Guest Post – First Things….

Rev. Master Koten is a senior monk of our Order who I greatly admire and respect. He lives with his disciple, and others, at Dragon Flower Mountain in the interior of British Columbia, Canada. See the temple website for more teachings by Rev. Master Koten – there are photographs too.

They say the first thing one learns in a Zen monastery is to put one’s shoes straight and at least in Japan there is always a sign to that effect right at the front door. It is even said that this is the first koan assigned to a trainee because if this point of first mind can be thoroughly understood the whole point of Zen training can be accomplished.

Too many people think that the whole idea is to regiment one’s life as if the army would not do a better job of teaching this. No, no, no, a thousand times no! The purpose of the first koan is the calm and compassionate consideration of others, of all beings, always including oneself. Indeed, this is the point of mindfulness training as well.

To watch what one is doing as well as what one’s mind is doing is the perfection of Bodhisattva practice. This manifests in the smallest of ways. When we take the time to replace the toilet paper roll that has run out, when we place our empty tea cup down carefully where it will not be knocked over, when we put down the toilet seat when we are done peeing, we benefit beings by helping to free them from the miseries of frustration, anger and judgmental mind. So easy and so wondrous!

Our ability to see what needs to be done and to do it arise out of the practice of mindfulness and calm compassion and it is this that makes the life of a community, whether of one, two or twenty-five possible. This is why the putting of one’s shoes straight is the first thing.

In gassho,
HKoten

Very many thanks for permission to publish this article which also appears on the temple website. It is the first guest post by a monk of the Order.

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4 thoughts on “Guest Post – First Things….”

  1. This article puts me in mind of a time, many years ago, when David and I took our three children to a Buddhist family camp in the Theravada tradition. Though of course, the monks and laity had many ways of training with and manifesting compassion for both self and others, putting their slippers straight, as in the Zen tradition, wasn’t one of them. Being still ‘green’ to the true purpose of this practice, I found myself greatly ‘phased’ by piles of scattered shoes outside the meditation hall door. It took me a good 24 hours of persistent shoe tidying before I finally stopped, laughed at myself and let it go!

  2. I love this simple and straightforward teaching.
    I have a postcard from Eiheiji temple in Japan and on it reads: “If someone leaves shoes in disarray, let us silently set them to order, such an act surely will bring harmony to the minds of people around the world.”
    Thanks for the reminder!
    Pascal

  3. I like this story so much I will post it with the quote, and photo of shoes. Thanks Karen. I know how it is when one comes upon shoes scattered about. We have school children visit and sometimes their teachers must have told them about shoes, and other time they obviously have not!

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