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Into the Dark Box


Dad used to go into confession while I'd wait in the kid's room. It wasn't weird for us to go on self-effacing excursions with Dad. He'd take us to meetings,too. My sister and I would play Monopoly while adults disclosed their character defects in detail. He never really talked about his Catholic faith or his program, but he was steady with his practice. He still is.

I never understood the idea of confession and my notion of the past complicated my view of it. I have a very simple Zen teacher who prescribes more Zazen on a daily basis and treats questions about karma and confession with overt annoyance. He's just not into talking about Zen. There are some things he loves to repeat and I'll be mumbling in my grave, but he doesn't want to talk about precepts, the 8 fold path, or anything "Buddhist." I don't think he's hiding his understanding. I think he's old(77)and cranky.

Although he's old and cranky, he's also well disciplined, and forms, chants, ceremonies, and samu is where I find my teacher. 90% watching, 5% listening to his rants, 5% feeling the Kyosaku. It's just his way. But in being well disciplined, he couldn't skip the confession part of our Jukai ceremony. And so, we all said, in Japanese:

All my ancient twisted Karma
From beginingless greed, hate, and delusion
born through body, speech, and mind
I now fully avow.


And I still failed to see the purpose. If all we have is now, what am I confessing? Who am I confessing for?

It took 20 days at Green Gulch, waking up each morning, and chanting the confession sutra in unison every morning to feel what confessing is. Hearing all those vibrating voices, all with a simple intention, brought confession into my body. I felt it. Can't explain it. Can't intellectualize it with Who am I? context.

What I felt at Green Gulch was an emerging resolve. It was just a start, but it gave me courage to pursue the way.

I think I'd like to explain what pursuit of the way is for me right now: Pursuing the way isn't easy and it's not glamorous either, like Dharma Bums. Pursuing the way has been the most difficult task of my life. It meant true confrontation. I was no stranger to confrontation, no stranger to resentment either. But I had to identify the true demons or enemies, and that's a daily process. Often times, it's not big business or status qua society, like my punk rock sentimentality suggested. First it was drinking. Then it was accepting things as they are. Some where in there was letting go of the idea that I'm so different from everyone else.

That's the big picture of my pursuit of the way. The small picture is even more boring: Sit in the morning, even though your tired. Stop judging your Zen teacher. Sit in the evening, even though your tired. Chanting matters, so do it. Put your head to the floor 3 times for Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Above all, do your best and stop thinking so much.

So this emerging resolve took me on a path I never thought I'd travel-a path of confession- into the rooms of A.A, into psychotherapy, and with constant strain of having students who need your support. And although my body's been in revolt, it's been communicating with me. For the last 4 days I experienced panic attacks, which started at 3 or 6am, while in bed. There was no cause that I could see, besides not going to A.A for a month, not sitting regularly, not exercising, but working for 12-15 hours a day in a high stress environment. No cause is an understatment, but what I mean is that work is hard, but work is good.

For the first three days, confusion ensued and I took refuge in every thing but the 3 treasures. On the 4th, after getting back on the zafu, the fog cleared. And just like Dogen wrote, suchness was there for the taking. As soon as it was, I called for help. I confessed. I asked my Co-teachers to call me the next day at 6am, I called my therapist (who I avoided for 2 weeks) and went back to work.

You know, I learned a lot. First that the way isn't self help for me, but that it's self perseverance. I don't feel like I need self help, or A.A, or a therapist. That's how I feel when things are good. Give me a month of no self-care, and I'll be a mess again. So A.A, therapista, and Zazen really aren't for me, but for everyone else. Self perseverance is for the whole world, especially my little world with a fiance, a school, and a community.

And confession is there to identify the defects in a non judgemental way. To be honest and in honesty find strength.

So this my not-so-glamorous-Bodhisattva-lay-life. Without a robe, I feel naked. Without living at the temple, I feel a little weak. But I just kinda gotta put one foot at a time into the muddy path to happy destiny.

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