Return

I finished the annual training last Sunday morning.  I wish I could say that I jumped right back into my routine with a new energy and awareness.  The truth is I returned refreshed in spirit but physically exhausted.  Of course, while I was away many problems arose in my everyday world that demanded immediate attention whether or not I was up to giving it.  So as I went through the motions of getting back to normal my sleepy thoughts lingered on the people I trained with and our shared experience of a common hardship.  Today is the first day I have had a few moments to reflect and regain my bearings.

Buddhism demands a lot of effort.  You can’t read a lot of books and get it, although study can be helpful.  You can’t just meditate and get it, although meditation is a very important practice for most of us.  You have to study and meditate and chant and walk and contemplate and concentrate day after day.  The teachings do not promise us enlightenment, rather they promise that if we practice with diligence and patience we will advance the awakening of all sentient beings.  It is no small task to throw off the dead weight of what blinds all of us to the truth, so it is best that we get started with joyful and determined hearts.

It is good to be home.

Gyo

Today I leave my comfortable daily routine to begin my second year of the training that may eventually lead to ordination.  It is a challenging 10 day program.  It is so challenging that I am nervous about not being able to measure up to the high standard expected.

Repeatedly I find that Buddhism brings you to a point where you are called upon to take a step into the unknown.  While one may have confidence in the Dharma, when these moments arrive I nevertheless sense an element of risk.  Engagement with that risk is the doorway to progress.  Most of the time I handle these moments clumsily but I have learned that while I am muddling my way through I will have the compassionate aid of the members of the Sangha.  So I take the step.

The River

Here in the Adirondacks water dominates the landscape.  Ponds, streams, brooks, creeks, flows, lakes, vleis, waterfalls, rapids, bogs, wetlands and mudholes are everywhere.  So it was almost inevitable that my walking practice focused on a river.

Water is as close to universal as anything gets in the realm of phenomena.  Every living thing depends on it.  The cycle of consumption and expulsion of water by living organisms is responsible for everything from the air we breathe to the most elevated functions of the human mind.  So when I stand by the side of a river I see the whole of the universe flowing by, every past and future life, dinosaurs and dish pans, stars and sawdust.

100th Day

Today is the final day of my walking practice.  I passed the 1,000 mile mark last week and today’s walk will be the last.

I have been reflecting a great deal on how to share this experience with you.  Words seem to be the least effective method.  So I’ve decided to combine my words with some video and photography I’ve made as part of this practice.  Because of the time I must dedicate to the walking I haven’t had much opportunity to prepare anything for you, but after today I will be able to shift my focus to those projects.

Recently while walking the faces of my dharma sisters and brothers have appeared to my mind’s eye.  I realized the practice was not mine but everyone’s.  I walked with those who cannot walk.  I stood in places of profound beauty with everyone who could not be there with me.  And so I thank you for your participation in these special days.

Kokorodo – Half Way

Yesterday was the 50th day of my 100 day walking practice, as good a time as any to reflect on where I was, where I am and where I will be.

I’ve walked 535 miles (861 km).  I’ve walked in the snow and the rain.  I’ve slogged through the mud and slipped on the ice.  I’ve seen dozens of deer and even a coyote.  I’ve watched an ice covered river thaw and rise out of its banks.  Each day I walk to the same places I’ve never walked in before.

Change builds on change.

My body grows stronger and along with it my determination to see this thing through.  But a demanding weariness creeps in more often, a fatigue which only deep sleep can abate.

Walking for hours body and mind become focused on just the next step, the next mantra, the next place.  And then, for an instant, emptiness and they all disappear; the sleepwalker awakens for only a second.

One day when winter was still here I saw the body of a dead deer.  I felt pointed sadness when I imagined her death.  But seeing the other creatures who took nourishment from her body at a time when food was so scarce, I was glad for their deliverance from hunger; compassion for both prey and predator.

There is a white pine on my route.  It reminds me of me – old, showing signs of decay, lost its foliage on top, but still sturdy.  We take time out to encourage each other.

Along the path is a cemetery.  I stop and chant the Heart Sutra wondering what “Reverend Laura” who rests there would think of my practice.  I stand by the remains of gentle George who died two years ago this past weekend, thinking of how his wife must miss him.  I wonder if I will end up here some day.

Some days my path takes me through our little town.  I know just about everyone I see; not just their names, but also their troubles and triumphs.  I wave to them all and they wave back at me.  Interdependence isn’t just a concept here, we truly live with each other.  Compassion abounds.

I am part of the landscape not its observer.  And my journey has just begun.

Kokorodo – Day 25

I’ve reached the one-quarter mark of my 100 day walking practice.  This seems as good a place as any to take stock of how things are going.

First; the least important detail is I have walked a total of 266 miles (428 km) which puts me on pace to make the 1,000 mile goal.  When I began I made a commitment to walk 18.6 miles (30 km, which is the distance the monks on Mt Hiei walk every day on kaihogyo) on 5 days during the 100 day period.  So last Thursday I set out on my first long walk.  I didn’t know exactly how long the trail was but estimated it to be close to 18 miles.  I discovered my estimate was a bit off when I got home and found I had just walked 24 miles (38.6 km).

I am beginning to make a few observations.  What is clearest is there is a great deal in this practice I have not yet discovered and I am sure that I will not uncover in just 100 days.  As in meditation there is never an end to what can be found.

It is also clear that the heart of the practice is not the individual days of walking but rather returning to the walking day after day.  My previous encounters with the practice have always involved a single long walk.  While this can be effective, I find the daily repetition adds a dimension and quality that is difficult for me to describe at this early stage.

The role of the mantras is central.  It is easy to focus on the walking element but if one neglects recitation of the mantras there is really no point in doing kokorodo at all.  By mixing physical exertion with the mind exercise of the mantras a unique meditative concentration develops.  It is somewhat like the concentration accessible by focusing on the breath.  But I find this is more focused and “one-pointed” than anything I have experienced in meditation.  There are about 24 different mantras used in kokorodo.  At this point I have learned only half that number.  I anticipate my perception of the importance of mantras will refine as I learn them all with sufficient skill to recite without hesitation or error.

Finally I would call your attention to Fudo Myoo who plays a very important role.  He is described as a Guardian who shows all beings the teachings of the Buddha and as an aide in helping us reach our goals.  His mantra dominates the practice.  Over time he has become my companion.  Whenever I feel fatigue or discouragement his mantra moves me forward with determination.  His depiction in Buddhist art is fearsome but my experience of him is of a loyal and caring friend willing to endure with me whatever difficulties that might arise.  I have come to think of him with real affection and gratitude.  As we walk along the Buddha path we all need to accept help from others just as we all must offer that same help to others.  Fudo Myoo is teaching me this by his example.

As I had hoped at the beginning, I am starting to learn.  I do not know where this will lead me but I am happy to go down the path as it winds and turns before me.