The other day I was working in the Zendo to repair our tan (platform for meditation). One of the boards that was holding one together was loose and wasn't safe to sit on. I talked to my teacher and asked if we should lower the tan to just above floor level and was told it would be possible to do so. I went ahead and took out the wood from the shed and set about completely reorganizing the zendo.
It is really hot in our zendo and we don't have air conditioning, like many places here in Southern California, so sitting in our robes is sweaty, working is sweaty, and eating is sweaty. As I was moving all the tatami mats and platforms I was working up a sweat and felt like I was working hard and building a space to practice Dharma and I was so set on how great this was going to be and how proud of this work I will be.
I would put the tatami over here, the narashimono (instruments for chanting) over there, I could put the rack for oryoki eating bowls over here, and everything will be so aesthetically pleasing. It will look so much better this way.
When I was finished I called my teacher and told him when he arrives at the zendo to let me know what he thought. I knew how great it looked and figured he would be so excited to see how much work I had done and how great it looked in there. I guess I was expecting a type of pat on the back and a "great job"!
When Sensei called me I was pretty surprised. He told me he could tell how much work I had done and that he really appreciated my dedication and it had shown from the work that I had done. This was it, I thought here comes the praise! "That being said... there are a couple of issues with how it is set up". He told me why things were set up the way they were and that tables were needed on the other side of the tan for eating, etc.
I was a little disappointed. This wasn't the response I was hoping for. I had done such a great job and surely the way I did things was the best right?
...And then it hit me. Sensei was teaching me something and I immediately felt embarrassed about how little my practice was working on me. I was doing all this work to get a prize. To get a great big "Well done"! I thought to myself all the work I did and we have to change things so what was the point of doing all that work.
I'm such an arrogant fool. Praise for all the work we do in life means very little when we are on our death bed. I'm going to die and I don't get to take any of the praise for a job well done with me. I was doing all this for the wrong reason. "Why do the dishes if we are just going to die"? Because they need to be done and we are alive to do it. Well, how best should I do the dishes then?
I feel that from this situation I have been able to reflect on the fact that I don't know best. I am learning and that means following, not being the leader, not knowing/ being the best, and listening with all my being. Learning means taking what is given and using it to deepen my intention to practice.
This situation reminded me of what I was like as a child with regard to food. I was such a picky eater. It didn't matter what way the food was prepared, how much hard work and sacrifice when into cooking and selecting the ingredients. It didn't matter that all that we had in our home was being offered to me to sustain my life. I did not like vegetables. No matter how nutritious or important it was for me to eat this food I would only pick the parts I liked and hide, or threw away everything else. Essentially, this was what I was doing with the way that I was being shown in the zendo. I will take what I want and change everything else that I don't like, or that I think should be different. How arrogant of me.
I vow to renew my effort for practicing the Dharma and learning the way because I don't know best. I need my teacher's help.
Thank you Sensei!
先生 ほんとうに 心から ありがとうございます