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Narrow Bridge: Fear
Our Zen practice
is not about transcending, or getting away from—it’s this,
this, exactly this is the vast ocean. One of the reasons I’m talking
about this is that I went to the hospital a week and a half ago, and I’m
fine, but I had day surgery and I didn’t like it one bit. I was
really scared. Fortunately, I could practice with my fear. I didn’t
know what else I could do with it except be absolutely miserable and maybe
mean to other people, and I didn’t want to be mean. What I saw was
that our usual habit in the ordinary world does not really hold this as
a reality, so it takes a lot of support. It takes sangha. It takes community
to help us hold this and remind us of the truth. In this sterile environment
of the hospital, which is good—we don’t want bacteria, but
it was sterile in other ways that weren’t so good—I brought
my own support system so I could remember to practice, and it was a good
Remember this stuff about fear, because now I’m going to talk about
living in vow, making a little transition. To live in this big frame,
in this vast frame, is leaving home. Do you guys ever leave home? Where
do you go? To your friend’s house, to school, to the park, to band
rehearsal. In the Zen world, which is the whole world, leaving home is
being exactly here in this vast ocean of perfection, and fulfillment.
I’m going to sing another song. Are you ready? I’m going to
sing it, and then I’ll tell you what it means, because it’s
not in English, and I’ll tell you about it.
[sings in Hebrew]
What this means is, “The whole world is a narrow bridge, and the
essential thing is not to fear at all.” This song comes from a very
famous Jewish mysic named Reb Nachman, who lived in the 1800s in Ukraine.
This “not to fear at all” is living in vow. No difference.
In our Zen tradition, the ordination ceremony makes visible and public
one’s inner commitment to living in this way. We together, Buddha,
dharma and sangha, all of us together create a ceremony in which we ritualize
this passage of inner heart and outer form, joining together.
At the ceremony, one receives an outer robe, a big black robe with butterfly
sleeves, which embraces her in our Chinese ancestral garment and under
it she wears a kimono, which is from our Japanese ancestral lineage, and
over both of those she wears an okesa, which she sews with many people’s
help. It takes her many months and there’s a prayer in every stitch.
This is the robe that the Buddha wore, that he asked Ananda, his attendant,
to design for him to look like a virtuous rice field in which the whole
universe manifests harmoniously.
As priests we wear this lineage, which kind of holds us up and supports
us to awaken here together. So, India, China, Japan, Minnesota--right
here, like this, together. One also receives a priest’s name, or
Way name, and a set of bowls. These bowls were made to last a long time,
and also in Japan the largest one is the Buddha bowl. It’s used
for begging, but begging isn’t like begging we think here. Begging
is the reciprocal interdependent arising of our life. It’s “throwing
ourselves away into,” Katagiri roshi used to say, throwing ourselves
away into being supported completely without any idea. We don’t
have that practice here, and I haven’t been to Japan but my understanding
is that it’s quite touching and very beautiful because it’s
reciprocal. It’s not just begging. It’s giving and receiving
in a big world.
One also receives lineage papers called Buddha’s bloodline. It has
Buddha’s name at the top and all the ancestors written and then
the preceptor’s name and the priest name at the bottom. All this
outer form is a support for them and for us to recall our deep intention
to live in this vow, this vast homeleaving space, and to awaken each moment
with each other, with all living beings. We are in training, but not different
than someone who doesn’t wear robes. We’re all in training.
Good grief. We’re all in training. We’re all living in vow,
and this is an outer manifestation of that.
You know, if you ever got married, it’s kind of scary, like you’re
making your inner heart public. Then also when you make it public, the
support, like the ocean, flows in to support this very difficult thing,
this commitment. It’s hard to stay on the point isn’t it?
If I make a commitment to do the laundry, I might make a phone call instead.
Not that that’s wrong, but you know how it is. It’s hard to
One very important part of the ceremony is receiving sixteen bodhisattva
precepts, or guidelines and the very last one is this: “taking up
the way of not abusing the great truth of the triple treasure.”
The triple treasure is Buddha, that’s the truth of awakening; dharma,
that’s the teaching but also the truth of the interconnectedness
of all life all through time and space; and sangha, that’s the community
of practitioners who support each other in awakening, and it’s also
community in the larger sense, environmental, all living beings. You could
say it’s deep ecology, yeah? Not abusing the great truth of the
Dogen says, “The body is manifested, the dharma is unfolded, and
there is the bridge in the world for crossing over.” Just like that
song I sang you in Hebrew. The world is a narrow bridge. The important
thing is not to fear at all. It’s the same bridge. “The virtue
returns to the ocean of all-knowing wisdom. This is unfathomable. Please
accept it with respect and gratitude.” It’s very huge. Katagiri
roshi, the founder of this temple, always taught in a huge way that when
we were twenty-five we didn’t understand. But we felt something.
He would say, “I know, you don’t understand.”
And we would say, “You’re right. We don’t understand.”
We altogether become this bridge for crossing over. We become this bridge.
When I came to this temple as a priest, I have a little friend who gave
me something on that day. Her mother is very sneaky. She called me up
and said, “What would you tell my 5-year-old daughter about what
So I innocently said the following: “I’m making a big promise
to myself and to all living beings throughout time and space, a promise
to trust in that thing that is bigger than anything than I can understand.
By doing this I really want to help all living beings be happy and understand
their life. I can become something that helps all living beings be happy
and understand their life.” She put it on one of her pictures, and
her mother did something with her computer, and made this. This priest
ordination is the complete working together of Buddha, dharma, sangha,
and realizing all of of this, including all living beings and space and
past, present and future—huge, all of us together.
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