Hanamatsuri, the Flower Festival, the celebration of Shakyamuni Buddha's birthday, was celebrated last Saturday at the House of Meditation in Harrisburg, PA with the usual abundant sunshine, gentle breezes and wonderful dharma friends and ceremony.
It never ceases to amaze me that in the 16 years that the Blue Mountain Lotus Society has honored the Buddha with flowers, water offering and delicious food, it has never once been rainy and cold.
For my first ordination as Shuso 10 years ago, the skies threatened with storm clouds and high winds. I was in the middle of the 3 Questions on the Mountain Seat, a tumultuous, nerve wracking process of accepting any and all questions from the senior priests and the Sangha, and I was beginning to think I could get through these moments, when someone asked, "How do you know you are on the right path?"
I recall looking up at the crazy, dark clouds piling up and listening to the winds flap the canopy of the tent we were all under, and thinking, "Uh-Oh, how do I answer that one?" I must not have been silent for very long, though it felt like minutes, before I said, "When you are knocked down, blown over, rained on, and you get back up and start again, even if the wind is still howling and the rain is still falling and you just keep going, that's the path…."
Later, when I was thinking over my Mountain Seat ceremony, I heard nothing but the voice of judgement mocking my answer: Oh Puh-lease!? Really? That's it? What the hell sort of answer is that? It's not even an answer, it doesn't make any sense at all. Dumb!
And on, for awhile….recreating the answer in a million different ways.
These days that voice no longer directs me, and in fact is all but mute, the beauty of a Buddhist practice and the words of my incredible teachers having tamed with compassion that place of self-harm and recrimination.
If our practice does not stem from and draw upon the ground of our compassionate Buddha being, the fountain of healing and wisdom for ourselves and all others, then we need to look deeper at what it is we are actually practicing.
Over the years, this fountain of equanimity has changed in so many ordinary and extraordinary ways, and this is the Way of Zen--if I talk about a fountain, it is a gate-less gate, and the concept of ordinary/ extraordinary is simply empty.
Each Spring there is yet another conscious reason to renew my vows as a priest. Still, I look for, but can never find an answer that is in plain sight, just here, in one breath that leads to another as seamlessly as the beads on a mala: perhaps I renew my vows with each inhalation and exhalation, through the ordinary and the extraordinary, the vow natural and unconscious, an expression of living in gratitude.
In deep gratitude for my teachers!