Monday, January 16, 2012


Yesterday was Peace Sunday - a day of prayer and concern for world peace. During the day I was drawn to look once again at a book on my shelves that I hadn't looked at for several years. "The Road to Peace" edited by John Dear. It is a collection of material written by Henri Nouwen a Christian Contemplative Spiritual writer from last century. he is particularly known like Thomas Merton for making the abslute connection between spirituality and social justice. His own personal commitment is demonstrated by the fact that he went on the March on Selma for Black equality and civil liberties in 1965 and by attending the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr. I opened the book at this piece which touched me deeply. Having heard about someone experiencing a real joy he wrote:

When I heard these words for the first time, I felt a deep jealousy. I wanted that joy so much for myself, but had not found it among the scholars, teachers and students with whom I have spent most of my time. I was suddenly struck by how sombre and sad my friends and I are. We have enough food and shelter and more than enough health care and education , but are we living joyful lives? Why are we so serious all the time, so intense, so preoccupied with the next thing to accomplish, so disappointed after a small setback, so apprehensive when we are not being noticed, so angry when we are rejected, and so deeply sad when life is not going as we had planned it? When we are entangled in many complex issues, sadness can indeed imprison us and further remove us from the joy we so much desire..... We need to say a joyful "yes" to life.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Meeting Fr. Bede on the Path

I was a Benedictine Oblate of the Anglican community at Nashdom when in the mid 1960’s I was studying for the priesthood in the Anglican Church at St. Stephen’s House in Oxford so it was not unexpected that I was attracted to Fr. Bede Griffith’s book, The Golden String. I had visited Prinknash once before so I already knew the community and I found his commitment to Interreligious Dialogue extremely interesting. At about the same time I was reading the documents of the Second Vatican Council especially Nostra Aetate on the Catholic Church’s relationship with non-Christian religions. I was particularly taken with what was said about Buddhism. As I was endeavouring to live a life of contemplative prayer and spirituality I encouraged reading it saying “Buddhism in its various forms...proposes a way of life by which people can, with confidence and trust attain a state of perfect liberation and reach supreme illumination.” Furthermore it authenticated my engagement in real dialogue with Buddhists when went on to say: The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions……The Church therefore urges its sons and daughters to enter with prudence and charity into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions and to acknowledge the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians.
This desire to be open to enrichment from Zen Buddhism didn’t really come into its own for me until 1983 when, after spending 15 years as an Anglican priest, my wife and I moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma where I was accepted as a married Roman Catholic priest. It was my good fortune at that time to have Osage Monastery almost on the doorstep. Osage was a small community of Benedictine women religious established by Sister Pascaline Coff after she had spent a sabbatical year with Fr. Bede in Shantivanam. The monastery was built in a 50 acre forest in Osage Indian territory. Fr. Bede came from India to do a traditional blessing of the land and buildings thus establishing it as the first Benedictine Ashram in North America. In subsequent years Fr. Bede always came to visit Osage Monastery for a week or so during his visits to the United States. During those visits I was able to spend a good deal of time in conversation with him and received much encouragement. By concelebrating the Eucharist with him I was also able to learn how to preside at it in the Indian style which was most helpful when I acted as Chaplain to the Community from 1990 – 1995.
In my conversations with Fr. Bede we touched on my Zen practice. Fr. Bede was most encouraging, reminding me that Zen grew out of the Hindu tradition and it still had many close associations in its deepest roots. ( Here Fr. Bede used his familiar demonstration using his fingers and the palm of his hand to show that all the world religions come together at their deepest and most fundamental level.)
Although I had begun using my own style of Zen meditation inspired very much by the writings of Thomas Merton during the 1980’s it was at Osage Monastery that I was first introduced to a genuine Zen Roshi. Ruben Habito Roshi came to lead the Sisters in their annual retreat. Following my attendance at this retreat I was accepted as a serious Zen student by Ruben in 1990. This marked the time when my Zen practice developed more authentically. My priestly assignment in the Diocese at that time was to be Diocesan Director of Spiritual Formation. As part of my work under this rather grand title I had started some contemplative prayer groups. Although still called Contemplative prayer groups they developed into The Monos community who gradually under my direction became much like a Zen Sangha.
In 2001 I was due for a month long sabbatical time. A member of the Monos Community had offered to pay for me to travel to Japan to study at a Zen monastery there. I carefully considered this but I was eventually drawn to participate in the month long residency programme at Zen Mountain Monastery located in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York. This monastery was regarded as one of the very best Zen training monasteries in the West. Daido Loori Roshi, the Abbot of the Monastery had trained with the Japanese Zen master Taizan Maezumi Roshi who came to Los Angeles in the 1950’s. The books by both Taizan Maezumi and Daido helped m a lot in my practice to I decided that I would spend the whole month of October at the monastery under the direction of Daido Roshi. The experience of this time was so powerful that with Ruben Habito’s agreement I became a formal student with Daido Roshi.
During all this time I was still connected with the work of Fr. Bede as I had transferred my stability as a Benedictine Oblate to the Camaldolese Benedictine Community at Big Sur, California. During my visits there for retreats and some solitary time in a hermitage I became really good friends with Fr. Cyprian Consiglio who is a member of that community. Fr. Cyprian has studied the writings of Fr. Bede and spent quite a lot of time at the ashram in Shantivanam. Like me he is really dedicated to the work of interreligious dialogue and spends quite a lot of time each year travelling all over the world to teach the message of Fr. Bede using words and music which he composes using words and melodies from many different world religions.
It will be no great surprise that when I retired from the work I was doing in Tulsa in 2004 and returned to live in England it was not long before I started a Zen sitting group in the Cotswolds. Since 2006 we have become The Wild Goose Zen Sangha which meets each Thursday evening at St. Lawrence’s Church at Chesterton in Cirencester. When I came back to England however I could no longer fulfil the requirements for being a student of Daido Loori Roshi. Because of my longstanding friendship with Fr. Robert Kennedy who is both a Jesuit priest and a Zen Roshi I asked him to accept me as a Zen student. He readily agreed and in 2009, with the agreement of Bishop Declan the Catholic Bishop of Clifton, he passed transmission to me and authorised me as a Zen Sensei (teacher) in the Zen White Plum Asanga Lineage which had been founded by Roshi Taizan Maezumi.
I was pleased to have my work further affirmed by the publication in 2010 of a teaching document from the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales named Meeting God in Friend and Stranger. In it they report that Pope Benedict, during his visit to Turkey in 2006, declared that Dialogue was not an option but a necessity. It seems to me that there can be no better way of responding to this than by using a practice of prayer drawn from another religious tradition which is also perfectly compatible with the Christian Faith. After all Yamada Roshi a Japanese Zen master used to say two things to Christians who came to study Zen practice with him; There is no difference between a Christian and a Zen Buddhist at prayer: they are both light sitting in light. Alternatively he would tell his Christian enquirers that: I am not trying to make you a Buddhist but to teach you to empty yourself as did your Lord Jesus Christ.
In my own life I have found that the Christian tradition is splendid on the theory and theology of contemplative prayer but lacking in given instruction on how to do it. For those who are drawn to a contemplative style of prayer beyond words and images Zen can be a positive and practical way of entering into a practice which puts one in touch with the truth of one’s own true self and the truth of all reality. Zen offers something very simple, very direct and is readily accessible to all.
If you are interested in exploring this further I have included the Wild Goose Zen Sangha programme for 2012. I suggest that newcomers to Zen would be advised to come as a taster to one of our Zazenkai (Zen days).
© Patrick Eastman

Wild Goose Zen Sangha 2012 schedule

January 28 Zazenkai at St. Lawrence Church Cirencester

February 24-26 Sesshin (residential) at Marian Centre Nympsfield
February 25 Zazenkai at Minster Abbey Thanet

March 24 Zazenkai at St. Lawrence Church Cirencester

April 13 – 15 Sesshin (residential) at Ladywell, Godalming, Surrey
April 28 Zazenkai at St. Lawrence Church Cirencester

May 12 Zazenkai with Fr. Jinsen Kennedy Roshi at Ladywell, Godalming, Surrey
May 26 Zazenkai at St. Lawrence Church Cirencester

June 23 Zazenkai at Minster Abbey
June 30 Zazenkai at St. Lawrence Church Cirencester

July 14 Zazenkai at St. Lawrence Church Cirencester

September 28 – 30 Sesshin (residential) at Barns Conference centre Toddington.

October 13 Zazenkai at Minster Abbey
October 20 Zazenkai at St. Lawrence Church Cirencester

November 9- 11 Sesshin (residential) at Turvey Abbey, Nr. Bedford
November 17 Zazenkai at St. Lawrence Church Cirencester

December 15 Zazenkai at St. Lawrence Church Cirencester

For further information or to register for any of these events
please contact Jenny Averbeck at
Telephone 01227 766734

Silence from RC Bishop of Aberdeen

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We live in a noisy world. Our towns and cities are full of noise. There is noise in the skies and on the roads. There is noise in our homes, and even in our churches. And most of all there is noise in our minds and hearts.

The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard once wrote: ‘The present state of the world and the whole of life is diseased. If I were a doctor and I were asked for my advice, I should reply: “Create silence! Bring people to silence!” The Word of God cannot be heard in the noisy world of today. And even if it were trumpeted forth with all the panoply of noise so that it could be heard in the midst of all the other noise, then it would no longer be the Word of God. Therefore, create silence!’

‘Create silence!’ There’s a challenge here. Surely speaking is a good and healthy thing? Yes indeed. Surely there are bad kinds of silence? Yes again. But still Kierkegaard is on to something.

There is a simple truth at stake. There can be no real relationship with God, there can be no real meeting with God, without silence. Silence prepares for that meeting and silence follows it. An early Christian wrote, ‘To someone who has experienced Christ himself, silence is more precious than anything else.’ For us God has the first word, and our silence opens our hearts to hear him. Only then will our own words really be words, echoes of God’s, and not just more litter on the rubbish dump of noise.

‘How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given.’ So the carol goes. For all the noise, rush and rowdiness of contemporary Christmasses, we all know there is a link between Advent and silence, Christmas and silence. Our cribs are silent places. Who can imagine Mary as a noisy person? In the Gospels, St Joseph never says a word; he simply obeys the words brought him by angels. And when John the Baptist later comes out with words of fire, it is after years of silence in the desert. Add to this the silence of our long northern nights, and the silence that follows the snow. Isn’t all this asking us to still ourselves?

A passage from the Old Testament Book of Wisdom describes the night of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt as a night full of silence. It is used by the liturgy of the night of Jesus’ birth:

‘When a deep silence covered all things and night was in the middle of its course, your all-powerful Word, O Lord, leapt from heaven’s royal throne’ (Wis 18:14-15).

‘Holy night, silent night!’ So we sing. The outward silence of Christmas night invites us to make silence within us. Then the Word can leap into us as well, as a wise man wrote: ‘If deep silence has a hold on what is inside us, then into us too the all-powerful Word will slip quietly from the Father’s throne.’

This is the Word who proceeds from the silence of the Father. He became an infant, and ‘infant’ means literally ‘one who doesn’t speak.’ The child Jesus would have cried – for air and drink and food – but he didn’t speak. ‘Let him who has ears to hear, hear what this loving and mysterious silence of the eternal Word says to us.’ We need to listen to this quietness of Jesus, and allow it to make its home in our minds and hearts.

‘Create silence!’ How much we need this! The world needs places, oases, sanctuaries, of silence.

And here comes a difficult question: what has happened to silence in our churches? Many people ask this. When the late Canon Duncan Stone, as a young priest in the 1940s, visited a parish in the Highlands, he was struck to often find thirty or forty people kneeling there in silent prayer. Now often there is talking up to the very beginning of Mass, and it starts again immediately afterwards. But what is a church for, and why do we go there? We go to meet the Lord and the Lord comes to meet us. ‘The Lord is in his holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before him!’ said the prophet Habakkuk. Surely the silent sacramental presence of the Lord in the tabernacle should lead us to silence? We need to focus ourselves and put aside distractions before the Mass begins. We want to prepare to hear the word of the Lord in the readings and homily. Surely we need a quiet mind to connect to the great Eucharistic Prayer? And when we receive Holy Communion, surely we want to listen to what the Lord God has to say, ‘the voice that speaks of peace’? Being together in this way can make us one – the Body of Christ – quite as effectively as words.

A wise elderly priest of the diocese said recently, ‘Two people talking stop forty people praying.’

‘Create silence!’ I don’t want to be misunderstood. We all understand about babies. Nor are we meant to come and go from church as cold isolated individuals, uninterested in one another. We want our parishes to be warm and welcoming places. We want to meet and greet and speak with one another. There are arrangements to be made, items of news to be shared, messages to be passed. A good word is above the best gift, says the Bible. But it is a question of where and when. Better in the porch than at the back of the church. Better after the Mass in a hall or a room. There is a time and place for speaking and a time and place for silence. In the church itself, so far as possible, silence should prevail. It should be the norm before and after Mass, and at other times as well. When there is a real need to say something, let it be done as quietly as can be. At the very least, such silence is a courtesy towards those who want to pray. It signals our reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. It respects the longing of the Holy Spirit to prepare us to celebrate the sacred mysteries. And then the Mass, with its words and music and movement and its own moments of silence, will become more real. It will unite us at a deeper level, and those who visit our churches will sense the Holy One amongst us.

‘Create silence!’ It is an imperative. May the Word coming forth from silence find our silence waiting for him like a crib! ‘The devil’, said St Ambrose, ‘loves noise; Christ looks for silence.’

Yours sincerely in Him,
+ Hugh, O. S. B.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Random thoughts

I have just been reading the latest issue of the Journal for the Society for Buddhist Christian Studies and have been reminded how important the work of Interfaith dilaogue is in our world today. The world religions have much to learbn from each other. For my part my Christian faith has been so enriched by my exposure to Zen Buddhism. we live in a pluralistic and post modern- world and although ...we are doing much better at the work on integration with people from other ethnic backgrounds abnd cultures and wish to see aourselves as accpting rather then being prejudiced we still have a long way to go on the work of listening to and dialogueing with people of other faiths. From my own tradition I wonder how many Roman Catholics have read and taken seriously the letter of the RC Bishops of England and Wales. " Meeting God in Friend and Stranger" They strongly state that Interfaith dialogue is NOT an optional extra but an essential part of one's faith.

Buddhism is really about awakening from the illusion about ourselves and the world, and realizing reality—who we are and what is real and how things are interconnected through karma and causation and so on. In a Dzogchen text it says, “From the beginning we are all Buddhas by nature, we only have to realize that fact.” So in Dzogchen the whole practice of what we call the view, meditation, and action is about awakening to—not just our momentary personality—“self” with a small s—but our true Buddha nature, our original nature.

Christmas letter

Ho! Ho! Ho! and a very happy Christmas to you and all your loved ones.
Yes it is that time again! We can hardly believe that we are already in Advent and Christmas is just around the corner. Does that mean there is some truth in the saying, “Time flies when you are having fun”? Well we will let you decide that for yourselves but here are some of the things that have happened to us over the past year.
As you may remember last year Patrick was having quite a lot of tests at the hospital and eventually they discovered he had some hormonal problems with his blood which were fixed rather easily which made him feel quite a lot better. However he still suffered with quite a lot of pain in his back and his right leg. After exhaustive testing in June they finally decided that the root cause was deterioration of the spine from wear and tear and arthritis. This meant that they could lonely offer some physiotherapy and to keep taking the pain-killers. Since then he has had a course of acupuncture from the hospital and he seems to have got a certain amount of relief although nothing will cure the problem.
Because of these health issues Bishop Declan of Clifton in whose diocese we live decided that it would be best he Patrick retired from looking after Tetbury Parish. He did this right after Easter this year but knowing Patrick you will realise that this didn’t mean that he was going to sit at home and do nothing! Not having the parish to look after he has put a lot of his energy into work for the Wild Goose Zen Sangha which he began in 2006. It has grown in strength now to the point where it could be incorporated as an organisation capable of registering as a charity for tax exemption. The legal and administrative hoops to be jumped through to achieve this are, as you can imagine, have been immense. Now it all seems to be falling into place and he has led them into having a really full programme based in Cirencester and Canterbury for 2012. Knowing his limitations he has also identified two potential teachers who will be trained to assist him in the work of teaching Zen to those who come to their retreats.
Patrick is a Zen teacher (sensei) in the White Plum lineage and to mark this the sangha came to a planting of a White Plum Blossom tree in our garden in September. A bronze coloured stone statue of a Buddha was placed near it and this autumn (Fall) it looked like this:
Maureen has been keeping in good health for the most part although she did have some return of diverticulitis earlier in the year which was eventually dealt with satisfactorily. It was good to learn from all the tests that there was nothing ‘sinister’ though. She still continues to work with a blind lady in Swindon on transcriptions of ordinary texts into Braille. This has had some difficulties recently. With all the austerity measures and the drastic government cut- backs many o the charities who were her main clients have had serious limitations to their work. Certainly we are being warned that we have still some years when there will be something of an economic crisis. We have heard today that the 180,000 charitable organisations (not for profit) that serve so many of the disadvantaged have had to lay off 10,000 members of staff in the last 2 months. These are tough times so it seems!
As a result of all this our daughter who is a counsellor who worked in the public sector for schools and mentally sick carers has lost her job as the organisations existed on government funding which was cut as part of a cut back in government spending. Fortunately she does have a few private clients who still are able to come to her though. Sarah their eldest child works for Santander bank and their son David is at University studying law.
Our two sons Mark and Christopher are both in computer technology so their jobs are not really affected at the moment. Their wives and children too are all doing OK and are all in work except for Clare, Mark and Lynn’s daughter who is still in Gateshead college doing Business Studies.
We won’t bore you with anymore family news but simply ask you to join us in celebrating the gift of life itself. Christmas celebrates the Incarnation when the Divine Creator took up our physical nature and shared with us in this utterly incomprehensible force that we call life. It surely is most wondrous and yet it remains an utter mystery. Absolutely all of us share in it yet it came to us unbidden and unearned. Yet day by day we awaken to find that we are alive and we have the chance to do with it whatever we will.
So we wish you a most wonderful Christmas and a very blessed 2012. May all the love you give to others, including to us, be repaid to you a thousand fold.
Much love
The Eastman’s, 30, North Wall, Cricklade, Wiltshire SN6 6DU. UK.

Zen Chant Service

The Zen Sesshins held by the Wild Goose Sangha are in no way an attempt to combine Christianity or any other faith with Zen which, in itself, is not a religion but simply a meditation practice that can be helpfully used by those of any faith. Their aim is to purely engage in Zen practice in its own right. As Thomas Merton points out: It is perfectly possible to be capable of playing tennis at one time or doing mathematics at some other time; they are not incompatible. Patrick Kundo Sensei, as a Catholic priest and a Zen teacher therefore exercises his Christian priesthood in a Christian context but, when in a Zen context, he will teach Zen practice as a member of the White Plum Asangha.
Each Zen sesshin is designed to present an intensive opportunity for deepening our Zen practice. This practice is based on an awareness of our own true nature and the true nature of all reality. The tools we employ or “the gates” we use are first and foremost the practice of Zazen (silent sitting), Kin Hin (walking meditation), a Teisho or Dharma talk from the teacher, Dokusan or Daisan (which is a private and personal meeting with the teacher), chanting and silence. So chanting is but one of the essential and integral elements of the whole practice of Zen.
In the chant service we use we chant the three central sutras. First we chant the Heart Sutra which, in somewhat poetic terms, endeavours to express the true nature of all reality of which we are a part. So it is, if you like an attempt to express the inexpressible. The second chant is about the identity of the Relative and the Absolute demonstrating the relationship between the absolute oneness of all creation in its essence and the division and differences in the phenomenological world. The third and final sutra calls us to exercise compassion in every aspect of our life. It teaches us the nature of this compassion which can only spring from the wisdom or experiential knowledge of the first two sutras chanted.
The dedication after each sutra chanted is unlike any Christian or other faith prayer in as much as they are not prayers to a Supreme Being or God to help us in our difficulties. They serve as a dedication of ourselves to put into practice the wisdom of the sutras and the resulting compassion. In other words in the chant service together we actualise our true nature both in wisdom and in compassion.
© Patrick Kundo Sensei

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

International Day for Nonviolence

I have been very lax in writing this blog but how about this for a new start

This Teisho is provoked by the fact that this coming Sunday October 2 is the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday which is celebrated now as the International day of nonviolence.
So this is an important opportunity to reflect as Zen students on what this means to us personally and what this means in terms of Buddhist teaching in the Precepts.
My own position is influenced partly by Fr. Bede Griffiths, a Benedictine monk from Prinknash, who went to India and established a Christian Ashram along the lines of Gandhi in order to dialogue with the great Hindu tradition. This was reinforced by listening to and meeting Gandhi’s grandson about 15 years ago.
We are into a real area of interfaith dialogue here. It may surprise you to know that Gandhi first learned about nonviolence from Christian sources. It was reading the New Testament account of Jesus’ nonviolence during his life that sent Gandhi back to his Indian Hindu scriptures to discover it there as well. You might want to ask the question here about finding nonviolence in the Christian scriptures when the evidence of much of history seems to indicate that the Christian church, for the most part, has, since the emperor Constantine been quite ready to go to war. There have been some churches however like the Quakers, Mennonites, and the Brethren who have constantly proclaimed a gospel of nonviolence.
Out of this exploration he developed the Sanskrit word Satyagraha which can be best translated as ‘soul truth’ or ‘True Nature’ or ‘Inner Truth’
“Satyagraha has an end namely Ultimate truth. It is a moral force, firmly rooted in truth and love that puts itself at the service of justice and peace. Satyagraha, which opposes evil with serious and positive, though nonviolent, resistance in order to overcome it with good, must be distinguished from what Gandhi called ‘the nonviolence of the weak’ which simply submits to evil without resistance. It was a fundamental principle of Gandhi that evil must always be resisted, but in ways and by methods of action that are nonviolent.”
Within Satyagraha is discovered Ahisma – a Sanskrit word that means ‘non injury.’ To spell it out more fully it is the efficacious concern to do no harm, physically or psychologically to another person or indeed to any creature or even to any part of the natural world. At first hearing Ahisma may seem to express an attitude that is negative, yet in actual fact it designates something very positive; namely that I have a concern, a love, a spirit of good will toward another person that makes it impossible for me to inflict injury on that person or creature or part of the world. Gandhi originally taught that God is Truth, just as Christians say that God is Love, but later he decided that Truth is God, too. Reality is spiritual. (remember Merton once remarked that either all of our life is spiritual or none of it is.) All people are interconnected and everyone has a share of divine goodness within. (You may recall Thich Nhat Hahn’s teaching that we need to water the seeds of goodness, peace and love that are within us.) So Gandhi teaches that to harm anyone is to harm God and to serve others is to serve God. God was not a person to Gandhi but an “indefinable mysterious power that pervades everything.”
The Zen or Buddhist understanding of all reality takes us back to the Four Great Wisdoms which are said to derive from the experience of Shakyamuni Buddha. First he points out that all Life means suffering and that this follows from the delusion that we are an entirely separate being each with our own attachments. The Buddha‘s experience was that there is no such thing as a totally separated self, unconnected with the rest of reality. Contemporary science, of course, will wholeheartedly agree with this. But all is not lost as it is possible to break the cause of suffering; to overcome our delusion of a subject /object divide. The fourth truth therefore is that through the skilful means of silent wordless and imageless meditation this delusion is overcome. (It is worth noting that this awareness of nonduality is also to be experienced through the Christian tradition of apophatic (meaning without word or images) contemplative prayer.
With this as a background we can turn now to the Buddhist Precepts. These precepts need to be understood clearly as they are not a set of rules or commandments to be obeyed. They are an orientation towards a life that is lived with compassion and reverence for all creation to which we are intimately connected. We indicate in the Gatha of repentance the failure that derives from our greed, hatred or ignorance to do no harm. We certainly miss the greatness of the Precepts if we see them as a set of external do’s and don’ts. They are meant to liberate not to bind. The Precepts have a vitality that functions deeply in one’s life, taking account of the intricacies and subtleties of conditions encountered in the existential circumstances of our personal life.
It is worth noting that in Zen Master Dogen’s time there emerged tow different schools of thought concerning the Precepts in the Kamakura period. One advocated the observance of the Precepts as primary in Buddhism, whereas the other repudiated this, or at best regarded observance of the precepts as secondary to the supremacy of faith. Roughly speaking, the former school of thought was associated with Zen Buddhism. Needless to say Dogen belonged to this tradition and he was eager to restore unremitting observance of the Precepts. As a matter of fact, the hallmark of Kamakura Zen was the advocacy of the primacy of the precepts and for Dogen it was the fundamental point of Zen Buddhism. A prime characteristic of Dogen’s thought lay in his passionate search for the translation of the Bodhisattva vows into concrete and routine daily behaviours and activities. In the Zendo scrupulous instructions with respect to rules and behaviour were not codes that bound just the outward movements but were ritualised expressions and activities of Buddha-nature and emptiness. To put it simply in the words of Daido Loori Roshi the liturgy in the Zendo is a way of making the invisible visible much like a Christian sacrament.
The Precepts then are there to guide us in how to live in harmony with all creation right from the start; we should not think we have to wait until we have got enlightenment or something before we practice them. In this, from an interfaith perspective, it is noteworthy that the Buddhist precepts have a remarkable coincidence with the moral teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount as recorded in St. Matthew’s gospel. So we practice the precepts. We practice them in the way that we practice sitting Zazen. To practice of course is to “do “something so we “do” the precepts. We are to be aware of the precepts not necessarily in all their detail but in their whole orientation of “doing no harm.” Once we aware of them we become sensitive to the occasions when we break them. Then, when you are aware of the break, you acknowledge it and take responsibility for it then you simply return to the precepts once again. It is just like when you work with your breath in Zazen. When you begin to sit Zazen after just a few breaths you often find that your mind has gone elsewhere. When that happens you notice it, then simply, gently yet firmly return to the breath. That is how you practice the precepts. That is how you practice your life. To practice in such a way is itself enlightenment.