Practice is what takes this life and makes it a sphere of sufficiency. Master Dogen said, “Those who regard secular life as an obstacle to the sacred know only that there is no sacredness in secular activities. They do not yet know that no secular activities ever exist in the sacred.” How do you discover the truth of this? Don’t regard secular life as an obstacle, as insufficient or problematic. Practice is sacred activity. Practice transforms what is secular and verifies that life everywhere is sufficient in its own way.
“This spot is a good place to build a sanctuary.” In this koan the Buddha and his congregation are walking through the landscape of India. It’s just another day in the life of the sangha, going from one place to another. Out of nowhere, Buddha stops: on this spot. Which spot? Where is it that he stopped? Why did he stop there? And pointing to the ground said, “This spot is a good place to build a sanctuary.” Indra, the Emperor of gods, arrives, acknowledging that this spot is one where gods are welcome, that they, too, are supported by this ground. Indra arrives and without hesitation picks up a blade of grass and places it down. The Buddha smiles. Watch carefully what happens with that smile. What is that smile? Is Indra waiting for some sort of an approval? Is it a sardonic smile? Is it a smile of just how ridiculous the situation is?
Why pick a blade of grass, move it over three feet, stick it in the ground and say, “The sanctuary has been built”? Was there something wrong with that grass growing over there? Was it that Buddha and Indra were not ecologically informed and didn’t know about environmental destruction and human self-centeredness, so they thought it was okay to start picking grass and putting it somewhere else? Would they cut a redwood, move it over three feet and say, “Boom! A sanctuary is built”? Or kill a leopard, stuff it and say, “Oh, the sanctuary has been built”? Or take a group of Cambodian refugees, place them in a camp and say, “Oh yeah, this is perfection. This is a sanctuary”? What’s happening in this apparently innocent gesture? Are they transgressing? Are they messing with our minds? With the minds of that sangha that’s watching this?
Was there a sanctuary before that action happened? Is this a sanctuary? Or do we have to do something? Maybe rearrange the seats in a particular way? Maybe put women on one side, men on the other side? Or maybe a perfect mixture of men and women together? Was there a sanctuary before the grass was picked? Was there a sanctuary before it was stuck in the ground? Was there a sanctuary before the declaration: “This is a sanctuary”? Was it a sanctuary before the Buddha smiled? Is it a sanctuary before you appreciate what is going on? Is there a sanctuary before you verify for yourself the reliability and the completeness of your practice?
During kentan, the morning liturgy in which the officiant opens the altars around the Monastery, the phrase “May this space and time be a sanctuary of true practice and training” started appearing in front of my mind. May it be a peaceful dwelling. This spot. This altar. This step. True practice and true training are the only sanctuary, the only place of safety, the only verification that this life, indeed, is sufficient in and of itself. True practice and training are the placing of that blade of grass in the ground, of taking up a single detail—any detail—and revealing within it its true nature.