Wednesday, April 13, 2001

On Wednesday evenings, my Zen practice is to proofread or “second edit” the talks of my teacher, Zoketsu Norman Fischer. I am sitting in my living room right now, while hubby Joe and a few others are sitting in the zendo. Sometimes this separation from the Desert Mirror sangha feels a little weird to me, and sometimes it feels OK.

Lately – for months now – I haven’t been in the zendo hardly at all, even on Monday nights, because I have been and continue to be pretty sick. I have a damaged immune system, and we have ordinary mold and fungus living in our heating/cooling ductwork, and the combination is not a pleasant one. My symptoms are kind of like a combination of having the flu, bronchitis, asthma, chronic fatigue, and bad allergies, all at the same time. It’s a real roller coaster ride, not only from one day to the next, but even from one moment to the next. Talk about your major practice opportunities!

This evening I’ve been proofing a very interesting and important talk, on gender dynamics in our practice. This particular talk of Norman’s was motivated by the two big sex scandals in our national American Zen community, and by some much subtler gender issues that have been raised by women in our Everyday Zen sangha. For the record, although I feel embarrassed by these very public scandals being associated with American Zen, I know that sex and power issues almost always go along with charismatic leadership, religious or otherwise. And I am proud of the conduct of my current lineage peers and teachers.

The great talk that Norman gave on gender dynamics (which hopefully will be posted soon on the Everyday Zen website) also gave quite a bit of focus to our overall intentions as a practice community. In our Soto Zen tradition, Norman said, “warm and personal relationship is at the heart of our practice. Trust in one another. Affection for one another and mutual commitment together is at the heart of our practice . . . Our way is a simple, warm-hearted way. I think it is the way of love. We become really close to one another in the dharma. We become good friends as we go forward practicing together.”

But, he continued, “with this emphasis on love and warmth and human relationship, maybe there are also some problems. Sometimes when people love one another, we can hurt each other more. Maybe the possibilities for misunderstanding actually increase when you have expectations of one another in love and warm relationship. Maybe we don’t intend these misunderstandings, but sometimes they happen anyway.”

So Norman is acknowledging both the joy and the sorrow inherent in human relationships. This is what we try to do in Zen: When we talk about one side of something, we try to also hold up and give attention to the other side. We do our best to include all aspects in our view of things; but we know that we are always leaving something out.

The talk culminated with Norman quoting part of another talk given by Chris Fortin, a woman Everyday Zen priest who will soon be receiving dharma transmission (full teaching authority). The last paragraph of the Chris Fortin quote kind of sums up our whole practice intention:

“With a faith that makes us vulnerable, that humanizes and connects us, we vow not to turn away from what is uncomfortable. This is ferocious vulnerability. Practice awakens our hearts and minds to the wisdom and compassion of the buddhas. It cuts through limiting discriminations and self-centered views – the root cause of human suffering.”

Let us practice this way together, shall we?

Love, Russ