Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Refuge: In Memory of John Daido Loori

I've learned that John Daido Loori, founder and abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery in Mount Tremper, New York, passed away on October 9, 2009. I never met him in person, but I've gained a lot from his writing about creativity and other themes.

Water Seeing Water, John Daido Loori

I often think about one of his commentaries of the idea of "refuge," which I read in the Winter 2007 issue of Tricycle magazine. In that piece, which was excerpted from one of his books, Loori looks deeply into the idea of "refuge." He begins by reminding us that in Zen training, one takes refuge in the Three Treasures by chanting, "Being one with the Buddha, being one with the Dharma, being one with the Sangha." So "refuge" means "being one with."  But what does it mean to "be one with"?

     The word we translate as “refuge” is taken from the Japanese term kie-ei. Kie-ei consists of two characters. Kie means “to unreservedly throw oneself into,” no holding back, no way out, no safety net, harness, or rope. That is the way a parent rescues a child who is in danger.... The second character, ei, literally means “to rely upon,” in the way that a child leaps into a parent’s arms, trusting unequivocally.
     I remember when my children were young. They were able to stand by themselves but couldn’t yet walk, and I would stand them up on the dresser and say, “Jump!” They would throw themselves into space, knowing I would be there. They had a complete sense of trust. It was total doing. “Unreservedly throwing oneself into and relying upon” differs from “a shelter or protection from danger or distress”—the more common definition of the word refuge.

Toward the end of this excerpt, he asks us to search ourselves:

Why do we practice? What is it that we seek? What is it that we want? What is it that we are prepared to do to get what we want? Are we willing to practice the edge, take a risk, unreservedly throw ourselves into practice?

I find a noble challenge in the contrast between refuge as "shelter from distress" and refuge as "throwing oneself into." Does the practice of taking refuge -- of taking refuge in practice -- play out as seeking shelter, playing it safe -- or just going for it? I mean in my life, in my everyday living. Unreservedly throwing myself into practice: to me, that means unreservedly being present to those around me. Unreservedly being present to myself. Unreservedly being present to what is, right now.

Every moment there is the choice: Jump! Or, wait and see. (Or, not now, I'm too busy.)

It comes back again to No Fear. Fearlessness, having no more fear. Just jump!

Like I said, this is a noble challenge for me. I'm not big on jumping. I'm used to fear; with fear I feel secure.

But I love that image of John Daido Loori's children jumping off the dresser into his arms. How wonderful that must have felt for them! Can I be next?

When I was little, my mother tells me, I loved to jump in my crib. I jumped so energetically that the crib would travel from one side of the room to the other. Here I am, jumping and smiling. Yes, it feels good.

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