Last night Beate Stolte, co-abbess of Upaya Zen Center, was scheduled to come to Desert Mirror to practice with us and give a talk; but a sudden snowstorm prevented her coming. And there were 16 people in the zendo! So I shared Joe’s latest letter from Tassajara, and then read from a talk by Zoketsu Norman Fischer, Joe’s and my teacher.
The talk was about the benefits one derives from practicing with Zen forms, about which there are always legitimate questions. (Sometimes — particularly in moments of high resistance — it seems as though this tradition must have been established by people with obsessive-compulsive disorder!) The talk, while somewhat lengthy, really lays out the case for Zen forms, and how this practice benefits us and our world over time.
If you have time for only a taste right now, below is an excerpt from the talk. And in case you might want to read it in greater depth later, I’ll post a link to the whole talk as well.
About Zen forms (our ritualized, stylized, very specfic way of doing things), Norman says:
If our primary focus of awareness practice were just awareness on our cushions, then we might get the idea that awareness is an “inside” matter. In other words, something that had to do with meditation, with states of mind, or with our inner condition. But if we extend our awareness not only to what is going on inside of us, but also to how we are walking, how we are standing, how we are holding our hands, how we are eating our food, and how we are chanting or striking a bell … if we extend awareness into all those other places in our living, we begin to get the idea that meditation is not just something that happens on our cushions. It is not just an inside job.
Awareness should be extended into all the times and places of our living. Our life is a totality, and not just about what is going on inside of us. It is about our whole lives — where we meet one another, as well as where each one of us is separate.
The price of this, which is all the mistakes that we make, actually turns out to be worthwhile in itself; because every time that we make a mistake, we learn something about ourselves. It is a challenge, and we grow from those miscues. So that is the first reason why I would say that the Forms are important: so that we can develop and extend our awareness, [and learn from our mistakes and our reactions to our mistakes and others’].
Here’s the link to the whole talk: