Having been both a friend and a student of Nicolee Jikyo, Roshi for over thirty years I am acutely aware of the importance of gratitude in our practice. Why I have been so fortunate in so many ways is a blessing I do not try to fathom. Studying, working, playing, and just being friends with Jikyo has enriched my life in ways that would take a book to fill, but a primary benefit of our relationship has been the opportunity to learn the importance of gratitude.
In addition to Jikyo Roshi I have had the good fortune to work with Maezumi Roshi, whose annual memorial Zazenkai we recently held at the Vista Zen Center. It was thanks to an introduction to him by Jikyo that I was able to study with him for tene years. Sharing the Dharma with these two wonderful teachers has widened my circle also to include Keigen, Yoshin, Joshin, and Hogetsu Senseis, each of whom have taught me important lessons to further my practice. Then, of course, I have the Three Treasures Zen Community and each of its marvelous sangha members who prompt me to dig deeper into my own practice to learn how better to serve them. I’ve also begun to teach in Boise with folks there who present me many new opportunities to stretch and grow.
Since Jikyo become a Roshi I have felt it appropriate to write about gratitude because, like most teachings in our lives, it is often challenging and surprises us with its gifts. Our traditional Zen form creates a beautiful container for us to practice within and the hierarchy it offers guarantees that certain lessons will be presented to us.
Several years ago many people know I was involved in an extremely bad accident which left me permanently crippled in certain ways. Fortunately those ways do not get in the way of most of my normal activities and most people are not even aware of them. One of the benefits of the accident was the time it gave me while I recuperated to reflect on my life which, for me, meant reflecting primarily on my practice. I chose to go back to the beginning of my interest in meditation in 1964 and retrace my steps up to the time of the accident. I asked some difficult questions about what had changed in my life and whether or not I felt I had made good use of my time and of the time my teachers had contributed to me.
In looking back over my life I reread many of the books that had been influential in my life and delved into some new ones. A couple of those books touched me a great deal and they happened to be written by people who are far enough advanced in their own practice to be considered teachers by others in a legitimate way – they had received transmission or acknowledgment from another lineage holder. These teachers, who caught my attention, were people who had decided to completely, or radically, alter their relationship with their lineage, their teachers, and the forms they were using to teach.
For a while I was excited by the freedom I felt when reading the books and articles these people had written and my rebellious spirit was enchanted by the notion of letting go of everything I had been following. The writings, of course, made me think that the letting go of all the forms and the teachers who taught them was the “correct” understanding. Part of me agreed with the arguments presented and I was energized by the freedom I experienced. At the same time, however, something kept gnawing away at me encouraging me not to be hasty and to continue to sit and practice with what was being presented to me.
As the process unfolded I remembered how Jikyo, Roshi had gone out of her way numerous, numerous times to assist me on my path. Hadn’t she introduced me to Maezumi Roshi, who, in turn, went out of his way to accommodate my special (I thought) needs. Hadn’t he, along with other teachers from Japan and other Eastern countries, left their homelands to teach in a foreign country. All to help spread the Buddha Dharma to people like myself who had no idea at the time what it really was. The teachings that were shared with me have been passed down by people like Jikyo and Maezumi Roshis for over 2500 years. I had personally benefited so greatly in every way – physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually – that there was no way I could not feel sincere, unending gratitude for all that these people had done on my behalf.
It was not that these thoughts were new to me, but in the context of my re-evaluating my life and having been stimulated by people who had questioned and, sometimes, left their teachers and lineages behind, I understood just how important these teachers and these teachings were to me. From my perspective, teachers who have eschewed the form, the lineages, the entire traditions, miss the truth that it is not those things which stop us. It is our ideas about them which cause the problems. Jikyo consistently shows her students where any attachments occur – including the attachment to “letting go”. Seeing where we are attached is the issue, not the forms or the teachers. The forms used effectively serve us. A good teacher is able to assist our efforts is doing just this. Realizing this, there was, and is, no way I can experience anything but great gratitude.
As those ideas settled within me, I came across an article in Tricycle magazine in which a Tibetan teacher had written an article echoing exactly the process I had gone through and how he had arrived at the same conclusions. It was as if another teacher had appeared at exactly the right time to confirm my understanding. Actually, it was not “as if” – it was another teacher in the great Buddha sangha stepping forward to guide me on my path.
And so, to Roshis Jikyo and Maezumi in particular, and the other wonderful teachers I have been fortunate to have met, I offer full bows in gratitude to your generosity, compassion, wisdom, on my behalf.
Jake Jiyu Gage, Roshi