I've always been wary of adhering to any sort of belief system, but I've found little in Soto Zen to object to on that front. For me it's more about releasing attachment to beliefs than gaining new ones. I do wonder though whether some of the people I practice with are attached to the trappings of the practice - the ceremonies, the wearing of kimonos and kesas, the chanting in archaic Sino-Japanese. I wonder if they will eventually burn the raft of the dharma in order to achieve greater liberation or whether they will float around in circles anchored to the Buddha.
I just go there to sit. The only time I wore a kimono was on an occasion when I was asked to lead a sitting - it seemed inappropriate not too. I do see usefulness in ritual acts in terms of mindfulness though. And I am sewing a rakusu.
However, I wonder whether this rakusu is just another useless attachment. When it is complete I don't know whether I will get ordained in it, give it away or destroy it. What would lead to the least attachment, bearing in mind that rejection is a form of attachment too? It's a sort of 'koan' for me right now. I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't. So I'm just focussing of practicing detachment - I'll just see what I do.
It seems possible to wear robes etc without attachment. For myself I wonder if it creates a sense of separation between ordinary life and spiritual life.
I question the motivation for wanting to wear a special costume enough that I would make substantial efforts to own one. Is it that we want to belong? Or feel holy? I know people I practice with who seem very attached to their rakusus and kesas - not at all surprising when they painstakingly stitched them by hand. They get ever so upset if they get dirty? Am I not creating one more thing to cling to ? More conditions for freedom and happiness?
I see the Believers of other religions around me practicing similar things to Zen. Are they doing it because it is a raft to take them to enlightenment? All of them? And we see similar things with ideologies of all sorts. They all have their rationalisations for while such things are needed. Maybe it has more to do with a sense of belonging to something 'special' and 'sacred'? Maybe it has everything to do with social psychology and nothing to do with the furtherment of enlightenment. I don't know. Maybe it can be both.
What this is really about deep down is this: I have a fear of having my mind melted by religious indoctrination. This isn't something I associate with zazen (which is a good anti-BS tool) but with religious trappings and beliefs - even the minimal ones of Zen. I practice Zen in part because it is so minimal in this regard, but it is there nevertheless.
'Fear' is a bit strong, but I have a slight anxiety that by accepting the uniform of a faith I am discouraging myself from testing for myself, thinking for myself and replacing that with conformity to doctrine and blind (or at least only partially sighted) faith. Zen is gooood....Zen is gooood...Zen is the solution to all problems...if only I can make a perfect kesa... Within Zen I believe this is sometimes called 'Zen sickness'.
Here is a fairly extreme attitude of importance attached to religious trappings in Soto Zen. I suspect that this attitude has a more to do with protecting and furthering Zen as a social institution than it has to do with individual awakening.
Not just a garment, the kesa itself is zazen. It is the robe of zazen and the robe of true Zen practice. Since the time of Shakyamuni, all of the masters of the transmission received, respected, wore, taught and passed on the kesa. Like zazen, it is nothing mysterious or mystical, but a natural part of our daily practice.
Some might say the kesa is not really important: "It's a formalism, unnecessary, zazen alone is enough, I don't need to wear it." And of course someone can do zazen without a kesa, it is not absolutely necessary. But without the kesa, zazen becomes only a method of body-mind training, not a true religion. For those who seek the Way, the kesa has a great value.
Wearing the kesa and doing zazen, unconsciously, naturally, automatically, we can receive the great merits of the true Way. Anyone can wear the kesa, and whether it be the grand kesa or the rakusu (mini-kesa), the merits are the same. It protects us as it protects the Way itself.
Comments? Advice? Anecdotes?