Every Day is Easter

[This text was first published in The Diamond Sword, a collection of talks by Kongo Roshi, Zen Buddhist Temple of Chicago, first edition 1987, second edition 1992, pp 7-10.]

Easter is a religious holiday of great significance for Christians, who on this day celebrate the resurrection of Christ. From the Zen point of view the rising up from the dead can also be very symbolic. The rising up from the dead. But in Zen the idea is to rise from the dead each moment. Most of us in our everyday waking lives are at least half asleep. Each moment of our lives we must wake up, wake up, wake up! This is the Zen idea. This is the Zen goal. Zen is a philosophy of the here and now, not the then and there. This moment contains everything.

In the Hannya Shingyo (Heart of Wisdom Sutra) that we chant before and after each service, this very essence is contained. For the essence of the Hannya Shingyo is egolessness, and egolessness equals great emptiness. Paradoxically within this vast emptiness, there is a great fullness - "Mind-fullness." This Mindfullness must be brought into each and every moment of your waking day. Then you will live the Zen life. Otherwise it is just a life of theory, Zen theory.

There is a very interesting Zen story that well illustrates this point of Mindfulness. A monk was washing his hands in the temple. His teacher was quite surprised to discover this. He said, "What! You have been in the temple for one hour and you are just now washing your hands?"

The monk immediately replied, "Oh, no, Sensei, I am not washing my hands, I am washing the soap."

Washing your hands, after removing your shoes and bowing before the altar and to any of the priests that are present, is common Zen etiquette. This is common practice. Washing the hands has two meanings. One, which most of us prefer because we like such poetic ideas, is the symbolic meaning. We come into the Temple and was our hands, entering the sanctuary and leaving the outside world behind us. It is very beautiful. And certainly there is nothing wrong with this. But really, washing the hands means to clean them so you can keep the Temple clean also. Mindfulness.

How many times do we find ourselves running around all day, shopping, going here, going there, visiting people, driving the car, picking up the groceries, ending up at home and feeling a little hungry? We open the fridge, grab an apple, take a bite and never think of washing our hands. This is such a small thing. Why attach such significance to such a small thing? Because if you think about it, any cultured person would wash their hands when first entering their home. Who knows what you came in contact with out there. You can't be that hungry!

There is a friend of mine who had the bad habit of crossing his legs, as many of us do, bringing the ankle across the thigh of the opposite leg. And as he sat and talked he would grab the bottom of his shoe. My God! That shoe had been everywhere. Yet, this activity was done mindlessly without any thought to cleanliness. In the same way the teacher questioned the monk for his supposed mindlessness. "What! You have been in the temple for one hour and you are just now washing your hands?" "No, no Roshi. I am washing the soap." Meaning some other person came in and washed and left the soap dirty. You see this quite often when you go into a public washroom. The soap is dirtier than the hands that you want to wash. This story shows the mindfulness of this monk.

One other very good story, along the same lines, concerns a famous Zen priest in ancient times in Japan. He was renowned throughout all Japan for his great ability as a lecturer. But what came along with this great reputation was a great, inflated ego. He was very full of himself. One day on a lecture tour, he visited an abbot, the abbot of a quite famous monastery. It was raining very hard that day. Upon arriving at the temple, he left his clogs (shoes) and his umbrella inside the door, just as you would do when you come to the Temple. Entering the masters quarters, he bowed and was offered tea. The old abbot looked at him and said, "Really bad weather out today. I assume you brought your umbrella."

"Oh, yes, of course."

"By the way, on which side of your shoes did you leave your umbrella?" The great lecturer was flabbergasted. He didn't know what to say. His mind was so full of himself that he didn't even know where he left his shoes or where he left his umbrella in relation to them. Here again it sounds like I'm nit-picking. This is not nit-picking! By such training and discipline in these minute tasks comes this kind of mindfulness, comes the dissolution of the ego. This is true Zen training.

You have heard me say many times the Japanese phrase kayaka shoko, meaning "watch your feet." Get that head out of the clouds; watch your feet. This is the good planet Earth. There is nothing better. Too many people these days are concerned with astral travelling, as if there is something out there that isn't here. Everyone wants to be "there." We spend our whole lives regretting the past or looking forward to the future. What has happened to the present? There is never a present if you are always in the future or in the past. The present does not exist for you. If the present does not exist for you, you're dead! Do you see how simple, logical this is? This is Zen logic. This is Zen way of thinking.

So, this Easter we have OUR Easter also. Let's make our Easter every moment, every day. As Zen students you accepted a practice, a philosophy that does not allow for nibbling. Zen practitioners must be very strong, very clear headed, very clear-eyed, and practice zazen, practice, practice. Then every day is Easter.