May 2017

Dogen’s Rules for Meditation
Rev. Master Basil Singer

A scripture that is recited in Soto Zen temples every day has been extremely helpful to my training. It explains why we do this training and meditation, how to do it, and tells of the pitfalls. The scripture is called, Rules for Meditation,written by Great Master Dogen Zenji.

In this article I am going to focus on the opening of the scripture. There, Great Master Dogen tells of his spiritual problem (koan) that he had at the beginning of his training. He wondered, Since we are taught that we all have the magnificent flow of the Eternal (the Buddha Nature), why do we have to do all this meditation and training? Eventually, through his own training and meditation, he discovered the reason. A metaphor came up for me about this that has been helpful for both myself and others I have shared it with.

Let’s say we buy a piece of property with an underground stream of pure, clear flowing water. We could move in knowing that we have this stream, but that alone really won’t help us: We have to bring the water up to us, and that means digging a well. We’ll assume that external machines and devices can’t help us, so the digging must be done by hand. And this is hard work, because we have to labor arduously through rocks, boulders, hard clay, sticky clay, and so on but we’re motivated by our need for this pure, life-giving mountain water.

After we reach the stream we have to work on a way to get it up to us so we can drink it and enjoy its life-sustaining benefits. We must build some kind of pulley system with a bucket to get the water from its depths up to us. And once we do, our work is not done. We have to haul the water where it’s needed so we can enjoy a refreshing glass of water, a cleansing shower, a restorative cup of tea or coffee, and so on. And this requires constant labor: we must keep going back to the well, winching up the bucket, and hauling it where it’s needed. If we stop, we die of thirst.

Spiritually, there is deep within us a magnificently generous flowing of the Water of the Spirit–the Buddha Nature–that nourishes us. The upstream Source of this spiritual Water originates in the compassion, wisdom, and non-judgmental love of the Eternal that sustains our spiritual life if we but access It. And Great Master Dogen realized that, although the stream of the Water of the Spirit is always flowing within us, we must “dig our well” and find It if we are not to die of spiritual thirst. It is the effort we put into practicing mindfulness, meditation, and actualizing the Precepts that enables us to access the spiritually sustaining flow of the Water of the Spirit. If we don’t practice, the magnificent pure water is untapped and unused by us. When we do practice, we can drink of the Water of the Spirit and live in peace and stillness and move away from ongoing suffering. Well worth it!

Another thing Great Master Dogen mentions at the beginning of the scripture is to let go of “opposites.” When we get into opposites it’s as if we throw karmic “rocks” into our spiritual “well” that block our access to the Water of the Spirit. We don’t recognize that the stream is not ours alone; that the Buddha Nature flows equally for all. The result is that we delude ourselves that some beings have It and some don’t, or that some beings have less of It and others more. Some example opposites that we’re prey to include race, gender, nationality, sexual preference, political orientation, animals to protect and others to kill, and so on—each of us has our list. And allowing ourselves to be influenced by opposites clogs the well with judgmentalism and the resulting spiritual thirst causes us suffering and dis-ease.

I would like to end with one more metaphor. When I was the gardener at North Cascades Buddhist Priory we had a big garden. Some of this garden was far away from the water source. We had hoses up to 100 feet long. Sometimes I would go to water and nothing would come out. I would then have to follow the long hose back to find where it was kinked and blocking the flow. I would then have to unkink and straighten the hose to get the water to flow. That’s what we have to do with being mindful when we get caught up in the opposites. When we let go of a particular opposite the water can flow again and we can move away from delusion and suffering. When the Water flows, it can nourish everything with Its Purity.


North Cascades Buddhist Priory

The monastery was closed from May 1-6 while the monastic community held the traditional semi-annual Searching of the Heart retreat. The monks would particularly like to thank Colleen Graney, Joanne Stimac, and Emily Nisbet for providing hearty and delicious prepared meals for the community during the retreat.

North Star Dharma Refuge

Rev. Master Bennet journeyed to Washington to participate in the monastic retreat at North Cascades Buddhist Priory. He enjoyed spending time with his fellow monks, and very much appreciated the teaching and practice offered during this intensive retreat.

Seattle Dharma Refuge

On April 28th Rev. Master Basil, with the assistance of Senior Lay Trainee Ian Davros, was celebrant at a memorial service for Carolyn Cockle that was held in the common room of his apartment building. Carolyn was the building’s former manager, and a beloved neighbor to the residents. After the service an offering of coffee, cake and chocolates was offered, and participants expressed appreciation for the opportunity to remember Carolyn.

Serene Reflection Meditation Refuge

Avalokiteswara amidst the camelias: Spring comes to Olympia, WA.