Practice at Home

by Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett




The following writings on Buddhist training at home, is an excerpt from Roar of the Tigress; The Oral Teaching of Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett. These Dharma teachings were transcribed from her public lectures and then beautifully edited by the late Rev. Master Daizui MacPhillamy. This section is from page 208-211. This book is available at the Priory.


First of all, you must understand that, as Dogen says in his instructions for meditation, “The koan arises naturally.” Now, the koan is your fundamental question, the driving force of your Buddhist practice. And, in the beginning, you may think it is merely “My feet hurt during meditation.” So, you fiddle them around until you find where they don’t. And then you just sit again. And you realize that the purpose is not to sit there in pain, but to find the Unborn. So fiddle your feet until you’ve got them right; it’s very simple. If that’s the first koan to solve, deal with it and then you go on from there. And the natural koans soon get out of the practical and the mundane and are lifted to much greater things and much higher things.


But don’t despise the worldly, don’t despise the mundane. As Dogen himself said, “Remember, it is by the aegis of the human body that we can find the Truth.” If you’re in any other body, how can you find the Truth? We can’t talk to Winnie, my bulldog down on the floor here; we hope she’s found the Truth. You and I can talk to each other; I can tell you what to do. If you’re dead, I can’t tell you what to do: you’re not here. Don’t despise the human body and, above all, don’t ill treat it. Remember the “three lacks”: your body deserves food; it deserves rest; it deserves clothing. It does not deserve excess: “Six parts of a full stomach support the man; the other two support his doctor.” Don’t become a glutton, and, above all, do not turn yourself into an ascetic. The Buddha Himself warned that it was wrong; every one of the great ancestors have warned that it is wrong. Any extreme is wrong, and it will do harm, so don’t let it happen—under any circumstances. Not if you want to truly know the Cosmic Buddha. And a properly trained Zen layman, or laywoman, understands this, and uses it in their own daily life. It is their daily life.


Now, one of the things that is most helpful in reminding yourself of this Middle Way between indulgence and asceticism is the mealtime ritual, which I mentioned earlier. The mealtime ritual is solely to have a good look at one’s self and see the reasons for which one eats food. It starts by asking us to “think deeply about the ways and means by which this food has come.” Most serious Mahayana Buddhists are, of course, vegetarians, because one does as little harm as one can. But there is the harm of pulling leaves off the lettuce and cutting into root vegetables and this sort of thing, so one has to be sure that one is making use of one’s life properly. Otherwise things should not be sacrificed for you. Why should things be sacrificed if you do nothing of benefit in this world? So, we recite what we call “The Five Thoughts”:first, “We must think deeply of the ways and means by which this food has come.” What has been sacrificed, where has it come from? Then, “We must consider our merit when accepting it.” What have we done; have we been useful, have we been lazy, do we really deserve all that we’ve got; how well have we trained? Next, “We must protect ourselves from error by excluding greed from our minds.” In other words, don’t be so ravenous to attack the food out of sheer greed that you forget to think about these other things. There’s plenty of time; you are not starving. I don’t think I need to go into that one any further; you know what I mean. “We will eat lest we become lean and die.” I have interpreted that as eating for the food value but not for what one fancies all the time. This is something that I am not always agreed with by the people that are with me. But I eat now solely for the food value and nothing else; that and the keeping of my body healthy. In other words, I think of food as medicine and medicine as food—not as something that is just to be enjoyed and taken lightly. And finally, “We accept this food so that we may become enlightened.” I think you can see that all the “Five Thoughts” are really connected very much together. You eat so that you shall not become lean and die. You eat for the food value so that you won’t sacrifice more than you need, nor will you become greedy, and also so that you are able to train much better than you otherwise would. That’s the way I work it out. And if you recite these “Five Thoughts” before each meal, you will soon see how they reverberate all through your life, because the attitude of mind behind them applies to many things, not just food.


The same is true of meditation: make it part of daily life, not just when you are doing formal sitting, but bring it into all of your life. You do this by bringing your mind back to just what you are doing at the moment. It’s the same mindful awareness: you use it in the ceremony hall, in the meditation hall, and you use it when sitting in your car. We used to do a brochure on sanctifying the mundane which showed somebody sitting at a red light with a seat belt on, paying attention to the road, and a child in a child-restraint beside them. And another car alongside this one, where the person had the radio blaring, a coffee in one hand, and was talking to their neighbor. This is how to sanctify the mundane and, at the same time, help everybody else around you. Now, obviously there are going to be times when you need to talk to your neighbor in the car. The point that we were trying to make was: if you can be as alert and mindful in your car as you are in meditation, then you have taken the meditation out of the meditation hall and put it into the car. And you have made it possible to find the Cosmic Buddha, the Eternal, just as much at the red light as inside the temple. That is what you should be doing with all aspects of your practice: finding uses for it in your everyday life. You can do this not only with meditation but with ceremonial, iconography, scriptures ..... everything.