Saturday, January 1, 2022

New Year's 2022 and The Turning Towards Grace

 Saturday, January 1, 2022


Aho’Rajanaka! Bho! Bho! Sukhiya Zālā!


Warm New Year’s greetings from far too warm Bristol.   Here’s to laughter aplenty and time well-spent, health and time to do what you love most with those who make all the difference a difference can make.  I want to thank you because you came in 2021 to make learning and contemplation a joy together.  You brought grace and that’s something we should talk about more.  With all we have endured, you made the effort and we’re all the better for it.  For my part, I know you’ve kept me sane (well, you know, relatively speaking), centered and committed, and determined to make this crazy world sumthin’ good.  Let’s carry on.  First a few invitations, then on to a tumult of grace, a veritable donnybrook, brouhaha, rumpus---Grace should come like a cete of badgers, a sedge of bitterns, an obstinacy of buffalo, a quiver of cobras, a flamboyance of flamingos, and a business of ferrets. 

On New Year’s we get to collect and recollect, start anew, and consider what it means to find joy in rearranging the disorder that makes life both sweet and, well, not less complicated.  We don’t ever really start over because we’re always in the middle of things.  But finding out how to keep moving and find a moment’s peace is our human condition.  Celebrating our feeling human is the very soul of Rajanaka teaching.

And celebrating that kind of “turning towards” is “keeping things to rights” or pradaksina.  When you use pra- as a prefix to a Sanskrit word it often means forward, towards and sometimes it can mean apart, distinctive, even falling apart.  The word dakshina gestures gratitude, and often as a gift or even a monetary offering.  Put this together as pradakshina and we are charged simultaneously to keep moving forward and towards even as we deconstruct and put things to rights.

If that sounds paradoxical I’d bet you’re not surprised.  Life invites us to step into what’s possible and to receive what’s true with or without our consent---and then create, innovate, and rearrange to refresh the next breath.  

As you would expect, the cultural “rules” of dakshina in India can be complex.  For example, in temples offering dakshina to the priests is considered requisite, a virtual nitya karma, while the effort to make an offering to one’s own teacher may not be made without acknowledged “permission.”  The priest must be paid---it’s only fair and right---but the teacher is charged to decide if, when, and what dakshina is offered. Why the seeming incongruity?

I think it’s because we recognize deep in our hearts that the most important experiences in life cannot be paid back---grace more artlessly defined: you don’t earn it, you may not “deserve” it, and you sure can’t pay it back.  Dakshina is a way of saying that the best things in life are not free but come freely.  And just how to we express gratitude for such blessings? 


In Zen it is said “to surpass the teacher is to repay the debt.” That charge is riven with irony and accompanied by the deep humility that we feel when we know in our hearts that we have been graced and that it seems impossible ever to surpass our teachers, much less repay our debts.  I know I feel that way about Appa---everyday I am in wonder at his generosity of time and energy and heart---and so many others with whom I have been blessed to study.  Many of those teachers are simply the things all around us, like the pup who loves me without conditions (and maybe there are treats too) or the spider that weaves and waits, from whose patience I learn a new respect; some teachers are only in books or dreams or perhaps even in the unconscious.  So again we should ask, how might we express gratitude for all the grace that has come?

Pradakshina.  We can continue to step forward, take it all apart, put it all back together, turn with the heart opening to the center and expanding to our boundaries.  Shall we try together?  Shall we do this again and again?  I look forward to seeing you whenever you can make it in 2022.  

sapremakulasmaranam, with loving affection of the community of the heart,