How can I, in a few words, express which could be the motives for the creation of a space such as this one, Montaña Despierta, a space for the practice of Zen-inspired meditation in Eastern Mexico? A group of way-seekers have been practicing together for some years now, sitting zazen every Monday evening, scratching our heads over a dozen texts by our beloved teachers. Even I, with so many bustles, seem to have forgotten already the purpose of all this effort. And this is so because this appears to be the nature of our practice: slippery as an oyster, and at the same time, firm as a mountain. Moment to moment, we can witness how we forget and recover, how we get lost and return again and again. Precisely this oscillation seems to constitute our character, that of being made out of struggle, that of being buddhas and sentient beings simultaneously, in the midst of that very same struggle. This is the reason I received with utmost happiness the painting of aquatic blues and greens that is hanging on the threshold to the zendo, a painting done by an artist friend of mine, entitled “The Expulsion from Paradise”. I think that if I could formulate my aspiration for this place of practice would be this: that we could learn to practice in the middle of such expulsion, right from there, from within the Fall itself.
Perhaps we could even learn to enjoy it a little bit. Paradoxically, to wake up in the middle of our tragedy is what can turn us into Buddhas. It is precisely what I find attractive in Zen Buddhism. More than getting engulfed by nostalgia of a lost paradise, that we must recuperate at all costs, this teaching points the way towards the beauty of our actual everyday lives as they develop. Our immediate concrete lives are the beginning and end of the Way. Zen encourages us to practice with and in the midst of them, with all the imperfections, contradictions, ambiguities, searches and struggles therein. Zen points towards the ordinary, not the extraordinary; or rather, to the fact that the ordinary is the extraordinary. Revelation is given, in the words of Vietnamese Zen Teacher Thich Naht Han, by the discovery that the miracle is not to walk on water, but on the earth. Zen is a “way of the world”, even if sometimes it is necessary to retire from it in order to gain this understanding; it is learning to go with the flow of things while at the same time swimming against the current; it is learning to live life in the manner that it presents itself, not in inertia, but constantly making a difference that could illuminate it and sanctify it.
Nevertheless, this realization seems to be possible only when we accept that the conditions of our existence, of every existence, will always escape our intents of control, our pretensions and expectations. Why then not begin to open to the multiplicity of our experience, to its irreducible nature, with the intention of becoming more intimate with it? This is how Dogen Zenji defined enlightenment: intimacy with all things; radical openness, spaciousness, wonder, not-knowing, amazement, knowledge that is compassion. This is the line of instruction that interests us here at Montaña Despierta. I believe this is what Suzuki Roshi wanted to convey upon his arrival in America, and then onwards by the cherished group of Senior Dharma Teachers I have been fortunate to get acquainted with at San Francisco Zen Center: the value of the ordinary, the redeeming power of our everyday lives, as privileged practice locations, our all-too-human personal relationships, our mistakes, our desperate seeking, our place of exile; that is our temple, our portable zendo. In the last resort, maybe it hasn’t been half as bad to have been driven out, because without a Fall there would be no possibility of return, there would not even be a journey. Dogen Zenji writes in the Genjo Koan, “When dharma does not fill our bodies and mind, we believe to have sufficient. When dharma fills our body and mind, we realize that something is missing”. Realizing that we lack something is what allows for movement to continue. It is not about having everything.
This is how this adventure started, with Senior Dharma Teacher Eijun Linda Ruth Cutts in the middle of a sesshin at Green Gulch Farm in 1998. I said to her in Dokusan, pointing with my hand towards my heart: “I feel that something is missing, here, something is missing…” And then appeared the necessity of receiving from her a rákusu, a miniature robe, symbol of the Buddha´s plight. For what is Buddhism if not the study of this lack, of why life feels as it does many times, how is it that we feel something is lacking, how is it that from a completely different vantage point we know that it could not be otherwise, that our life is vast and inscrutable, mysterious and immense, awesome, just as it is, and that there is a beautiful Path susceptible of being cultivated, not in order to get rid of all our misgivings, but to feel that our life can be a significant voyage, both for ourselves and others? I would like this Zen space to be propitious for the development of Great Faith, Great Courage and Great Doubt; I would like it to be favorable for our every pore to get impregnated by the Great Question; I would like it to be viable not for finally and ultimately understanding what Zen is, but for always being able to ask ourselves what Zen is, what Life is, our life, this very life we have, that has been given to us; a place where we can get lost and find ourselves again, in order to get lost once more. This space has been the product of a collective effort, a practice place for and from everybody. There is no human feeling more rewarding than gratitude, because it is like being blessed. And this is how I feel with your company in this auspicious day.
With its poignant and hollow sound, the Han calls to us, inviting us to enter the Way. On it we find inscribed:
GREAT IS THE MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH
TIME DOES NOT WAIT FOR HUMANS
WAKE UP! WAKE UP!
DON´T WASTE YOUR LIFE
COMPLETELY FREE OF YES AND NO
GREAT EMPTINESS FLOWS FROM EVERYWHERE
SUBMERGED IN THE MIND OF WONDER
LIKE A FISH, LIKE A FOOL
My sincere wish is that all of us can practice together like this.
Written by Sergio Stern on behalf of Montaña Despierta (Awakened Mountain) Sangha, and read on the day of the official inauguration of the Zen space by Senior Dharma Teacher Eijun Linda Ruth Cutts, from San Fransisco Zen Center, on June 8th, 2008, Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico.
Link to San Francisco Zen Center´s review of Montaña Despierta´s opening: