I have a teaching story or Koan from Tomoe Katagiri who is a teacher for many of us in her quiet way. She is Katagiri-roshi’s widow. Thursday, Sosan and I went to her house to work on Jukai (Buddhist initiation) names. We are continuing again this Jukai to give the participants Japanese names with translations. Perhaps some day, we will only give out English names, which would be much easier, but for now, we are still struggling with Japanese names. We are very dependant on Tomoe-san to help us. I don’t want to give out a Japanese name that may have a strange meaning in Japan. Sometimes western practitioners have gone to Japan and their dharma names have some strange, laughable, translations.
This Jukai class is large. We have around 23 people to name. So I gathered up all the lists of names I have collected and thought, well, we can just look at these lists and give someone a name that has already been put together. That would be the fastest and most efficient way. I bring this huge bag of dictionaries and lists to Tomoe-san’s house and we start to work. About half an hour into the session, she pulls back in her chair, and looks at me and shakes her head very gently and almost imperceptibly. I ask her, “What’s wrong?” Tomoe-san replies, “I don’t think using someone else’s name is a good idea. “ She smiles, “We are, after all, naming baby Buddhas. Each name should be the teacher’s deep wish for that baby buddha’s life.” Sosan and I are stopped in our tracks. Tomoe-san continued, “You should start with the wish for that person and then find the two characters that fit that wish, like we have done in the past.” I say, “Tomoe-san, I am trying to find an easier way, that won’t take so much time, for you and for us.” She raises her eyebrows. And so we began again.
The next day, in the morning, I am feeling swamped by all the work I have to do. “I am so behind”, my mind says to me over and over. I look at my schedule and it is filled with things I need to do, but not things that will advance my “to-do” list. I’m disturbed about that. There are a few meetings, exercise, and attending a memorial service for a friend I admired. In the evening, some special friends are coming over for dinner and I am the cook. I feel swamped again. Then, I feel Tomoe’s admonition to me for being in a hurry and trying to find the easier softer way. So, after I meditate, I allow myself to let go into the day I have, not the day I think I should have. Quite early in the morning, I put up the sweet potatoes for dinner, they can be in the fridge ready to go, and I decide to set the table. I pull out the tablecloth and napkins and they are very wrinkled. Normally, in my hurry, I would just put them on the table ignoring the fact that they need to be ironed. Maybe, I would simply refold the napkins, pressing them with my fingers, and say, “that’s good enough.” But with Tomoe-san’s gentle scold in my head, I said to myself, “Okay, let’s really set the table”. I pull out the ironing board and iron and spend a half hour quietly ironing the tablecloth and napkins. It is so deeply nourishing to attend to the table for my friends in a slow way. The table looks fantastic.
I’m almost going out the door to my first activity feeling very centered and nurtured by slowing down and I hear my husband take a call in the next room. From the end of the conversation that I can hear, our special guests are sick and not coming.
Oh, I laugh. Somehow, I’m able to let go immediately, and thank myself for the True Nurturance of ironing. I feel so much better, grounded and here.
My husband comes in and remarks at how easy I am taking the news that our guests aren’t coming and I went to all that trouble; going shopping late Thursday nite when I was tired from work, ironing and setting the table and making the sweet potatoes.
Following my teacher’s instructions from long ago: become one with what you are doing and let go of the results.
I laugh and say to my husband with a smile: Zen Practice!