Dharma Signposts

- through Francois Leclercq

Published on

I am honored to join BDG's team of writers and look forward to connecting with you each month.

Through this column, my intention is to reflect on how Dharma paves the way for us to understand and respond to collective challenges, such as the climate emergency, social collapse, and racial and economic injustice. We live in a time of disintegration and it can be terrifying and painful when we don't have a spiritual or moral compass to guide us. But when we are able to refer to deep and enduring spiritual truths in an authentic way for our lives, we open up the possibility of finding a way to break through the suffering.

My first step on the path to walking the way of the Buddha was to take a course on "Buddhism, Shamanism and Deep Ecology" with Roshi Joan Halifax at the California Institute of Integral Studies in 1993. What a beautiful title for a lesson, right? ! It collected all my passionate question marks at the time. While I had a long-standing interest in Buddhism, before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area for graduate school that year, I lived in places where opportunities were not easy to find. to meditate. When I arrived in the Bay Area that fall, I reveled in the abundance of sanghas and centers.

Part of Roshi Joan's class was structured as a mindfulness retreat in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, who was her teacher at the time. Although it took a few adjustments to be in all this silence and slowing down, I absorbed the practice and knew I had found my spiritual home. Subsequently, I met Therese Fitzgerald and Arnie Kotler, both teachers of the Order of Interbeing, and began a consistent practice under their mentorship and with the sangha they founded in the 'East Bay. That's where it all began. . .

My search for the heart and mind has gone through many iterations since then, and I am grateful to those who have supported my journey, including Roshi Joan, Therese and Arnie, and especially Shosan Victoria Austin, who was my teacher for over 20 years. years.

As an introduction to this first column, I thought I would share three phrases that have guided my life since I started practicing in the Buddhist tradition.

Only that

When Dongshan, a Chan Buddhist monk from the Tang Dynasty, was ready to leave his teacher, Yunyan, he asked, "If someone asks me if I can portray your reality or your teaching, how should I respond?" Yunyan paused and then replied, “That's just it. »

The abbreviated version, “just that,” serves as a lifeline home to my heart when I feel overwhelmed by despair, overwhelm, or distraction.

Many years ago, a friend who was a longtime Zen practitioner shared these words with me during a turbulent time in my life. This sentence went straight to my heart. It bypassed all the crazy thoughts and intense emotions I was swimming in and refocused my attention on what was right in front of me. To this day, it continues to serve the same purpose.

"Just this" invites me to the question: what should we be dealing with at this very moment?

• It could be my heart, just taking the time to feel everything that is going on inside of me, with unconditional love.

• It could be my physical well-being, reminding me that I need to put healthy food in my system, or move my body and take a long walk, or get some sleep.

• It may finally be about doing a difficult task that I was avoiding, like making a phone call to deal with a difficult situation.

• It can be a collective action that we need to take together as a community, like putting up a stop sign at a dangerous intersection or creating space for a courageous conversation about race and the class that has been avoided for too long.

In the intensity of the submergence, I can feel paralyzed or dispersed. But if it's just one thing, I know I can do it. It is the gift of “just that”. And it's as close as my next breath.

The appropriate response

This one is from another Zen short story. A monk asked Yun Men, "What are the lifelong teachings?" Yun Men replied, “A suitable response. »

I often heard this story when I first studied and practiced Zen and didn't really sink into it. Until it does. Illuminating the light bulb above my head was a slow process that happened more by seeing how senior Zen students and teachers responded to situations than by focusing deeply on those words. I noticed that they were incredibly adept at staying open to the ever-changing truths of a complex situation and intuitively coming up with a skillful response. It was so different from the black and white “right or wrong” paradigm I grew up with in the Catholic Church. Instead, it is rooted in the principle of efforta Pali word that is often translated as "skillful means".

What I began to understand is that while the Dharma gives us an ethical framework from which to act – the precepts – every situation is unique, and there is very rarely a single answer. We have so many possibilities and tools at our disposal, so many skilful means depending on the needs. What is most important is to stay present, to inquire deeply and to embrace the unknowing being, the first principle of the Zen Peacemaker Order.

Don't treat anything like an object

This sentence came to me from Vicki Austin and Hozan Alan Senauke, transmitted by their teacher, Sojun Mel Weitsman, abbot of the Berkeley Zen Center. This is another phrase that comes to life more clearly through daily practices rather than intellectual contemplations.

Back when I spent a lot of time in a doingwith everyone, I moved in the flow of entering the hall with an arch, walking a certain way to arrive at my zafu (cushion), sitting during periods of zazen, then at the end inflating my zafu so that it is ready for the next person. It was all regimented but in a way that I thought was quite beautiful.

Occasionally, I was assigned to the crew that cleaned the doing. We would pick it up zafus et zabutons then sweep and mop the floor thoroughly, brush the cushions and replace everything, just like that. “Treat nothing like an object” was ingrained in my body and mind as we performed these tasks. I realized that cushions were as much a part of our practice as any sutra, and the phrase reminded me to treat them with gratitude and respect. Every once in a while someone new to the practice would throw a zafu across the room on the floor and felt like my best friend had just been insulted.

This practice can of course be extended to anything, not just objects in the meditation room, and not even objects but also people. It can be rather frightening to watch ourselves and notice how often we slip into treating people like objects. Think about your interaction with the person behind the cash register at the grocery store. As I go through my day, I notice how different it is to engage with each person or item as if it were an old friend. It's the root of healing, and that kind of love is the medicine we desperately need these days.

I kept it pretty personal in my sharing on these three sentences, but each can also inform our collective opinions and actions. When we feel hopeless and overwhelmed to be immersed in the reality of the climate crisis, how can “just that” bring us back to basic reason and help us understand the next step? What is the “appropriate response” to a situation steeped in racism? How does it change our relationship to a person or thing when we remember “treat nothing as an object”?

I really enjoy engaging with readers, so I invite you to share your own thoughts in the comments here, either on the phrases I've shared or the Dharma phrases that give you a compass to navigate. Thank you for allowing me into your world!

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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