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On Being a Master: Sinking into the Mud

Photo Credit: Fa Shi Yao Xin Shakya



When discussing what a “master” is or can be in our tradition with Yao Xiang Shakya, in preparation before her Master Transmission, she said “I feel being a master is sinking further into the mud so the lotus may rise higher”.

And indeed, knowing we sink into the mud so the lotus may rise is the essence of practice. It is essential to have some basic self honesty to see how shitty and humanly dark we can be. How our tendency to be self-involved is a threat to the rising lotus.

We need to be able to admit our mistakes and our self-centered tendencies.

Yes, my basic thoughts, habits or desires are a mess leading nowhere at all. By directly seeing the mess, knowing it, chewing it in my daily life, I can point to it without shame, pride or fear. With this in mind, especially to those who want to share and teach the Dharma, the question is, do you see how shitty you are? Are you able to be honest about it without being defensive? Are you still hiding out in the walls of your defensive cover-up?

In order to be matter-of-fact and honest, one must know the darkness and light that arises in the mind without shame, pride or fear. Much of the work is busting up these tendencies so one is illumined by our true nature.

A master transmission is not much different from a new ordination; masters don’t forget that the taking of the precepts is a transmission in itself. The main similarity may be symbolized in the fact that when receiving master transmission, we take precepts facing the same altar, the same goal, with the same mindless mind of satisfaction as our own master! In addition, Masters vow to teach our own students and also instruct them to teach. To do this we remain open and focused on the Sincere Center (our awakened Self). Being a master comes with humility from an inner illumination that is bright enough to know darkness and light without seeing it as such. It is a non-dual awareness.

Masters are just very respectful and grateful for the attention and training we received and we try to manifest our Old Teacher’s Dharma (Ming Zhen Shakya), in our own flesh, life, and heart. Much of the work is done in our homes with those we live day to day, and in our communities.

Masters don’t spend time thinking about establishing a big center or figuring out what Buddhist ministry will arise. Our Zen groups/hermitages are close to house churches. They are the nests of our practice in this world, in the middle of all the joys and difficulties, in the middle of all the things we do.

Masters recognize each student who enters the door to be ordained as a lay, novice or full priest has his or her own story, interests, and capacities. Each one could become a teacher and it is a matter of what type of teacher will they become. We have no interest in turning them into clones, like blind and soulless parrots. But whatever their particular Dharma is, we help them grow in it where we both learn and are taught along the Way.

Their interest may change, their lives may take another turn but, like us, they keep mirroring their lives in the tradition our teacher has left us. Everyone has his own relation to that lived tradition. But what binds us is that we keep mirroring our life and spiritual practice in the same mirror.

So despite our differences or personal affinities, may we all sink further into the mud so that, under our Old Sun’s teachings, the lotus may rise higher.

Fa Shi Yao Xin Shakya

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