eventually wearing me out, the only release being to switch off and in some way vegetate. To allow myself to be motivated and take direction from the needs of the immediate present situation, seems one way out of these existential gridlocks. During the week I've been reflecting on what taking your direction from the present situation actually means. What would it look or feel like, this alive dynamic practice?
During the retreat on the 22nd September it was the anniversary of Dogen's death. I marked this by performing a Shobogenzo Puja, with five other folk from the retreat. At the end I was quite profoundly moved, as if I'd shared something with others that was of immense value, not just to me, but to all humanity. My enduring enthusiasm for Dogen is connected with my name - Vidya - which is an aesthetic sense, or knowledge, of the true nature of reality. The originality of Dogen's writing aside, it is this aesthetic sense of the true nature of reality that he communicates through all his writing. This is what I most revere and value about Dogen. One verse from this Shobogenzo Puja that I adapted and compiled, connects with, and communicates the spirit at least behind, taking your direction from the present situation - to do so without exerting force and with ones whole being.
Do not consider this with your mind, nor put it into words,let go your own body and your own mindthen without exerting force, or expending further thought,throw your whole being into the house of the Buddha