Practice takes many forms. We may meditate at home before a full day of work, we may practice while taking care of our children or aging parents, we may volunteer to help our communities, we may be a resident at a local temple, we may listen to dharma talks during our commute. In the myriad ways intention can be expressed, together we support each other.
We interviewed four sangha members to learn about their experiences with practice in daily life. Last week we heard from Dennis McNally and Emma Jackson. Below are two more slices of Zen Center life.
Ilaria Tassi is an immunology scientist, a participant in the recently concluded Fall 2015 Practice Period at City Center, and a member of SFZC’s Branching Streams sangha in the Washington, DC, area, All Beings Zen.
If you come to City Center in the mornings, you may have met Ilaria. She regularly joins the community for early morning zazen before heading off to a full work day in medical research. Frequently she can be found volunteering as doorwatch for the zendo. She says, “When I sit zazen, I align with the precepts, I open to whatever happens, and I am mindful before speaking.”
Studying the precepts is a significant part of Ilaria’s life these days as she prepares for lay ordination with her teacher, Rev. Inryu Bobbi Ponce-Barger of All Beings Zen. Reflecting on the physical distance from her teacher in DC, Ilaria says:
Even though I’m at City Center, I’m able to keep in touch with my teacher over a long distance. Over the Internet we are able to stay close as I sew my rakusu and study the precepts.
I started practicing in Washington, DC, with Bobbi, and I am now deepening my practice at City Center, which I consider my new family. It is wonderful to have three families: my original one in Rome (where I am from and where my parents live) and my two sangha families, in DC with Bobbi and at City Center.
At the end of the work day, you may find Ilaria back at City Center. “After an intense work day I very much enjoy coming to City Center and attending classes. As I reflect on situations at work and in the world, I am able to see my opinions and the opinions of others in a better light. For me, this is the dharma gate of repose and bliss.”
Jiryu Rutschman-Byler is a priest, Green Gulch Farm resident, father and husband, and he leads the San Quentin Buddhadharma Sangha (also a Branching Streams affiliate, which meets at San Quentin State Prison). In addition, he currently works at Green Gulch as assistant to Abiding Abbess Furyu Schroeder.
“Those who think that worldly affairs hinder the Buddhadharma know only that there is no Buddhadharma in worldly affairs; they do not know that in the Buddhadharma there are no worldly affairs.” –Dogen Zenji, Bendowa
This passage from Dogen expresses my sense of daily life these days. Though I’ve had the privilege of many years of focused temple training, all day immersed in the beautiful and “special” forms of Zen practice, anyone who followed a day in my life now would see that just past the monk’s clothes is a life completely full of “worldly affairs.” My life as a priest is not just zazen, study, practice discussion and formal teaching—I spend at least as many of the actual hours of the day immersed in the “mundane world.” As assistant to Abbess Fu Schroeder, I have various administrative duties and spend my time emailing, scheduling meetings, re-scheduling meetings, scheduling pre-meetings, reporting on meetings, etc. Especially as my wife Sara is now carrying many of Green Gulch’s daily and long-term operations from her position as director, I also have abundant “householder” duties—taking my kindergartener to school, playing with my toddler, washing dishes, doing laundry, putting the kids to bed, etc. And in all of that, though surrounded by the beauty and peace of Green Dragon Temple, I go up and down through all the same successes and failures, frustrations and joys that we all do.
So where is the Buddhadharma there? Is it lost in these “worldly affairs”?
I think sometimes that it is, and I no doubt often act like it is, but in my heart of hearts I am clear now on this core point of Zen practice—whatever is happening, no matter what is happening, it is 100% opportunity for me to see my life as it is, in its total inconceivability, wonder and non-separation. I slip all the time, but fundamentally I know that there is no need to resist the life I actually have. The moment I have now is just as “deep” and “Zen” as the “deepest, Zennest” moment of the deepest meditation retreat there could be. How could I reach past this perfect moment for some “better” or “more spiritual” one? If there is any Buddhadharma at all, it is only right here, and if I call this moment “merely worldly affairs,” I am missing it.
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Please visit sfzc.org/dayinthelife to see more, and please consider making a donation to support our shared practice.
Ilaria photo by Shundo David Haye; Jiryu photos by Judith Keenan.