S: As your role has shifted lately, I realize that I miss the time I used to have with you, particularly in dokusan. It’s not that there’s a vacuum, with both Shugen and Ryushin offering interview, but I wonder if you could offer something about how we can work with this transition, as you become less active in some of your activities as a teacher. I’ve never had a relationship like the one I have had with you. And I’ve never had to transition to someone new, so it’s new territory.
D: I’m still here, but one of these days I won’t be, just like my teacher is no longer here. When he left, many of his students became students of his dharma heirs. For me, there was a period of time when I figured, well this is it. I’m checking out. So for my health to transform the way it has, I am extremely grateful. At the same time, although my cancer is in remission, my strength hasn’t completely returned. So an evening like this is a pretty big deal for me. Ryushin keeps encouraging me to work more. He knows I can’t say no. And it’s probably the best thing for me, because it keeps me active and challenged. If there’s one thing in life that gives me juice it’s the students. The dharma comes alive within me when I’m in the same room with a student, and she’s asking and I’m answering or I’m trying to help.
The only thing I can suggest is patience. Give it time. Keep in mind that as much as Shugen and Ryushin appear to be different on the surface, the dharma is the same dharma. I listen to their talks, and I see what they write. Same dharma. I trust it. They also keep me informed with what’s happening with all the students. But what you may be feeling is the loss of the commitment that you originally made with me, and I can appreciate that. I hope it won’t be for long. Anyone else?
S: I’ve been practicing at home for about nine years now. I sometimes romanticize the life of a monastic or resident, but I’m very busy within a secular life. I come here maybe once a year. At home I try my best to read books and listen to what’s on-line. But when I come here, and I can see and feel the teachers and the sangha, I just think, “Whom am I trying to kid?” I feel very discouraged, and I often want to give up. Most recently, when I find myself breaking the precepts, I think that I’ll never be a Buddhist and want to just dismantle my altar and forget it. I just don’t know where to go from here.
D: I can appreciate what it feels like to come into a place like this and feel the sangha and feel the teachers, and then to be alone with no other people to relate to. I don’t know what to suggest except to use everything that we’ve got. We have a very strong on-line presence—there’s a lot of teachings on the web and it’s fresh, it’s renewed constantly. So there’s a lot you can do. It’s best to come and do a sesshin when you can. There are no quick fixes for it.
S: For someone like myself, who is very new to Zen practice and whose month of residency will soon be up—it feels like it’s flying by, though the days might feel a little long at times—I worry about going back home and finding a way to continue the feeling and experiences that I’ve had here. I’m worried that I won’t find that back at home.
D: You’ve been living a very regulated life here for a month where there’s not much choice. You get up every morning and you sit. When you’re on your own, you may choose not to sit one morning, and then two mornings, and then three mornings and slowly your practice slips away. I would connect with one of the centers near your home as soon as you can. Check them out, sit with them, see how it feels, trust your intuition. Most importantly, look around at the people that are there, and keep in mind that you’re going to be just like them if you hang out there. So be happy with them. If you’re not happy with them, then search for another place.
S: My three-month residency is going to end at the end of this month. It has been an absolutely phenomenal experience. I’m moving to an area where there are no other Buddhists nearby. I’m hoping that three months will have been enough to have developed the necessary self-discipline to keep this from just falling away. What would you suggest in a situation like this?
D: Set up a routine for yourself. Set up an altar. Make a commitment that you’re going to start your day with an hour of zazen, followed by a service, for example. And stick to that. Let that guide you and tell you what the next thing is that you need to do. You should still be able to access us on-line, listen to the talks. The web can be a very powerful tool. Dharma Communications exists precisely for people like you that live too far from any kind of training center or support group. Set up a program of study. You can do everything that you did here, except you’ve got nobody pushing you but yourself. It always comes down to self-discipline. Nobody else cares. It’s your life. Don’t waste it.