Friday, April 13, 2012

Harmonies Of Buddha Fields

One of the first doanryo jobs I had was as a cleaning chiden, the person who takes care of the altars so they are pristine for the morning schedule, and one of the first things I learned in that job was that altars are supposed to be symmetrical. Each altar should have a clear centre line, which typically comes down through the nose of the Buddha, Manjushri or other statue, through the incensor and kobako, and is continued through the altar furniture, on which, in most cases here,  there is detailing that makes the centre line very clear. Other elements on the altar, particularly the candle and flowers, are arranged to reflect this central symmetry, creating a harmonious whole.
Close readers of the blog will have noticed that I can be a stickler for things being in the right place, and this is more to do with my character than the job of ino; when I was tenzo I spent a lot of time tidying up trays, cutlery, and other things, keen to leave the impression that the kitchen was being taken care of. At the end of the dishwashing counter, where people would frequently leave miscellaneous items that had been through the sanitiser, I placed a sign that said,"Everything has its place, and it is not here" - not that it had much effect, though.
As a doshi, in which role you are always at the energetic centre of a room, I notice how I feel if parts of the altar are not correctly lined up, and during the service I usually endeavour to put them back in alignment. Recently I had noticed that the zendo altar did not feel right, and when I took the time to measure it, I found that the whole thing had moved a couple of inches, and was not properly centered in the space between the dividers; when I put it back, I felt much better again.
Somewhere I read, and I thought it was in a book by Eido Shimano, but I have not been able to find it again, a wonderful passage, where the teacher talks of the practice of monks taking off their shoes outside the zendo or any other place. The encouragement was to be mindful of even such commonplace actions, and the passage ended by saying, when your shoes are neatly lined up, the entire universe is functioning correctly.
As part of my musings on this, I was thinking of various translations of dukkha that we sometimes hear, beyond the basic 'suffering', and this quote from Wikipedia abundantly catches what I was wanting to articulate:
Sargeant (2009: p. 303) explains the historical roots of duḥkha and its antonym sukha:
It is perhaps amusing to note the etymology of the words sukha (pleasure, comfort, bliss) and duḥkha (misery, unhappiness, pain). The ancient Aryans who brought the Sanskrit language to India were a nomadic, horse- and cattle-breeding people who travelled in horse- or ox-drawn vehicles. Su and dus are prefixes indicating good or bad. The word kha, in later Sanskrit meaning "sky," "ether," or "space," was originally the word for "hole," particularly an axle hole of one of the Aryan's vehicles. Thus sukha … meant, originally, "having a good axle hole," while duhkha meant "having a poor axle hole," leading to discomfort.[27]
According to grammatical tradition, dukkha is derived from dus-kha "uneasy", but according to Monier-Williams more likely a Prakritized form of dus-stha "unsteady, disquieted".[28] The Sanskrit prefix 'su' is used as an emphasis suggesting wholesome, high, evolved, desirable, strong and such.


Anonymous said...

arranged to reflect central symmetry ..

things being in their right place ...

... to have perfect alignment ...

all this totally reveals why you placed your zafu on your head and had that glorious radiance of pure joy!

Shundo said...

Thank you, these things are not unrelated!

Shonen said...

It has been many, many years since I have done oryoki (and truth be told, I don't particularly miss doing it).

However, I find that whenever I'm eating something out of a bowl, there is only one position I can leave the spoon in when I'm done eating. Upon doing that, something clicks inside of me, as if I myself have shifted into the "correct" position and at that moment, I feel connected to all the times I have done oryoki and I tap into the stillness of that activity in the zendo...and I smile. Even if I haven't been particularly mindful while eating from the bowl, it is a wonderful way to end the meal.

Shundo said...

Thanks Shonen. Although we are supposed to practise leaving no trace, it is wonderful that the practice leaves its marks on us in all kinds of subtle ways.