Introductory Talk


     I’ve been asked to give a talk tomorrow night.  It’s an introduction to a dharma talk being given by Zen Master Bon Haeng, a teacher in the Kwan Um School of Zen, which was founded in the Korean tradition by Zen Master Seung Sahn.  Through Master Seung Sahn, Bon Haeng can trace his lineage directly to the Buddha, so this is a tremendous honor for me.  It’s also kind of stressful.  One of Zen Master Seung Sahn’s great teachings is to “put it all down;” put down ideas of good and bad, success and failure, right way or wrong way, and “just do it,” completely and spontaneously in each moment as it arises.  By putting these words down here, I hope to put down some stress along with them, organize some thoughts, and maybe allow myself to speak openly and honestly from the heart tomorrow night.

     It works like this: a student (me) talks for 15 or 20 minutes, then the zen master (Bon Haeng) answers questions from the audience.  Anyone who’s attended a dharma talk or read transcripts of talks by, say, Chogyam Trungpa or Ram Dass, knows that the real teaching happens in the question and answer session.  I’m more or less of a warm-up act, and I’m comfortable in that role.  After several years in recovery, I’ve chaired enough AA meetings to realize that all the speaker’s really doing is tossing out a few topics for people to riff off… What’s a bit unsettling here, however, is that the purpose of the introductory talk as outlined in the Dharma Mirror, the Kwan Um School’s manual of practice guidelines, is “to point to the gap between the student’s cognition and practice.”  I know it’s beyond cynical of me to say that this sounds suspiciously like sitting cross-legged in front of a room full of people and telling them how full of crap I am, but that’s exactly what it sounds suspiciously like.  On the other hand, I’ve been practicing zen long enough to realize that the gap between my cognition and my practice, a.k.a. the space between my beliefs and my actions, is where my suffering lies.  It’s also where my practice needs to go. To admit to this disparity in front of a bunch of people is very humbling… But that’s the whole point.

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