When I hear lectures or see video of Zen Buddhist masters, they are usually full of joy, easy to laugh, wise, and relaxed. All of their work has led them to this place of seeming peace and infinite wisdom. It’s easy to desire their state of being. It’s difficult to think of them as human like the rest of us.
One of the great things about listening to Pema Chodron’s lectures is that she weaves stories from her daily life into her talks. She talks about the time she is ready and excited for an upcoming personal retreat, but then her mentor asks her to become the director of a Center. In her frustration and anger that this new position is going to prevent her retreat, she’s caught up in her emotions, stomping around her room, and the sleeve of her robe catches on fire from a candle. It stops her, brings her back to the present, and she has to admit: “Okay, I get it.” Even a great teacher and nun like Pema Chodron can get caught up in her emotions and her story and her desires.
Even more powerful for me, I watched this documentary called How to Cook Your Life. We see chef & Zen Buddhist Priest Ed Espe Brown when he’s laughing and when he’s meditating–but also when he’s impatient with a bottle of olive oil that is dripping too slowly, and when he’s stewing in his anger in the corner by himself.
He’s so fully wonderfully human, that it made me realize (to KNOW and not just to know) the truth that everyone (even Zen Buddhist priests, even masters of meditation, probably even the Dalai Lama himself) continues their practice every day. Open heart, beginner’s mind, compassionate heart, living with groundlessness–these are not destinations to be reached, not goals on a checklist to be completed and then forgotten. They are the path, they are the journey, they are the tools we carry with us in ongoing practice, they are the readily accessible heart of the universe around us and within us. And dammit, sometimes they feel out of reach, or they feel as if they’ve abandoned us. But they’re always there. Just waiting.