I recently spent a few days at Jikoji Zen Center, nestled in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. Jikoji is connected to my home temple, Hakubai, through our founding abbot and teacher, Kobun Chino Otagawa.
Jikoji is situated in a lovely forest grove along a creek, with deer and turkey families wandering about the forest floor and birds fluttering through the sun dappled canopy. It is a place that is very conducive to practice and to unplugging. Trails meander off in a number of directions from the center grounds, and take walkers along ridge tops and into the company of redwoods.
I noticed while staying at Jikoji that I carry an idealization about monastic living. I often idealize temple or monastery life, believing that if I were able to live in a more monastic setting, that I would sit all the time and practice would be easier. This is a romantic delusion.
Monks living at monasteries typically practice sitting meditation in the morning and evening, going about other business throughout the day – cleaning, working, cooking. Ordinary, everyday activities make up much of a monk’s day. It is only during intensive practice periods, sesshin, that a monk would practice sitting meditation for much of the day.
But sitting practice is not their only practice. Work practice, cleaning practice, cooking practice, walking practice, lying down practice – all activities and non-activities are opportunities for practice. Monastic life is a life of practice, whether sitting, standing, walking, lying down, or cleaning a toilet.
I realized while at Jikoji that I don’t need to be anywhere to do this. Where would I go to practice? Practice is in the ordinary, the everyday. Sit at home, sit at the temple – it doesn’t matter. Dreaming up some better place to be, where I could finally practice the way that I want to… this is just another way of avoiding the reality of the present moment, with all its pain and discomfort.
Slowly, quietly, dreams slip away.
(1) The photo is from Jikoji’s website, at http://www.jikoji.org/contact/