Five guest students are with us this week -- people who have arranged their lives, and perhaps used their vacation, to try out temple life. They are always such a delight, full of heartfelt questions, eager to get to the zendo, curious about what it means to sit and be quiet amidst the American dream of progress and acquisition. You get the impression that they're no longer enamored with manifest destiny (or maybe never bought it in the first place). One of them asked me about the role of ambition in Buddhism. His face lit up at the possibility that he could have an ambition to be kind, compassionate and wise in whatever profession he chose.
We talked at length about she shin, Tibetan for the alert awareness that watches our mind. It's that capacity within us that sees how the rest of us is doing -- the part that notices we're angry/sad/happy/vengeful/calm -- but is none of those itself. It is, in a sense, the ultimate refuge to which we can return again and again, a capacity that sees keenly into our nature, that is obviously present, but is empty (in the Buddhist sense) of any defining characteristic except unconditional acceptance of what is.
And this is the trait that makes guest students such wonderful teachers. They just accept the ways of the temple, so odd in so many ways from what they're used to. They have questions, of course, but mostly they just do what we ask, follow the schedule, eat what's offered, and sit facing a wall. Some of them come back. Some of them move in. Suzuki-roshi would be grinning and clapping at their whole-hearted leap into beginner's mind.