Editorial: No Barriers

Featured in Mountain Record 25.4, Summer 2007

Early on in my zazen practice, I confidently placed myself in half-lotus. Ching… ching… ching… the ringing of the inkin had barely faded from my ear when a suspicion grew in me that this was not a good idea. As the hallway clock ticked loudly—but slowly—on and on, the pain in my legs rose to the level of excruciation. While I fantasized about running from the zendo never to return, I knew I was far too compliant and self-conscious to stir. So there I sat, with a pain I could not have imagined. And I knew, in that simply staying put, that to move was no real escape.

Is the body a barrier? Is it our only means to freedom? From the exuberant song of Walt Whitman, to the deeply sensual/spiritual poetry of St. John of the Cross, this issue of Mountain Record takes up the question of “The Body”—its inherent role in spiritual practice, in identity and experiences of separateness, in living and dying.

John Daido Loori Roshi reminds us that there are no barriers between self and other, “…if we can get to the ground of being within ourselves and realize that the bag of skin is only the smallest part of who we are, we realize that the universe itself passes through us.” In a similar tone, Wendell Berry describes the inherent unity of ourselves with the earth itself, while warning of the increasing self-alienation and destructive force of modern culture, religion, and commercialism.

Faced with the commercial onslaught of BUY! BUY! BUY! and MORE! MORE! MORE!, we readily awaken greed—the hungry ghost—within us. In response, the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha remain powerfully relevant in the spiritual development of body and mind: “I recall…while I was sitting in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, I entered upon and abided in the first jhana…with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion. Could that be the path to enlightenment?”

Buddha recognized the suffering inherent in sickness, old age, and death, as well as its source and the path to liberation—the path of The Middle Way. Neither asceticism nor indulgence, neither one extreme nor the other, this teaching can be brought to life through body practice, one of the Eight Gates of training within the Mountains and Rivers Order. Through awareness of all our movements—walking across a room, sipping a cup of coffee, sitting zazen (seated meditation)—we come to realize that every action is a form of body practice. Shugen Sensei describes zazen as “…the practice of closeness, of that true intimacy with body and mind… skillfully holding you so you can’t go anywhere… (because) there is nowhere to go.”

So sit back, inhale, exhale, turn the page...


Karin Jinfu Connely, MRO
Mountain Record, Editor