Here is the writing exercise and its introduction that was our dharma activity on Sunday. If you were not able to be with us, you might explore it on your own. It is a way to expand our view of how we might use this opportunity.
Traditionally, in Zen, a practice period of 90 days reflects the Buddha’s gathering of the disciples during the rains in India, when the roads become impassable. During this time, the Buddha would offer his deepest teachings and his followers would ask the questions they had been wrestling with. The disciples who had been scattered come back together and share stories about their experiences teaching the dharma in faraway places. Today, we still honor this special time of deep inquiry, connection, and renewed commitment to our path. We will be offering more classes and other activities at Appamada.
Practice period has many dimensions and offers us opportunities to deepen our practice in many ways. But it would be a misunderstanding to interpret that to mean we should just try to sit more zazen, or attend more intensives and classes, or learn to ring a bell.
Really the practice period invites us to expand our horizons for taking care with. Taking care with what? That is the fundamental question. Practice period encourages us to move beyond our comfort zone in extending care beyond our usual domain. To do this we need some courage and a strong connection to our aspiration.
Maybe we connect with someone we’ve cut out of our lives, or someone very different from our usual family and friends. Maybe we ask ourselves how we can truly serve—a person, a neighborhood, a community. Maybe we cultivate the capacity to listen deeply to someone whose views we don’t approve of. Maybe we see where we can help out, where people are struggling and in need. Maybe we start working with a group that serves the community or those in need.
To make this step, we might begin by noticing all of the ways we are supported by people doing what they don’t love to do, or people who are very different from us, how people who are older step out of the mainstream and then feel forgotten, how rarely children are really listened to. Everywhere we go, we find opportunity, but we must also go where we do not usually go, and seek connection where we have not habitually looked.
To express this Appamada in the world is an act of creativity, confidence, and courage. We begin simply. We can practice in modest ways, just at the edge of what we are comfortable with, just stretching our definition of what is relevant, what we are ready for, what we are responsible toward. Maybe we will find our edge in nature, having somehow become estranged from her. Maybe it will be in simply spending time with those who are gravely ill. Maybe it will be in cultivating some artistic expression that brings delight.
The practice of Zen is not to shore up our sense of our own goodness, our containment and peace. It is to bring liberation to a waiting world. Where will we find the opportunities to offer ourselves wholeheartedly in new ways, with new challenges? We are the artists of this spiritual path; what we create has never existed before. We are continuously creating it anew, so where will this practice period take you? What might you be most interested in exploring in this bodhisattva training program called Zen?
Our practice period begins today and ends with the intensive March 27-29. You have a little less than 90 days to set an intention and then see how it moves you. It’s not a burden but an adventure: how many ways can you find to express the essence of Appamada, of the bodhisattva vow? Pay attention, keep notes, give yourself time to discover where you might learn and grow, and then notice what happens as you do, in your body, in your heart, in your mind with all of its thoughts and plans and theories.
You can do this, right where you are. You don’t need to travel to foreign lands, there is much that is utterly strange and unknown right around you. Let go of your protections and excuses, your comfortable routine, and shake yourself free of your own constraints. Just a small step begins the journey. Don’t say you don’t know what to do. Here’s one way to think about it.
If you do this with someone else, get together, share your lists and discuss. Partners, discuss what inspired you about your partner’s list or intention.
Please keep us posted about what you are learning in this practice period, where it moves you and how you are working with your intention. Let us support and encourage each other in engaging with the world, with other people in new ways, in new situations, with a fresh, clear mind and heart.