Questioner 1: There are so many laypeople who go to Zen River Temple to take the meditation. And what do these people really want through this meditation experience?
Tenkei: Yeah. That’s a good question. I think there are many ways to enter the Dharma. We chant the Four Boddhisattva Vows, Dharma Gate, and so many others. I think there are 84,000 Dharma Gate. So I think many people come to Buddhism for meditation or ceremony, but they don’t know why. So maybe they think to themselves that “Oh yeah, I want to do meditation or I want to do ceremony”, but these may only be on the surface level. In my experience many people feel a strong desire, usually a strong desire to come home. We often talk about coming home in oneself, realizing Buddha, the Buddha way. In my opinion, everybody was born with that desire. Everybody was born with what we call a Bodhi mind, Bodhicitta, Bodhi mind. So the mind wants to wake up. But many people do not recognize or do not honor. The desire may be suppressed. And I think many people are not in the circumstances, social circumstances where the desire can manifest, for example, in very poor countries, or countries at war, or very strong religious regulation. So I think when people come to Zen River for example, in my mind, they all want the Buddha way. But they don’t know what they want. I remember very clearly for me too. I did not know what I wanted. I only knew that I wanted something and it was not so clear. Although I do remember one time when I was in France, I saw a woman sitting in meditation. And then I thought I wanted that. It was strange, because I did not know meditation. But somehow something woke up. So I believe when people come to, for example, Zen River, for maybe just one class or one meditation or one ceremony, or one Sunday night public service, I don’t know, they don’t know yet that they are Bodhisattva. Of course we may need to talk at different levels, because they want meditation, or enlightenment, or love, or compassion. But in my own experience, it’s not always so clear how to formulate what we want. But I think our longing to go home is universal. Everybody is Buddha. Everybody has Buddha nature. Everybody wants to go home. But because of external circumstances or internal circumstances, not everybody is able to hear the calling from within. So we try to look at people who come to Zen River Temple, I always like believe that everybody can realize. Everybody may have different entry, but in principle, everybody is the same. That’s what I think. And then I think in our style of teaching, we try not to, how would I say, aim too low. Aim high. That’s why, for example, our meditation instruction requires everyone, in half an hour, to retell the whole story, not half of the story. So also with Chinese monks who came to Zen River, it was interesting. When we did meditation, some monks may be very experienced, but some laypeople are not. They don’t quite know how to do it. But I usually do one meditation within half an hour, with all the story of course being very compact. There are quick talks in many days, but all in short versions of the whole story. And I’m always impressed that people then can hear the story at different levels. They hear this, they hear this, they hear this, and they hear this. But we find it very important to, on some levels, treat everybody in the same way. Of course once we have heard the whole story, we can tell the details, many details, depending on the motivation or social circumstances of that person. But sometimes I’m very surprised, like for example, when she, came to Zen River for the first time, nobody could think that she would now be living there. Other people may be coming, who looked like very mature Zen students, but now are gone. So this is kind of strange, you see. So we never know. Some persons may go into the door. Maybe great Bodhisattva, I think. So we should also address that person with that kind of respect.
Questioner 2: So given that those people coming to the temple with different courses, I wants to know that, does anybody, in the laypeople, have to go step by step? Or do they just focus on one specialized course, one special way to practice the Dharma?
Tenkei: Well, I think in principle we have a curriculum, but the curriculum can be divided up in many different ways. For example, we start with meditation, because I must admit, in general, meditation is most popular, we also do ceremonies and social activities. We try to study, but when people come for the first time, they all like to meditate. So we have to show them how to meditate. And then of course there are many different levels of meditation and some people may just be happy with the first level, and others want to go to the next level, and the next level, and the next level. But we want to give everybody the opportunity to go at all levels. Technically speaking, it’s difficult, because, for example, if you want to go to Gongan curriculum training, it takes a long, long time. And yet it is a very good system, because Gongan curriculum that we have addresses almost all the blocks we can have, you see? So it’s like a grid, it’s like there is always something that gets triggered that you can work on. So we do the whole Gongan training, and then people who want to teach Gongan, they have to do all Gongans, but that may take 15 to 20 years. So it is a long, long training, because every time you have to interview with the teacher. For example, somebody who comes only for once a year, or even once a week, we will just do some very simple Gongan, maybe just one. That’s fine too, because even one Gongan can help focus and open up the mind. So in a way one Gongan is enough if you are smart. It’s almost like you go with the first Gongan, like, for example, the Zhao Zhou “wu”. If you understand Zhao Zhou “wu” very well, there is no need for you to call. Second, if you do not understand the first one so well, you need a second Gongan. If you still don’t understand so well, the third Gongan, and then 750 to really understand “wu”. Just “wu” is okay too, but other Gongans can help to clarify blocks we might have and to open up our mind further. So I think in this system everybody can work on their own level. And because we have always individual interviews even with beginners, we can adjust the teaching to individuals. We work a little bit like music teachers. Imagine if you are a music teacher, you can sometimes teach the whole group, but most music teachers at some point teach one on one. And we have that too. That’s why this monastery can not be so big. All you need is many more teachers. Sometimes I think maybe forty is a lot, forty is a lot. So we have twenty teachers already, almost two times a week or three times a week for individual interviews. So we can adjust our teaching to every person. Also we were talking about three levels of teaching. Every student is different. Sometimes they are of the first level, sometimes the second level, sometimes the third level, so we adjust teaching for each individual I think. And it has to be very flexible, especially nowadays when we have so many laypeople from so many different backgrounds. Maybe when one person comes for the first time, the other person has been here already for ten years. So we have to be flexible. Even the same teaching session is different for different people. You can have different levels. You see? It doesn’t mean we often have to teach one on one, which is big job.
Xianqing: Any question? We put through these questions, so that we can know more about them.
Tenkei: Yes, interesting.
Tenkei: But I was very impressed to hear about Longquan Monastery that so many laypeople live there too. That’s wonderful because I have never seen that in Japan for example. It’s difficult in Japan to enter a monastery even for a short period of time as a lay person. So I was very impressed to hear that. You can really participate in the program. That’s wonderful. That’s really nice. That’s great. I was very happy to hear that.
Xianqing: You know that in China, we study in the school, in the university, but we have very few courses about religion, about Buddhism. So we know little about Buddhism, about religion. We don’t have so many opportunities. That’s why when a new monastery is built, if people can live in the monastery, they have much more opportunities to know about it. And gradually you know that, if somebody lives there for some time, it’s very natural for them to become monks. Otherwise it’s very difficult even though you know what Buddhism is, it is very difficult to make a choice to become a monk.
Tenkei: Yeah, that’s right. You don’t know what Buddhism means. We are in the similar situation, really. I mean nobody who comes to the monastery has any previous knowledge, even about Buddhist scriptures or basic Buddhist principles, even just some basic feelings, like telling oneself that “I am a Buddhist”. Maybe they have Buddha statues, but they have often very little knowledge and experience with Buddhist literature or practice or even knowing Buddhist principles. That’s why we do a lot of study. We do a lot of study because I feel like we have to really catch up, because we don’t have that experience. In Japan it’s a bit different. Many of the monks go to universities and do Buddhist studies. Not everybody, but many of them. We don’t have that. So I find that sometimes it’s difficult because it means that we have the meditation, we have ceremonies and we need to do a lot of study, and many of us are a little older, so study is going slow or the same case with learning other languages. So we have to catch up. It’s a big job too. Some of you, did you do Buddhist studies before you became a monk? Or did you? Did you do Buddhist studies before you became a nun?(No.)
Tenkei: So you also have to catch up. Same situation.
Xianqing: We must catch up with you.
Tenkei: That’s easy. That’s very easy.
Xianqing: When we went to the temple, Zen River Temple, I found that you compiled the text books yourself.
Tenkei: Yeah, yeah, yeah. We made two text books for materials that I think are important to give a broad vision.
Xianqing: We also have some idea to discuss with you. Please check and give your suggestion whenever it’s possible. You know last year, we had the workshop to discuss the Chinese Buddhism, the internationalization of Chinese Buddhism. Maybe this is a way for us to share what Chinese Buddhism is to the local people, Dutch people. Maybe then there will be some other ways to introduce the Chinese Buddhist culture, for example, the paintings. You are a painter, right? The paintings and some artists, who paint the statues of Buddha and Bodhisattva. And also some calligraphy. Maybe in the future, we can organize some shows for the paintings.
Tenkei: Very interesting. In fact in June we already had a calligraphy workshop. Not every year. Every a few years we have very interesting Japanese American artists, very famous, such as Kaz Tanahashi, a calligrapher, who did the workshop. It is very popular. I think it’s a great idea. I think it’s a very good idea.
Xianqing: So maybe in this monastery, we can organize such shows.
Tenkei: Yeah, I am sure people will be interested. I will be interested.
Xianqing: Yeah, that’s why I talk about it with you.
Tenkei: I will be interested. Yeah, absolutely. Because I think it’s very important too. Of course, we need to practice. But it also needs to find, Buddhism needs to find a place in society. Like the art, it’s a natural way to extend practice to the society. I think it’s always been that way. So yeah, I know I am very much in favor of that.
Xianqing: So maybe ...
Tenkei: And music.
Xianqing: Yeah, and music, Buddhist music. You know, some Chinese artists can also take part in such shows, and we also invite the local people, who can compare the artworks or have dialogues. It’s wonderful.
Tenkei: Yeah. I was very interested in studying, I am not sure if I pronounce his name right, Hongyi?
Xianqing: Hongyi. Yeah, yeah.
Tenkei: He was trained as an artist painter. It’s beautiful.