Everyday Zen

This blog section is devoted to articles written by community members. Sharing practice can be challenging, it is also inspiring. If you like to contribute please let us know.

Book Review- A Monk's Guide to a Clean House and Mind

Found this little gem in W H Smith's on Norwich station and it entertained me on the journey to London and part of the way back. A delightful read, gentle and soothing with a real genuine zen feel to it. A lovely reminder that housework doesn't have to be such a chore and that cleanliness and tidiness are indeed next to godliness. Good for me. Will it have any effect I wonder?!

The Truth Lacks for Nothing yet Needs Expression

Whether it be by writing articles or poetry, painting, pottery or illustration, composing music or singing from the centre of your being, the sincere practitioner expresses Bodhichitta. Small charitable acts, practical help and advice and 'just getting on with it' in the face of life's difficulties all serve as examples of how to live the way of the Buddha. Yet often other lay trainees that I talk to have told me, usually with their eyes averted and head slightly bowed, that they don't feel that their training is 'up to much'. OK, maybe they don't use those actual words but through their body language and general reticence, that is what they communicate: a belief in their spiritual inferiority.

Whilst personally, I’d rather nurture the Buddhist virtue of humility over pride, to perpetually 'hide one's light under a bushel' neither serves humanity nor expresses the Truth. So why as lay people do we do this?

The most obvious reason, to me, is that many Buddhist traditions, including our own, have a functional hierarchy. For the most part, there are sound spiritual reasons why this should be so. It takes some time for a grounded practice to be established, which includes all aspects of The Noble Eightfold Path. In a monastic setting, where the master: disciple relationship is the foundation of spiritual growth, care is taken to ensure that what the trainee expresses as Truth, flowers as the gradual revelation of the Buddha Nature and not as a warped jangle of personal ego. As the monk progresses from novice to teacher to master, their actions can be monitored carefully and their deepening understanding marked by Transmission and the changing colours of robes and kesas - the outward recognition of internal change.

The deepening understanding of a layperson is much harder to observe and regulate because even though we may come together as a congregation and retreat to the monastery from time to time, functionally, we train alone. One of the consequences of this is that lay people can be left without formal recognition of their progress along The Way. We can hold up the ideal and say that this doesn't or shouldn't matter (and certainly if you are in search of spiritual accolades, I'd advise you to speak to someone about it) but because reward and recognition have been part of most people's achievement system, since birth, there is a very real danger that as lay people we doubt our spiritual worth.

In some senses, it doesn't help that the four classes of Buddhist practitioner appear as a list: male monks, female monks, male lay practitioners and female lay practitioners. So, what if I'm a lay practitioner and I am female, does that mean that I'm at the end of the line? I wrestled with this for sometime. In the end, either spiritual arrogance or spiritual tenacity took over (I'll let you decide which) and I just inverted the list in my mind and put female lay practitioners at the front! I smile as I write this, but for me it was not only a way of spiritually raising my eyes from my boots but a reminder of the imperative to train. If I'm at the back of the queue, I don't need to put the same amount of effort in as the male monk at the front - Oh no, I'm not letting myself off the hook that easily! So how do you motivate yourself to look up and keep going? Do the difficulties in your life hold you back in training or do you use them to propel you forward? Speaking personally, I'd very much like to know.

Often the greatest growth happens in the dark - out of sight. At one level, this is all fine. However, having the courage to bring your training into the light for others to see is a wonderful offering; an act of charity. Brightmoon provides a platform to do this. There is no fixed 'house style' or form and you don't have to be the greatest writer in the world. In fact, you don't have to write anything at all, actually. Photographs of personal altars, Buddha gardens, buildings and natural scenes, art work and illustrations; your own or the work of another that speaks to you and touches that tender place, within, are all welcome. A brief commentary would be nice but one of the team could do that, if you prefer. Please share it and let others be inspired and encouraged by it!

- Karen Richards

1.'The Truth lacks for nothing yet needs expression' - The Kyojukaimon and Commentary - Rev. Master Jiyu Kennet

2. Bodhicitta is a spontaneous wish to attain enlightenment motivated by great compassion for all sentient beings, accompanied by a falling away of the attachment to the illusion of an inherently existing self. (Wikipedia)