Founding a Temple

This is  a selection from the epilogue written by Ejo for the book, Deep Roots - Myriad Blossoms, which is about the history of Buddha Eye Temple, and was published last year.    

Paging through the manuscript for this retrospective and reflecting on the past decades that have lead our community to today, I am reminded of the Bodhisattva Vow:   

Beings are numberless,  I vow to free them.
Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to end them.
Dharma Gates are boundless, I vow to enter them.
The Buddha Way is unsurpassable, I vow to realize it.

It feels as if this vow is what threads together all the words and images across these pages, and I am struck by how much this vow requires real audacity. It is no timid act to envision the world in a new, fresh, and liberated way. It requires us to see through the leveraged dynamics of samsara and to look for the profound in an ungilded life. It requires us to believe in something that we can not fully apprehend and certainly can not control. While the vow teaches us about a truthful stepping that is carried out with all beings, it is not something we can even do. There is no way to muscle our way in with pure intention or moral righteousness. Vow is beyond our effort, it is something we receive.

When I met Keira-roshi in my early twenties, I was longing to live authentically. By all accounts, my life was full and prosperous. Azusa, the love of my life, and I were married early. We had a beautiful young daughter, Anzu, and I was pursuing a passion for working with young people at a local high school. Azusa was spending time with her aging grandparents, the reason we had returned to live in Sendai. I had no reason to be unsettled, and still I felt trapped, not by the circumstances of my life but by the way I was living. I have never wanted life to be about building a safe place and then stashing up provisions. I knew there was a way to live that didn’t require building a fortress that set today against tomorrow, person against person, or any of us against the earth. I say I knew, but really it was more like resignation. Without a way to step beyond fortification, life was not worth it. To me, it would mean life is a prison.

Keira-roshi never told me what to do or tried to convince me of anything. He simply invited me to sit, and to venerate; to study and to ask questions. His kindness was immeasurable. We would chant the morning sutras together and then sit zazen. Afterward we would sit by the window or the heater, depending on the season, and talk. Sometimes he would give me something to study, and he was always enthusiastically responding to my inquiry, unleashing buddha dharma without hesitation. The cliff of Shao-lin is so immediate with my master. He leaves no room for navigation, and the razor’s edge of freedom was offered to me with open hands. There is no way to repay him. It has simply become my life work to try and live in the same way as him, inviting fellow travelers to sit, venerate, study and to ask questions. Our blossoming temple here in Eugene bears his name.

Although I’ve been right in the middle of the hubbub recorded in this book, I am quite certain that it has never been me founding anything. Whatever has grown here is due to forces more fundamental and more profound than normal eyes can see. I can not sidestep the importance of my vow to found a temple, but just like the fundamental vow of the bodhisattva, this has not been something I could do. It has been a receiving, certainly for me, but also for everyone who has touched and been touched by this place and this way of life. People yearn for something authentic. As we invite one another to follow and rely on this yearning, we receive something from each other, and spiritual community is born. The gravity of suffering, and its release, brings lives together in a mysterious way. This temple has always been Buddha inviting Buddha, seeing through illusion to behold her own face.

I am sure there are much more efficient ways to establish an institution than what we at Buddha Eye have been up to for the past 15 years. (And yes, a temple is in one way an institution not so different from any other.) I suppose a CEO would not have much to say to a sturdy oak or fleeting trillium. Size and speed have no bearing on what forms a stupa, a soil, the pressed-up-againstness of bugs and leaves and water and sun, … and people. It is the entirety of life from which the shoot pushes up. These pages are filled with the life of Buddha Eye Temple, and each page reminds me of how entwined we all are. Your heart and mind appear as this simple hall, and the willingness to recognize and receive your brothers and sisters, human and otherwise, reveals the path of the bodhisattva vow.

The fourth case of the Book of Serenity retells the story of an ancient temple: 

When the World-Honored One was walking with his assembly, he pointed to the ground with his hand and said, “This place is  good for building a temple.” Indra took a stalk of grass and stuck it in the ground and said, “The temple has been built.” The World-Honored One smiled.

Each morning I press my forehead to the ground in thanks many times. There is so much to be grateful for in the continual receiving that forms day to day life. I feel incredibly blessed to have met “this good place for building a temple”. I am grateful for Shakyamuni’s finger pointing. I am grateful for the ground of our collective lives with which to receive the stalk of grass, and I am grateful to Indra for the powerful thrust. As we journey on together, it is my deepest hope that we never forget greeting our true master by meeting the earth with our knees, with our elbows and with our hard heads. 

      If you ask why we prostrate
      Three times I will tell you
      It should be nine, or
      One hundred eight, or

      Each time you meet a good

      One continual tumble
      Into hands
      Of moist, green moss

      One emerging
      From empty space
      Under ground.

     - Ejo