The news came 10 years ago while I was teaching the family retreat at IMS – my teacher Kobun Chino Otagawa had drowned with his little daughter Maya while trying to save her. Kobun was a jewel of the Soto Zen school in Japan, and Suzuki Roshi (founder of San Francisco Zen Center) asked him to come to America to start the first Zen monastery, Tassajara. I met him in 1976.
Kobun was an artist, and he was nakedly, wholeheartedly, completely himself, which made him a maverick in Japan. He taught us the zazen of being empty, wakeful, ever-present, of not having a stake in the outcome – and we loved him for it! His compassion was truly selfless and vast.
One Saturday afternoon in 2012, I was sitting on the couch in my late friend Warren Bennis’ living room, a bright, airy perch overlooking the ocean. Warren calls me his “Buddhist teacher,” which makes him, at age 87, my oldest student. Yet it seems I’m always learning from his wisdom, his years of creating the field we know as leadership studies. As a leader, he says, you shift from having to prove yourself to the capacity to express yourself. And this shift from proving and judging who we are to fully expressing ourselves sums up the freedom we can find in our dharma practice.
Peeling a small tangerine, Warren begins to quote T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” as he asks “Would you like a tangerine?”
“Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.”
Kobun would ask me, “What do you want?” Do you dare express yourself? Why not? You choose the life you have! “Wear the bottoms of your trousers rolled” and remember – there’s no one who has ever been like you before. Never. Not in all the multiverse of hundreds of trillions of stars, planets, solar systems, galaxies. There is no other being like you, and never will be.
There is a great freedom in this uniqueness. It calls you to live from what you love the most, from your deepest values. You are called to be truthful to yourself, loyal to the truth of who you are. In the stillness of meditation, we can begin to trust that there is nothing to prove, to see how it is with us without having a stake in the outcome, without judgment or shame. We can be safe enough to allow all of who we are to be revealed and expressed. For me, this is the heart of meditation.
Image Credit: T. Goodman