The Work of Our Time

Fusatsu by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Sensei

Featured in Mountain Record 30.1, Fall 2011

Geoffrey Shugen Arnold Sensei is abbot and resident teacher of the Zen Center of New York City: Fire Lotus Temple and Head of the Order for the Mountains and Rivers Order.


Editor’s Note: Fusatsu or “Renewal of Vows” is a ceremony based in the teachings of the Buddhist Precepts. It includes liturgy and a talk by the officiant, each focusing on the moral teachings of the Buddha.

 
Master Dogen's fascicle "The Bodhisattva's Four Methods of Guidance" helps us to ask the question: how do we help ourselves and each other to live without suffering? This is the same as asking, how do we live in harmony with ourselves, with others, with everything? How do we live without conflict?

Dogen says we can do this through the practices of giving, kind speech, beneficial action and identity action. When we let go of all attachment to the self, then we are naturally and spontaneously intimate with everything and in accord with the real state of things. But how is it when we're not in accord? The precepts point to this. They say that, when there is self-clinging, when there is a sense of separation, then we will fairly predictably do certain things. We will take life. We will take what is not ours. We'll hurt others through sexuality. We'll lie. We'll cloud the mind. We'll hurtfully speak of others' faults. We'll blame others in order to feel better about ourselves. We'll with- hold. We'll be stingy. We'll be angry. And we'll defile the Three Treasures, the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

If we reflect on any action that arises from perceived separation—from the three poisons of greed, anger and ignorance—we can see how that action creates a certain kind of relationship with one another that
is very dynamic and, to varying degrees, destructive, deceptive, suppressive, aggres-sive, diminishing, negating or obstructing. We can think of these kinds of actions as coming out of a certain sense of disregard. By acting in such a way, we're saying that someone or something—including ourselves—is unworthy of being seen clearly. And in our disregard, we actually turn against that person, that thing or ourselves, which means we're turning against the natural state of things.

When we study our actions closely, we realize that acting in anger makes it much easier to bring forth anger in another, like one flame igniting another. Withholding from others encourages them to be withholding. Speaking ill of others encourages others to do the same. Negative actions can lead to a kind of feeding frenzy when they're experienced by others who are receptive to—or actually seeking—that negativity themselves. Abusive or self-centered sexuality inclines those who experience it to continue that pattern. In other words, disregard leads to disregard. This is the nature of karma.