Zen Training-Clouds and Water
Zen practice can be conducted in isolation from teachers and centers, and a certain amount of "progress" in clarifying the mind (seeing things as they are) is possible in such practice. However, deep thoroughgoing transformation, the perfection of character manifesting in our everyday life, is virtually impossible to accomplish practicing on one's own where, in actuality, the ego is directing the practice. When one begins to realize the extent of the ferocious and cunning self-preservative instincts of the ego, one realizes beyond a shadow of a doubt that one cannot rely on practicing on one's own, in a self-directed manner, to gain real liberation from the bonds of ego-delusion. Ego is always egotistical. Self-interest pervades every aspect of our behavior. The opportunistic ego is ever present, or at the very least, stands impatiently in the wings waiting to spring forth onto center stage.
One who feels deeply the urgency of attaining the Great Death in this lifetime must, therefore, enlist as much help as possible to dispatch the "feverish clod of ailments and grievances" that is the ego, one's small self. Training is essential for substantial ego attrition by bringing to bear, from the outside as well as from within, reinforcements against the forces of greed, anger, and delusion that have plagued us since beginningless time. In order for ego attrition to take place, it is necessary, then, to work very closely with a teacher and a group of like-minded practitioners on a regular ongoing basis, subjecting one's self to the discipline, instructions, and guidance of the teacher and others who have had longer training and are more advanced in their practice. Specifically this means:
the willingness to put aside one's preconceptio
ns, likes, dislikes, and preferences and to simply bow and serve, doing any kind of work asked of one;
accepting a certain amount of discomfort and inconvenience imposed by the request of the teacher;
accepting corrections, and when necessary, rebuke in the same spirit in which it is offered; and
putting others before one's self by giving time and energy to serve the Center, and other organizations and persons that promise no personal gain whatsoever.
These practices or disciplines, in part, form the essence and design of monastic training. Clouds and Water is a training program that attempts to adapt important aspects of the monastic approach to the spiritual work of ego attrition and realization, making them accessible to the highly motivated lay practitioner. This program
offers the lay practitioner, under the guidance and instructions of the teachers, the opportunity to work with others in participating in each aspect of the Center (administrative, maintenance, and zendo) in such a manner that serves the Sangha, diminishes the ego, settles the mind, and brings peace to one's self and the world. This training is the realization of the Buddha Dharma through the proper activity of maintaining our Center. Such training in all of the Center's activities involves continual contact with the teachers, working with other members, giving of one's time and energy, and putting others before one's self. Maintaining the Center's activities, under the watchful direction of the teacher and senior students provides a rich opportunity for practice.
Those accepted into the Clouds and Water program engage in intensive training by participating in the practice/training forms to the degree that their life circumstances and proximity to the Center allow.
Participants make a specific commitment to some or all of the following training forms:
- Every-Minute Zen
- All-Day Sittings
- Doctrinal Study
- Community Outreach
- Art Practice
Also, participants accept a rotation of positions, assigned by the teachers, in the zendo by way of training, in accordance with their time availability. The zendo positions often require considerable training.
Master Hakuin, speaking of the arduous training conditions of the past, warned: "If the difficulties of training in the past were right, then the easiness of today is wrong. If the easiness of today is right, then the difficulties of the past were wrong." It is hoped that those in the program will see the necessity for simplifying their lives, diminishing their needs, and living a rigorous and disciplined life by way of nourishing their spirituality.