An earnest novice monk approaches the training monastery requesting entrance.
He is invited in briefly, offered tea and sweets, and told by a senior monk that this place is too difficult for him and that he had better give up. The novice is quietly shooed away.
A bit disheartened, the monk waits outside the monastery. He knows this is the procedure and that many before him have had to do this upon entrance to the monastery. But he did not know how difficult it would actually be when he himself had to do it.
He continues to sit in meditation outside the gates or to prostrate himself at the steps. The older monks inside the temple see him sitting there and taunt him. “Go away! You can’t do it! You are too weak!”
The monk bears the insults and remains in seated meditation all day long. At the end of the day, out of pity for him, the monks inside offer him a little food and a place to stay for the night. They couch their generosity with, “But you must leave tomorrow morning!”
This pattern continues for the next week.
From an outsider’s perspective it seems cruel. The monk, after all, wants to be of service to the world, to be helpful, to get on with his training.
From the insider’s perspective this is an opportunity for the monk to build his resolve. Does he really want to do this?
There are countless Zen stories of monks building resolve to hear the Dharma. Two monks walked across China to receive the teaching from the National Teacher. When they finally met him after months of walking, he greeted the two monks by throwing a bucket of cold water on them.
The monks responded, “We will not be deterred by a bucket of water. We came for the Dharma.”
There is the story of Taiso Eka not being admitted to see his teacher, Bodhidharma. Eka waited out in the snow while it piled up. Once he made a deep resolve by cutting off the mind of grasping and demonstrating this to Bodhidharma, he was allowed admittance.
In my own case becoming a monk took way more than a week of sitting outside the monastery gates. That would have been too easy. In my case I lived with my teacher, in the temple, for six years as a lay person. This was my time period to really build my own resolve to serve and free all beings.
One of the four vows of Buddhism is, “Beings are numberless, I vow to free them.”
During that six-year period I was being tested by my teacher. Do you really care? Do you really want to do this? Do you really want to free everyone? She said, “No” several times to my request to be a monk, and she suggested that I leave, find a job, and get married.
During that six year period, I did not just sit in meditation waiting for entrance. I cleaned the temple, I cooked for my teacher and for my sangha. I had a role as Treasurer. I tended the garden. I accompanied my teacher to prison where she taught meditation. I helped organize retreats. I also worked part time as a nurse’s aide at a nursing home close to the temple.
At one point, close to the end of that six years, I realized that I did not need to be a monk to free all beings or to enjoy my life. I just needed to continue to ask myself, “How can I be of service in this moment?” This was a constant question for me.
My resolve moved from wanting to be a monk, to wanting to free all beings. It moved from pumping up my own ego to noticing and caring for the needs of others.
The vow to free all beings, and the resolve to actually do that were the main forces that propelled me on the path of the Bodhisattva. I continue to come back to my vow, especially at times like these, where I feel a total blow to We the People moving forward as a country.
The election of Donald Trump is not simply a win for one party and a loss for another. As a country, we have told the world and our people here that it is okay to be openly racist and misogynist in our thought, speech and action.
But this is not just a “one moment in our history” event. The roots of this stem back to the racist foundation of our country. Our karma as a country is rearing its ugly head. America’s chickens have come home to roost once again.
We thought we came a long way by electing an African American president. Our shadow side has resurfaced. This is a side of our history and of ourselves that many Americans would like to run away from or deny, and I see it most clearly in my own tendencies. But we are presented with a choice to once again face this head on and deal with it, or to run away from it and pretend that we are not a part of it, that our lifestyle does not benefit from it.
After this naïve monk received the shock of the election of a bigoted president, I grieved. It was not that it was beyond belief, but my faith in myself to do the work that lies ahead was very shaken.
For those of us who have been fighting for justice – racial, gender, climate – it’s as though we got a big NOOOO from the universe. It’s like the universe became that monk inside the temple saying, “You don’t really want this. Go away!”
I admit to feeling frozen in my path, as though a big ice storm just came screaming through the land from nowhere.
I can’t speak for others, but I feel that I am being asked to build my resolve once again in the fight for justice. Do I really want this or not? Am I prepared to buckle down and continue this fight? Can I meet the NOOOO with a YEEEESS!?
For me, there is no choice here but to move into the anger stage of grief, to unfreeze, and to continue to stand up. This is not a time for despair or to stay frozen, nor to listen to the lies of some so called leader, or to return to complacency of the white privilege type. This is not a time to justify inaction by pretending to be in some non-dual state of mind free from pain. This is the time for me to double down and continue to stand up for a just society. This is the time for me to accept this moment, to accept my history, in order to build my resolve to create a more lasting change that helps form this planet into a more just, caring and loving world where everyone of every color, sexual orientation, race and species feels they belong. Please join me in standing up together.