Silence in the zendo. There are moments when it is utterly, viscerally clear that to sit and stare at a wall - to cultivate honesty and clarity and presence in myself - is the best thing I can do for the world. This is how to save all beings, just this. If I don't understand my own chaos, I cannot affect it; if I am operating in chaos I can only bring more chaos to the world.
And yet. And yet.
And yet in the zendo I raised my voice to question the teacher: what about when I can't believe that this valley full of lovingkindness reaches out to the world? What about when the world is choking on its own suffering and this is an excuse, an escape? What does it mean to be a monastic in this world? Shouldn't we all be pushing our altars into the streets, sitting our zazen in front of tanks and bulldozers? There is the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, there are prison programs and hospice programs, people writing letters. What does this tradition require of us? How shall we respond to atrocity, to the suffering of this age? How shall I respond? Can I respond as a being who is the universe, who is a function of love? What happens when I lay the ego down? My body is engulfed in sadness as soon as I let it rest.
It is so hard to stay open in this world. So much easier to pass by the open palms, the silent eyes. So much easier not to read the newspaper, not to watch this movie. Just send my $20 to the ACLU and settle back onto my cushion. Ah, but my body is engulfed in sadness as soon as I let it rest. The sounds of the city leak through the walls, and the pain walks through the door with me.
He did not answer me, that morning in the zendo, just let my words sit heavy and then rang the bell. If this is what a crisis of faith looks like, I'm glad to be having it. I do not know what practice means. I think it is important to allow myself to be engulfed in sadness. I think it is important to remember that I am only space and information, a collection of particles fundamentally indistinguishable from the particles of the couch I sit on and certainly from the particles of the dead in Darfur. Important also to remember that every action of mine is an action of the universe, every moment of my joy is one more moment of joy in the universe, every descent into despair one more piece of pain. My country has betrayed itself, again. And again I pledge myself to that which is wild and honest and free. I think zazen is part of it; I think it may be the part that allows me to be wild and honest and free myself. In a world where those qualities are either perverted beyond recognition or discouraged to the point of prohibition, that is something. It is not enough, but it is something.