Friday, May 14, 2004

On gradtitude

Dear A***,

If I have what it takes...boy what a

I have a poem about this that I wrote a while may not at first seem to apply ..but maybe I
can explain it.

The Doshi lead a magnificent ceremony,
but the Buddha on the alter remained

I do not know about you..but I have people expressing
their gratitude to me quite frequently, I usually find
it embarrassing. I look down and scuff my shoes in the
dirt and mumble something like "... it was nothing".
People who have benefited from some action I have
taken feel a need to express their gratitude. I am not
sure how this works..or what need it fulfills..but I
am pretty sure it does not greatly benefit the
receiver of this gratitude. The person we are grateful
to has already received the benefits and costs of the
action we are grateful for, and is probably not really
in need of our expressions of gratitude.

This being said, I often find myself struck by
something that makes me just stop and do a little bow.
This bow does benefit me. It is a physical action that
recognizes the wonders around me each moment...and is
a tiny ceremony that helps to put me back in harmony
with what is happening. ..It is a tiny acknowledgment
of my at least momentary awareness.

I remember when I had to learn the procedure for
offering water and rice to each alter in the
temple...well not each alter..but only certain
ones...and each one had a particular cup and bowl that
had to be set out and picked up at a particular time.
The water at one time..the rice at another. I remember
running around the temple with my tray of water cups
trying not to spill a drop and still get the rounds
made before the time allowed was up....and wondering
what in the hell I was doing. It seemed particularly
silly to me..and I had so many better things to do.
What good would it do the statue? What a joke. I would
have benefited much more from a little nap then I
would from this ..and the statue needed the water not
at all. When I got home...I did not offer water every seemed a little silly and unnecessary.

Then I read somewhere what someone wrote of the time
of Dogen's death. Dogen's Jisha was so lost and
grieving when the master passed that he did not know
what to do ..the whole temple was in shock..what to
do? how to do it...the poor lost Jisha just kept
bringing tea and cakes to the teachers
grave..delivering and serving just as he always
had...he did not know what else to do. Dogen no longer
drank the tea..he no longer ate the cake. The little
ceremony did not help the master on his way..nor aid
his rest in any way..the little service helped the
Jisha remember and feel close to the master that
helped him on the way. It recalled a time when the
master was there to answer the questions, and whack
the fools, and helped the Jisha remember what he had
been taught at those times. It gave the Jisha the
opportunity to start his day just as he always had,
and to feel a comfort and ease in his role in the
world. The Jisha served the tea and cakes till the day
he died. His fellow monks took up the task because
this demonstration of dedication had meaning and
comfort for them. I am sure this Jisha was not the
first to make such offerings..I am sure Ananda had the
same reaction when the Buddha passed. We do not do
this because the Buddha needs our offerings, we do it
because it eases our grief, it connects us with those
who got the opportunity to serve the Buddha some rice.

After hearing this story..I began to serve the water
and rice again. Not because I was grateful to the
Buddha for his teaching, but because I wanted to put
myself in harmony with those who had gone before, and
served in their turn. I am sure they also did not
always serve in gratitude, I am sure some days they
were tired and angry, and resentful as well. I do not
serve a bowl of rice to give something. I am not so
egotistical to think anything I could do would benefit
the Buddhas. I serve the rice to get something..the
something those who served had..that must be renewed
each moment.

Now I am a Priest. It is my job to make ceremonies and
offer incense. I do the ceremonies not because I will
move a statue..nor speed Buddha on the way to
somewhere he already got. I chant and bow and serve
the people so we can get in harmony with the place
we are, in the moment we are there. So we can create a
place and time where grief is comforted, pain is
eased, good times remembered, and good people are
imitated.The service is not for the Buddha it is for
us. When I bow it is not in gratitude, it is in
humility. I understand the innumerable labors that
have brought me to this moment, and that my virtue
does not deserve it. I bow because I cannot stand. I
cannot hold up the universe on my shoulders..I have
lost...I am beaten. There is nothing else I can do. My
bow does not benefit the statue on the alter..It
benefits brings me into harmony with what truly

Sometimes I feel grateful for the lesson, sometimes I
feel pissed that I lost again. Sometimes the I is no
longer there and there is no gratitude or anger,no
grief or no peace. It does not matter what I feel when
I bow, it does not benefit the Buddha that I bow. When
I really get a glimpse of the way thing really are I
have no choice..the only response I have to the
overwhelming truth is to bow. If I am not really in
the groove and my samadhi has fled in the face of some
storm or another, I can make a bow and remember the
times I bow as I should. I can get some of the same
feelings I get when I have to bow. I can use my
physical being to put myself in a posture that reminds
me of that samadhi, and maybe find my way back there
again. I doubt the Buddha cares if I bow..but I do.

When I bow I am not bowing to ..I am bowing from. I am
bowing from the realization of the overwhelming truth
that the whole world and everything that ever was has
supported the efforts that have brought me to this
moment. If there is a statue in front of me it
represents all these labors..all the births and deaths
and joys and sufferings that have brought us to this
moment. I bow because I cannot bear the grief, nor
dance a dance that expresses the joys, nor carry the
burdens, nor put them down.

So keep your gratitude. The Buddhas and Ancestors do
not need it ...what an ego to presume we had anything
to offer them anyway. We must wake up to the situation
we are really in ..and bow because we cannot
stand...bow before we fall and hurt ourselves. That is
our only real choice.

Be Well