[The following article first appeared in the Spring 1992 (volume 19, number 1) issue of The Journal of Throssel Hole Priory. Used with permission.—ED.]
The place in which we truly sit
Is within our own body and mind.
Since body and mind embrace the Universe,
Nowhere can this place be found.
When we approach our sitting-place we do so as we would the altar, with great reverence and respect. We bow to it, turn, and bow to the room. This bowing can merely become a form, the meaning lost in yet another point of etiquette—at first to try and remember and later, after many repetitions, to forget. Entering the meditation hall at Throssel Hole Priory while there on a visit, I found my usual sitting-place occupied; and in addition, through an oversight, an alternate place had not been allocated for me. When the indignation (I regret to say) had died down, I began to view my sitting-place in a new light: namely, that it is not there as of ‘right’ and not to be taken for granted. It is offered and received with gratitude in the place where giving and receiving come together.
Immediately after a monk is ordained, there follows a Meditation Hall Entry Ceremony. The new monk is welcomed by the community into the hall and shown to his or her seat where three bows are made. Welcoming a new person to the group or priory, showing them where they can sit, how to bow to that place and how to regard it, is less formal and yet is essentially the same in spirit to the above monastic ceremony. It is welcoming a being into the embrace of the Eternal where, together, we come to realize the Truth of this embrace. This sitting place is offered to those who agree—albeit tacitly—to keep the Buddhist Precepts. The identity of training and enlightenment is very clear here. In order to be Buddha, we do our very best to act like a Buddha. It is false to imagine it can be otherwise. Everyday life and meditation (training and enlightenment) are not separate, they are identical when the Precepts are taken to heart and lived. Great Master Dogen states in Rules for Meditation, ‘…pure meditation must be done’1—the longing to do this takes expression in the incredible pains some people are prepared to go to in order to get to a meditation group meeting each week or to attend regularly at a priory, monastery or temple of the Order. Here, at least, there is a place and the time to sit still in meditation along with other like-minded people. The function performed by both temples and meditation groups in offering a place to sit with other trainees is, perhaps, their prime and most immediately valuable one.
One lay trainee told me of her struggle to find a place to sit while living in temporary accommodation. So much did she long to sit in formal meditation that on one occasion, having cleaned the room thoroughly, she set up her portable altar in the bathroom, offered incense, and meditated there. Often I hear accounts of how people skilfully weave in a few minutes of meditation whenever they can—for example, before the children awake, or sitting for a moment or two on a park bench at lunchtime. So often group members become overly concerned about the numbers of people who attend the meditation group. If there has to be a measure, it is the willingness to welcome openly all who wish to meditate and train in the Buddha’s Way: to offer them a place to sit.
When bowing to our place
Gratitude knows no bound.
The longing to be as Buddha strengthens
And our True Place is found.
1. Rev. Master P.T.N.H. Jiyu-Kennett, The Liturgy of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives for the Laity, 2nd ed. rev. (Mt. Shasta, California: Shasta Abbey Press, 1990), p. 99. Also Rev. Master P.T.N.H. Jiyu-Kennett, The Monastic Office, (Mt. Shasta, California: Shasta Abbey Press, 1993), p. 77.