Spiritual Fire

Yesterday I was talking to a monk who I’d trained with as a novice at Shasta Abbey in the early 1980’s. We remembered the intensity of those days, the intensity of the everyday life training. You could say there was a spiritual fire lit under us which was fanned constantly by our engagement with what was before us. That’s hard to explain and easy to misunderstand as some kind of striving, although there was probably some of that too.

Years ago I advised somebody to Train as if his hair were on fire! Not that I remember the event, it’s just I have been reminded of having said that relatively recently. Is there ever a time when the fire goes out? Or more correctly the intensity wanes? I’d say yes and no! That is to say the conscious awareness of spiritual fire/practicing intensely comes and goes and sometimes one has to, with all urgency, fan the flames. As a senior monk there is nobody other than oneself to pick up the fan and that’s the same for everybody actually, at any time. However long one has been meditating and however enlightened. One could say that the right use of the will is the koan (problem) of daily living?

Anyway, now returning to Dogen Extensive Record (Eihei Koroku) translated by Taigen Dan Leighton & Shohaku Okumura. Just looking at the closed book on my desk causes some anxiety to arises! Even after years and years translating Dogen Shohaku Okumura confesses he doesn’t understand Dogen at all! This gives me some hope. This morning the book opened to Dharma Hall Discourse #60, page 117, This Genjokoan. Rev. Jiyu-Kennet translates the word Genjo-koan as The Problem of Everyday Life.

In just about every discourse Zen Master Dogen is encouraging the listener, and now the reader, to keep up with practice. Not to drift through ones day, not to merely get by pleasing oneself and falling asleep to ones purpose. To be where one is and not to be where one is not. In this discourse Dogen says:

It is just our present rolling up the curtain and letting down the curtain [at the entrance to the meditation hall], and getting up and getting down from the sitting platform.

I remember everything about that curtain. The sound of it coming down at the end of the day, the feel of the fabric while rolling it up. The importance of getting the line of the rolled up curtain straight and not left at a rakish angle. The discolouration of the fabric where hands had repeatedly grasped it. This is not an expression of sentimentality. More that no time has passed. Early in the talk Dogen says:

What is this genjokoan? It is just all buddhas in the ten directions and all ancestors, ancient and present, and it is fully manifesting right now. Do you all see it?

At the end of the discourse he says:

Today this mountain monk [Dogen], for the sake of all of you expounds this again and repeatedly.
Then Dogen pounded the floor with his staff and immediately got down from his seat.

Well that says it!

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2 thoughts on “Spiritual Fire”

  1. That does indeed say it . As the sands of my life run through the glass I am increasingl aware my hair IS on fire! There really is no time to waste.
    Thank you for posting this.


    1. Yes, even whistling a happy tune while walking the dog or pottering away in your studio with nothing in your hands.

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