The Gift of the Daily Recollection
“There is a way between voice and presence where information flows.
In disciplined silence it opens.
With wandering talk it closes.”
This Musings article deviates from its normal structure in order to explore a principle of practice that has come up in guidance recently. Several of us have had the courage to articulate a question that many might have wondered about but never asked, which is: Why do we recite the Daily Recollection?
Supposedly, Zen is not ritualistic, is celebrated for being non-dogmatic, laughs at conformity and encourages questioning everything. In fact it is known to have had its origins in the wordless transmission of wisdom – the famous sermon of the flower where Mahakasyapa was awakened when the Buddha held up a lotus. So then why is a recitation a “required” structure of our daily meditation? Why are there scriptural references? Why does it include Pali words?
The fact that the inclusion of the Daily Recollection in the morning sit spurs these questions is perhaps its greatest gift. Structures are wonderful training tools in Awareness Practice. They exist so that we can encounter what we need to transcend. Resistance to anything in practice is a fabulous clue that the training has begun.
Most of us were introduced to the Daily Recollection at our first orientation. A monk or facilitator rang a large bell and then waved an 8.5 X 11-inch piece of paper at the room. “We recite this each morning after the large bell. You are welcome to join us if you wish.” And then helpfully, “The first bead, the first line is recited silently.”
If we were paying attention, the reaction to receiving this invitation to participate would have told us volumes about what we would need to let go of in our practice.
Did we comply just because we were asked to?
Did we rebelliously not participate because it was contrary to our notion of identity, tradition or expectation of Zen?
Did we demand an explanation, before we submitted for having to recite this?
Did we object to the arcane words in the text?
Did we turn up our noses in disgust because we did not believe in mouthing a meaningless text?
Did we rationalize the decision to conform as not wanting to rock the boat?
Did we recite the words to look like we were doing what was expected?
Was there a sparkling curiosity to know more?
Was there a deep spark of resonance that seemed to awaken when the words were heard?
Interestingly enough, the trainer doing the orientation never told us to watch for our reaction. The Daily Recollection was never introduced as a “learning opportunity.” We were left to have our own experience, whatever it was, and if we challenged this practice in any way, there was always a “helpful” note from the Guestmaster that never directly answered our questions! Did we ever stop to consider how Zen that is?
Practice constantly challenges us to choose between ego and Life so that we build the ability to consistently choose Life. We might protest that being given an explanation of the methodology of practice might be helpful and considerate to those with crusty and resistant egos. We might ask, “What if we left before we realized the benefit of the practice process?” But the sublime gift in “no explanations,” which no conditioned identity can ever accept, is that there is nothing wrong with anything. No choice is “good” or “bad.” Every experience is completely acceptable to Life. Practice models ever-expanding faith. There is complete trust in the process, in the adequacy of Intelligence knowing itself, in the fullness of Life’s time.
Over time, some of us have grown to cherish this practice of reciting the Daily Recollection with Sangha. Perhaps the familiar, resonant rhythm of the recitation anchors us in a peaceful sense of belonging. Regardless of whether we understand the words (or pronounce some of them correctly!), we may experience a quiet and unconditional acceptance of the structure of our morning meditation. Resistance melts into love, comfort, curiosity, inquiry and insight. We learn through direct experience what it means to surrender the “barriers to love.” We are trained to “know” in a way that conditioned mind cannot grasp. As our practice wears away the conditioned beliefs and assumptions of ego-identity, we are opened to the mysterious rhythm of Life. In a flash of intuitive grace we understand the gift of this way of transformation. Nothing is explained because awareness erodes the veil and unmasks the mysterious. We “get” that awakening is really a process of revelation.
The conditioned belief that drops away is that we are doing spiritual practice to get somewhere, to find answers, to know the “Truth,” to become more secure in this seemingly chaotic and alarmingly fragile existence. But the more we practice, the less we know and the more real the mystery. We relish living in the question. The flower sermon becomes our experience as we slide our hands mindfully over each bead. Each line that is recited is potent with wisdom. We smile delightedly because the words that catch our attention in the moment miraculously articulate a recent practice triumph or insight we just recorded. The joy of Intelligence knowing itself becomes the koan of the rosary.
Structures challenge the ego, but they are also the scaffolding that allows for the flowering of “faith;” our faith in practice, faith in the process of practice, faith in the wisdom of the path that calls to us over and over again with infinite patience and compassion.
As we move to introduce this practice to others, perhaps we might be challenged to facilitate the experience of those who are struggling with accepting this aspect of training. Maybe the greatest gift we can offer is seeing how we can be with that, how to hold them in compassion, trusting their adequacy, and above all trusting the process of practice that assisted us in our transformation.
After all, whether or not it has dawned on us, we all have a sacred responsibility to keep the integrity of the practice structure that has succeeded from time immemorial to “reunite all beings with their intrinsic purity.”
In this way I do most deeply vow to train myself.