Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Yesterday afternoon, I had the opportunity to talk to a group of students who have been studying the History of Religion this semester. It was a 1:30 p.m. class, just an hour, but I know this is somehow the witching hour with students--mid-day slump is beginning to kick in, lunch is slowing down the system, perhaps the morning has been a bit frantic (mine was!), and this time of day seems to pass like a tortoise in the heat...very, very slowly.
I set up a simple butsudan in front of the classroom, donned my rakusu and waited a bit nervously for students to trickle in. Their professor was reminding them of assignments due by the end of the week, something about a term paper, and I could feel the heaviness descending. Eyes not closing but also not open, heads bent, bodies slumped into gentle S curves around the uncomfortable looking standard wooden desk-chairs. A few students were busy texting on cell phones, others were gazing out the windows.
I decided to do a quick silent meditation, and directed the students of please silence and put cell phones away, close their lap tops, put their pencils down, close their notebooks. It seemed like a chore for them to disperse with the accessories of student life and I thought of Bodhidharma's forceful admonition:
A special transmission outside the scriptures,
Not founded upon words or letters;
By pointing directly to one's mind
It lets one see into one's own true nature
And thus attain Buddhahood.
No one fell asleep in that brief meditation, but no one volunteered any comments about the sit either. We moved on, as they once again took up pens and opened notebooks and laptops.
I began by explaining the significance of each component of the Busudan, but the lingering sense that I was still not connecting very deeply with the students remained.
Here was fertile ground for the insecurity of my conditioned ego self to play its usual tricks: "I am boring, I have nothing of worth to offer, how can I entertain them, I'm a failure."
I smiled to myself as the voices of conditioned ego self made themselves so immediately available, playing the same old tape loop in a most predictable manner.
And then something remarkable happened--a bird flew into one of the windows with a sensational crash, beating and drumming its wings repeatedly on the glass before flying off, none the worse for the wear.
Several students beside the windows startled and covered their heads. Everyone sat up as if sprayed with cold, cold water.
Alert, awake, upright! Hey! Here we are! Right here!
I started laughing.
From the front of the room, I had witnessed the whole split-second, synchronistic scene. I had witnessed the moment of energetic wakefulness and the question on everyone lips, What was that?!?
"That was a Robin," I said, "and I saw him fly off so he's not harmed, but you are all very much awake in the moment!"
And I clapped my hands in a loud staccato to focus all eyes up front.
Everyone laughed, and in just a few seconds, that laughter began to wash away the tenseness.
From that moment on, for the remainder of the class, the questions and discussion were free-flowing and sincere, and I could feel in my heart that we were truly connected, that I was speaking from a place of authenticity and ease, and that the students were meeting me more than half way, absorbing and recycling the energy we were creating.
But it took Sensei Robin's teaching moment, the call to Wake Up! that really opened our Shunyata and saved the hour from being just one more lecture! Thank You Sensei.