Cultivating the Empty Field

My dear friend Kate Hartland gave a wonderful Dharma Talk at the Greater Boston Zen Center last night.  She spoke about the writing/poetry of Master Hongzhi collected in the text, Cultivating the Empty Field.  Hongzhi was first to spell out the approach to meditation we know was shikantaza, or “just sitting.”  He was a major source of inspiration for Master Dogen, founder of the Soto stream of Zen.

(Kate is a Dharma Holder in Boundless Way Zen.  You can learn more about what that means here, if you’re curious.  Part of what it means for me, practically speaking, is that I see her less often these days . . . and I miss her!  Kate and I sat together for many years as part of the former Ralph Waldo Emerson Zen Sangha (affectionately known as “Waldo,” which was the name of the dog my family had when I was a kid), and then as part of the GBZC, once we got our permanent digs in Cambridge.  A couple of years ago, Kate started, and she continues to lead, Bright Sea Zen in Weymouth.)

One of the many golden nuggets in Kate’s talk was her take on this notion of cultivation – of human agency.

Weeds will grown in an empty field, of course.  Indeed, fields full of “weeds” often look really lovely.  There truly is nothing we must become; nothing we must do.

This goes on happening, regardless.

And, yet . . .

We have this wonderful opportunity to act, to influence, and to do so intentionally.  (In fact, we leave a mark whether we act intentionally or not.)  We can plant flowers, so to speak, and so help shape the field into something it might not otherwise become.  Not something “better,” mind you, but something else to behold.  Something in which we’re participating, and know we’re participating.

Something expressing and reflecting our best intentions.

It’s so lovely when our own best intentions are sensitively and skillfully integrated or aligned with others’ best intentions.  The field becomes yet something else to behold.  Something in which you and I are participating together, and in which we know we’re participating together.

Shaping and being shaped by it.

Shaping and being shaped by one another.

That’s what Zen practice is about, really.

And that’s what work life, and home life, and all else are about – with a Zen heart.

Thank you, Kate.

 

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