My name is Rich Lafferty, and I’m a Zen Buddhist layperson in the Kapleau tradition, in Toronto, Canada.
This is a blog about Zen, about my practice, about my life, and the intersection of those things.
One night in February of 1968, I sat among fifty black-robed fellow students, mostly young Americans, at Zen Mountain Center, Tassajara Springs, ten miles inland from Big Sur, California, deep in the mountain wilderness. The kerosene lamplight illuminated our breath in the winter air of the unheated room.
Before us the founder of the first Zen Buddhist monastery in the Western Hemisphere, Shunryu Suzuki, had concluded a lecture from his seat on the altar platform. “Thank you very much,” he said softly, with a genuine feeling of gratitude. He took a sip of water, cleared his throat, and looked at his students. “Is there some question?” he asked, just loud enough to be heard above the sound of the creek gushing in the darkness outside.
I bowed, hands together, and caught his eye.
“Hai?” he said, meaning yes.
“Suzuki Roshi, I’ve been listening to your lectures for years,” I said, “and I really love them, and they’re very inspiring, and I know that what you’re talking about is actually very clear and simple. But I must admit I just don’t understand. I love it, but I feel like I could listen to you for a thousand years and still not get it. Could you just please put it in a nutshell? Can you reduce Buddhism to one phrase?”
Everyone laughed. He laughed. What a ludicrous question. I don’t think any of us expected him to answer it. He was not a man you could pin down, and he didn’t like to give his students something definite to cling to. He had often said not to have “some idea” of what Buddhism was.
But Suzuki did answer. He looked at me and said,
Then he asked for another question.
Everything changes. A decade ago, when I was interested in Zen and Buddhism but not practicing, one thing that got me through difficult times was the lesson of impermanence in the story of King Solomon’s Ring—this, too, shall pass.
But somehow now that I do practice Zen, struggling with impermanence is my sticking point. So here’s where I’m going to get that point unstuck, and chronicle my experiences with Zen and life, and remind myself of what the Buddha taught when I’m getting tied up in the five skandhas: