I was writing a poem for the Buddha’s Enlightenment Ceremony and was brought face to face with the Buddha’s forty-seven years of teaching. I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude to him for having done what he did, and I remembered how it all started for me with that same over- whelming sense of gratitude to my teacher, Maezumi Roshi.
Often, people say to me that they have no idea why they practice, yet here they are, day after day, practicing. Spiritual fire is the thrust that drives you through all kinds of obstacles, until finally, you realize what you’ve been after, what you’ve been seeking. That’s when you become free, really free—and with that freedom comes gratitude to your teacher for the teachings so that by some mysterious, magic, mystical force you can’t avoid doing the same thing that he did, and so you put your head in the yoke. And once you take that step, you become vulnerable. In fact, I think once you take the step of sitting cross-legged, you’re already vulnerable. Each step leads to the next. Once you become a teacher, you naturally want to go beyond your own practice and do something for others. To the extent that we realize our own inherent wisdom, we manifest compassion. They both arise simultaneously—there’s no way to separate them. Many of us will pass on the teachings in a thousand different ways, and others will receive them. We pass on the teachings to our children at home, to students in a schoolroom, to friends, to other practitioners.
Obviously, not all of us need to shave our heads and put on the robe of the Buddha to pass on the dharma. But, it’s one of the characteristics of this teaching that as much as you realize—as much prajna, or wisdom, is realized—that much karuna, compassion, is manifested.