Buddhism is still young in the West and I often think of us as bodhisattva pioneers. Most of us started practice relatively late in life, well beyond the time when learning quickly by heart and body was easy. So there is a lot of catching up to do. This can sometimes feel overwhelming because not only are we pioneers, Buddhist practice itself is in a pioneering phase. To train the mind and to free oneself from deeply ingrained personal, social and cultural conditioning in order to appreciate this life to the full, has always been challenging. But perhaps it is even more challenging for us today. Not only are we pioneers in our personal lives, but also “guinea pigs” for a future dharma.
A lot depends on how far we wish to go, of course. Can we dare allow practice to transform our life into something new? And, may it someday be possible for the whole world to be transformed? According to a quote ascribed to the great historian Toynbee, “The coming of Buddhism to the West may well prove to be the most important event of the twentieth century.” Could that be true? Many of us feel like we are responding to a call that goes far beyond this life. And as our practice matures, so does our understanding of what Buddhist practice actually entails and how it could possibly benefit future generations. Altogether, this makes our practice an experiment that requires close attention.
One interesting thing I’ve noticed here at Zen River is that the development of what I call the “inner” temple seems to influence the development of the “outer” temple, and vice versa. With the inner temple I mean our vision and training program; in other words the way we explore the basic principles of Buddhism and go about the details of meditation, koan practice, dokusan, ritual, scriptural study and social action; the way we view the roles of teachers and students, monks and lay people, resident and non-resident sangha members; and how we develop and maintain connections with the local community and with other teachers and students, centers and temples, here and abroad.
With the outer temple I mean the physical location and the building and grounds, as well as the various rooms, each with their specific functions and furnishings; the altars and statues, the zafus and zabutons; the robes, bells, and drums; books and magazines; pots and pans, stoves and refrigerators; computers and phones, newsletters and mailing lists, sewing and washing machines, bedding, cloth lines and irons, boilers, lamps and miles of electric wire; cars, lawn mower, shovels and wheelbarrows, flowers, paint brushes, drills, hammers and screwdrivers. Obviously, bodhisattva pioneers have their work cut out for them! Happily, there are enough jobs to go around, and the inner temple and outer temple seem to develop simultaneously.