Great Champions

Great champions win by staying on their side of the net, getting their own act together and accepting responsibility. Every decision in life has a consequence, just like every ball I hit has a consequence. I was totally motivated. All I had to do was get the ball over the net. You have to finish. It’s so hard to finish anything in life. Billie Jean King

There are great champions of the Dharma, the bodhisattvas we venerate such as Bodhidharma, Nagarjuna, Dogen Zenji, Avalokitesvara, Manjusri, Kannon and the Dali Lama, to mention just a few. We too have the stuff of great champions of the Dharma. The foundation of great practice-realization is the same for all of us.

To say one should “stay on their side of the net, getting our act together and accepting responsibility” is our path in a nutshell. Dogen wrote in Genjo Koan, “To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things.” Practice begins on our side of the net. It begins by transformation of the self not the other.

We begin with ourselves, by investigating the nature of self, the nature of our own life. We study how it is to bring forth the Buddha Way within the unique context of our experience. Transformation can only begin when we take responsibility for our mind, thoughts, speech and action. We start where we are looking at what it is to live our life as it is, not an idea we have about how our life should be.

We start with the aspiration to be bodhisattvas. Then, entering into the Bodhisattva Way, we realize that we are the only ones who can actualize that vow. We accept the responsibility. We accept that our decision to practice the Dharma has the consequence that we must squarely face our life moment after moment.

Each hit of the ball, each response is practice-realization. Practice-realization is enacted as each moment of our life engages all of life. Even if we are unaware, those decisions reverberate in our life. Furthermore, our life is not just “our life”, it includes the life of all being. The life of each being is my life and my life is the life of each being. This is the profound, interconnected, vital pulse of all of reality arising simultaneously.

Our decision to enact practice-realization is accepting responsibility and making a vow. Our vow, while difficult and at times disconcerting to the small self, is taken joyously. We do not have to become burdened, but lightened by the joy of rejoining the vital quick of life. We become motivated and energized to see this practice realized in each wave as it rolls into the shore.

Billie Jean King continued, “All I had to do was get the ball over.” She is talking about the final points of her winning match against Bobbie Riggs. “Getting the ball over” is the culmination of all of her training and her life up to that point. Yet she is not focused on history, she is focused on just the moment of hitting the ball. Her focus is not intellectual; it is the completely surrendered body and mind. It is, to use Buddhist language, her Buddha-nature freed by her previous effort to come forth and respond appropriately to the moment.

Getting the ball over is the everyday activity of a Buddhist practitioner. Nothing special, just going to work, taking care of the baby, buying groceries.  You might think practice-realization requires a special place for its enactment, but this is not so. Our practice-realization happens wherever we are. We don’t have to go or do anything special. We have to change our view of each moment from the small mind of selfishness to the larger mind of including everything.

When Billie Jean King hit her winning shot it was the culmination of all her effort up to that point. And that shot continues, as do all the shots, endlessly throughout time and space. Yet, it was just another ball hit over the net. It was the everyday activity of her life as a tennis professional and champion. This attention to each moment makes that moment successful. This is also true of practice.

Her activity and vow to win was the motivation she needed. This is also true for us. We are motivated by the Bodhisattva Vow to do our best to wake up. Each moment that we are able to respond with a bodhisattva’s mind; we bring ease to our self and others. In Buddhist practice this is realization; this is the winning point. It goes on endlessly as we strive to live each moment.

Her comment on the difficulties of following through with the match is “you have to finish. It’s so hard to finish anything in life.” We must stay put, available for whatever life hits to us. We are poised, not to pounce, but to respond as best we can. Our response, ability and willingness to bring our practice forward is the finish. This is the Bodhisattva’s Vow, the Champion’s Way.

Rev. Shinshu Roberts, Ocean Gate Zen Center





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