Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Sesshin and ordination: the aftermath

Well, I'm back. I had a great time. The sight of two French monks singing sentimental songs together was worthwhile in itself.

I received Jukai (called, rather grandly, 'Bodhisattva Ordination' in these circles) from Taiun Jean-Pierre Faure who led it. Jean-Pierre was a student of Deshimaru and is head of Kanshoji and ex-head of la Gendronierre Temple, he has also received transmission from the Soto sect in Japan so you might say he has a good pedigree. He gave a number of very interesting taisho's on Dogen and teachings from his own heart. So I am now 'Shonin', meaning 'True human being', just like the famous Shinran Shonin and Nichiren Shonin. That's something to live up to.

A few days before the ordination I had made an appointment to speak to him specifically about the issue of the meaning of rebirth and karma and whether my understanding was compatible with ordination. His answer was that Buddhism should not be seen as a religious dogma. He explained rebirth in terms of interdependence and impermanence, and mind and matter as two inseperable aspects of the same reality - in terms I had no issue with. I raised the question of the literal truth of the twelve steps of dependent origination and the idea that karma/conditions are reborn as a single being. He said that sometimes four steps were taught and sometimes twelve. And that although we could conceive of the rebirth of matter, the psychological aspect was impossible to comprehend. Essentially, the teaching of dependent origination is true, but it is a metaphor, he said, a finger pointing at the moon. Don't gaze at the finger. Metaphysical speculation about the mechanics of rebirth of mind after death was given no importance by Jean-Pierre, nor was it taught as something we had to accept in order to practice or some sort of dogmatic fact which we would have to open ourselves up to. All the emphasis of his teaching is on awakening to the reality of the moment and engaging positively with the conditions of that moment (i.e. karma). It was very much an applied teaching. Whether you believe in a literal (reincarnation-like) reading of dependent origination or not is immaterial to the teachings of Buddhism.

All that practice (perhaps especially the silent eating and Japanese style serving of one another) must have had an effect. I really feel that I had a direct experience of interdependence at a social and emotional level, which resonated well with Jean-Pierre's emphasis on love. Since I got back Emily has commented several times that I seem very attentive (not by conscious effort really) and said 'I like you as a Bodhisattva'.

It took me two days to settle into my zazen, then I had two 'good' days - I really felt at peace and what Jean-Pierre was saying seemed to make a lot of sense: 'White reeds moving in the moonlight'. Then my back started to hurt and I ended with three days of Backache Mind and Confused Mind. Also, it hit me how 'religious' it all was, especially the ordination and I got a bit freaked out by the fact that I was getting initiated into a religion. I clearly have a fear of religion. On the last night we had some wine and an impromptu sing-song which was fun. Food was great as usual.

It will take a while to digest all that.