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  "From the Guide"
(In Our Practice, Winter 1997)

By Cheri Huber

When I was training in the monastery, learning to offer workshops on Zen practice, my teacher would speak with me often about the dangers of having what he called "undue influence" in people's lives. He would explain how people, responding to the gratitude they felt for the teaching, would confuse the teacher with the teaching. That from their desire to reciprocate for such a gift, they would be willing to give what was most precious to them-their possessions, their money, their bodies. Over and over he cautioned me never to be anyone's "reason to practice or excuse for not practicing."

Over the years I have attempted to be very careful about personally influencing people. We tend to grow up insecure, wanting to please, needing to be reassured, looking for approval and acceptance from others we consider to be more special. Spiritual teachers, perhaps even more than doctors or therapists, have a very privileged place in people's lives. I never want to abuse that trust.

Everyone in this culture, including me, has received mounds of mail asking for money. I have seen people of every persuasion make cases for even imaginable cause and offer countless arguments for why I should write them a check. And even before I was involved with a nonprofit organization, I knew that I would not be sending those kinds of requests to people.

I have seen other religious organizations setting monetary goals, for a building or property or whatever, and I've seen lists of the names of the people who contributed, often with the amount they contributed. And I knew that I never wanted to participate in that.

My difficulty is that I seem incapable of expressing clearly why that is so. The following story answers the question, but I realize it is such a koan (spiritual puzzle), that for most people, rather than clarifying the issue, it deepens the confusion.

From Zen Flesh, Zen Bones :

    While Seisetsu was the master of Engaku in Kamakura he required larger quarters, since those in which he was teaching were overcrowded. Umezu Seibei, a merchant of Edo, decided to donate five hundred pieces of gold called ryo toward the construction of a more commodious school. This money he brought to the teacher.

    Seisetsu said: "All right. I will take it."

    Umezu gave Seisetsu the sack of gold, but he was dissatisfied with the attitude of the teacher One might live a whole year on three ryo. and the merchant had not even been thanked for five hundred.

    "In that sack are five hundred ryo," hinted Umezu.

    "You told me that before." replied Seisetsu.

    "Even if I am a wealthy merchant, five hundred ryo is a lot of money," said L'mezu.

    "Do you want me to thank you for it?" asked Seisetsu.

    "You ought to," replied Umezu.

    "Why should I?" inquired Seisetsu. "The giver should be thankful."

Shocking, isn't it? And do you see that it is the job of the Zen teacher to disabuse us of the false beliefs and assumptions, the conditioned ideas and attitudes, that are the maintenance structure for the illusion of a separate self that is the cause of our suffering? It may not be nice, it may not be pretty, but it can be effective, and it is necessary that people come to Zen practice for the purpose of being relieved of the illusions that cause and perpetuate suffering. Then, when the person we have asked for help attempts to give us what we asked for. we are shocked. "That's not what I meant! I don't want to do that! I want to end my conditioning in a way that is comfortable for my conditioning."

All over the country I see centers for spiritual practice that are run like businesses People are afraid of teachers, and they want contracts, restrictions, systems of checks and balances "Let's get together and come up with ways to use our conditioning and our beliefs systems to make sure we're safe." It won't work. It's like locking the one I love in a closet to make sure of my beloved's fidelity. By the time conditioning is safe, Zen is dead.

We're going into new territory here and the old maps don't apply.

At our recent workshop on money there was this exchange between participant and guide:

P: About giving and receiving... I always keep myself in the student or client position, trying to get something from someone I think is superior or more powerful. And the truth is it's never satisfying. I never feel I have enough. This is how I continue to believe I have nothing to give. What I'm interested in knowing is, if I'm always there wanting to get, but unable to give...

G: You have absolutely hit on what is, for me, the core of this issue, the very point I seem unable to communicate clearly. I find myself saying to people, "Money is not the point!" I want people to understand that we get what we give, that the giving is the getting, that it is our giving, our generosity, our participation that we get out of what we do. As long as we are in the role of "one down," trying to get something, or buy something, we will always be unable to receive. Until we take responsibility, until we say, "This is mine and I want to share it. I receive this, and I want you to have this," we remain in lack, in deprivation, outside the flow of enough, of plenty, that is life. We've got to move out of: somebody has it, somebody doesn't have it, somebody possesses it and is going to impart it or sell it, somebody else will get it, buy it. We've got to get out of the way and let it flow, let it move, everybody participating. I can do this, and you can do that, and she can offer that, and he can share that. Participation.

In all my years I have never been able to say this clearly. I don't know if it is the way I say it, or if the concept is too foreign, or if people don't want to get it because it's simpler, easier, safer, more familiar to remain in that less-than, student-trying-to-get-something position. I just don't know.

However, I've always found not knowing a good place to begin, and it is for that reason that we have declared 1997 "The Year of Money and Spiritual Practice." I can see that not addressing the issue and hoping people will solve the koan is not the answer, and I am quite certain that turning the issue over to conditioning is not the answer. Money, giving, sharing, and participation are spiritual issues, just as time, solitude, silence, relationship, life, death, sickness and work are spiritual issues. Hang on, because 1998 is going to be devoted to "Sexuality and Spiritual Practice."

So, we need to look at, sit still with, and explore everything we're clinging to and pushing away about money, contribution, having, receiving, giving, getting, participation, connection, belonging, separation, mine and yours. Why do I give? Who decides what I'll do? Who is making decisions about my freedom? Am I doing what I'm doing for me? to get something? to get what? from whom?

To assist in this process, we're including in this newsletter some questions to consider and issues to explore. We hope you will continue to participate and keep us posted about what you see.

In loving kindness, Cheri


Copyright 2003-2011 Cheri Huber