200 days of practice

CAM02605Time really flew between the end of my first 100 days of practice and yesterday, which marked my 200th day of practice. Looking back, I see that I had a marked dip in practice during the first month of this year, especially when it came to mantra accumulation. Then I realized I was soon to see Anyen Rinpoche again at the March phowa retreat in Denver, and became much more diligent! The retreat inspired me further and the intensity of my practice continued from that point forward.

Due to my poor initial start, I actually recited fewer mantra this 100 days than the prior 100 days. I did keep to my Avalokitesvara sadhana every morning except two in February when I was on a silent mindfulness retreat and didn’t bring the text. That became my motivation to finally commit the English translation of the sadhana to memory. As a result, on this mindfulness retreat just passed, I was able to recite the sadhana every day without needing the text in front of me. It feels very good to have the words inside of me instead of just on the page. In addition to my daily solo practice, this last 100 days I’ve been participating in a Dharma class with a group from my mindfulness Sangha, watching and discussing the talks that Thay gave at last summer’s 21-day retreat at Plum Village. I’ve also been watching weekly streamed talks that Anyen Rinpoche has been giving on Ngondro practice. And I attended the phowa retreat in Denver and two silent mindfulness retreats. It’s been a good 100 days of Dharma. It’s also been very good for my mother, who today marked her 100th day of continuous daily meditation. I particularly admire her perseverance in meditating in difficult conditions such as motel rooms!

I happily began my third 100-day practice period this morning, with wind energy practice and English recitations of the Avalokitesvara sadhana and phowa prayers. My intention for the coming 100 days is to be more consistently diligent with mantra recitation, to delve into the phowa practice more intently, and to read and reread several books by Anyen Rinpoche, in particular The Tibetan Yoga of Breath: Breathing Practices for Healing the Body and Cultivating Wisdom, Momentary Buddhahood: Mindfulness and the Vajrayana Path, and Dying with Confidence: A Tibetan Buddhist Guide to Preparing for Death. Once my Dharma class ends, I also intend to return to more frequent attendance at the weekly meditation nights of my local Sangha.

I wanted to close by talking about a wonderful book I recently finished. It has what I think is the best title of any autobiography I’ve ever seen: Novice to Master: An Ongoing Lesson in the Extent of My Own Stupidity by Soko Morinaga, translated by Belenda Attaway Yamakawa. It is a deceptively slender book consisting of a series of short autobiographical chapters set in post-World War II Japan, particularly in monastic training centers of the Rinzai school. I felt completely immersed in the rigors of the Zen path of practice, about which I knew a lot less than I’d previously thought! I came to the book via an excerpt in Tricycle magazine that recently was reposted on their website. The two chapters from which that excerpt was derived are my favorites in the whole book, but the entire book is well worth reading.

A lot of what Morinaga Roshi had to say resonated for me with the teachings on impermanence and preciousness of the human life by Longchenpa and Thay that I discussed in my last blog. To give you a taste of this, let me end with a wonderful quote from the excerpt. Morinaga Roshi is counseling a devoted practitioner, Miss Okamoto, who has always served the temple with incredible energy and diligence. She has such devotion to the teachings that she is really struggling to accept her own fear in the face of terminal illness. She knows that the problem must be with the way in which she’s been practicing and she asks Morinaga Roshi for advice. He writes:

This woman had led a flawless, commendable life, but she had always stoically gritted her teeth in an effort “to do good, to avoid doing evil.” Sharply distinguishing between “good” and “bad,” forever sizing up and passing judgment on the situation, she went about her endeavors to “do better,” but always with her teeth clenched fast. But let me be very clear about this: The kind of effort in which one bisects good and bad, and then chooses one over the other with the intent to stack up causes for positive results does not in itself produce peace of mind.

As I explained to Miss Okamoto, you come out from your mother’s womb and go into your coffin. That time in between, you call life, and perhaps you think of going into your coffin as death. But true existence is birth and death, repeating itself, instant by instant. If you look at a flame, it seems to burn continuously and give off constant light. In actuality, the wax is burning down bit by bit, and the wick which blazes in this instant exhausts itself, passing the flame further along.

Our lives appear to be unbroken blocks of seventy or eighty continuous years, but, actually, . . . when you maintain the straightforward frankness of your own mind as it comes to life each instant, even without effort, even without training, you are beautifully born each instant. You die with each instant, and go on to be born again, instant by instant.

As I told Miss Okamoto, when you go to the kitchen to prepare dinner, be born in the kitchen. When you finish there, die. Then be born again at the dining table as you eat your dinner and, when you finish eating, die there. Be born in the garden, and sweep with your broom. When you get into bed at night, die there. And when daylight comes, and you awaken in your bed, be born anew. If you have cancer, be born with cancer.

Always now—just now—come into being. Always now – just now – give yourself to death. Practicing this truth is Zen practice.

– Novice to Master: An Ongoing Lesson in the Extent of My Own Stupidity by Soko Morinaga

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