In our training, we’re consistently urged to engage in what Dogen speaks of as “undivided activ- ity.” Total immersion in whatever we’re doing—whether it’s work, liturgy, taking a meal, sitting zazen. This is another way of saying that we have to be willing to risk everything, to hold noth- ing back. But how do we actually allow ourselves to care that deeply, how do we put ourselves on the line and say, “I’m here. I am doing this”? That’s what a vow is. We commit to practice. We take our seat and we don’t move away. And then the period ends. But what about the vow? We breathe out and step forward into the myriad circumstances, committed to our life, taking care of the people and situations before us. We let ourselves be totally immersed in the activity of living. There is risk here, too.

Stepping forward means that sometimes we fail. So be it, fail. I often remind students that there is a standing up practice and a falling down practice. There is a stepping forward and the gate falls away practice, and there is a stepping forward and the gate stops you practice. The more it matters, the greater the risk. This is why some people respond by practicing, “I just won’t let it matter. I’m cool. Easy come, easy go.” But is this “not dwelling”? How do we know when we’re still grasping? Grasping always reveals itself. But we have to be able to recognize this ourselves.

A cloud rhino gazes at the moon, its light engulfing radiance. Ultimately, there’s just this cloud rhino, gazing at the moon. A rhino is a huge, formidable, hulking animal. It weighs thousands of pounds. But its substance, its nature, is like that of a cloud. Sometimes clouds are beautiful, some- times they’re menacing, sometimes you can see through them, sometimes they’re black as night. But what happens when we step closer? In stillness, mind and object merge. This is why zazen is so essential, because in that stillness, we can see what is very difficult to see, what cannot be per- ceived with the senses. Language can’t convey it, which is fine. That’s what the language of Zen is doing. In a sense, it’s using plain English to speak a different kind of language.

31.3 Shugen 2 of 2 Mike Baird