The past week at Zen Center, the celebration of our 50th anniversary as an organization, has elicited many strong feelings. Whether you live at one of the three practice centers, visit them, or engage in activities from a far, it’s likely that you cannot help but be moved by the events that have taken place. There are quite a few reasons that one can explore for these intense emotions, but there is one in particular that I’d like to address. It is the feeling of connection.
By connection I mean the sense that we are all of a piece, that we are joined to each other, that we share a common experience. I have felt that sense of communion this week, and I have heard others express their experience of it. And I believe it’s safe to say that one particular practice is most responsible for this feeling in our community in recent days. That practice is the practice of apology.
Offering an apology is one of the greatest gifts we can give each other. It is such an act of generosity that we instantly feel a shift in our innermost feelings about the person that offered it and about the situation. I think that this is true even in the instances when we aren’t yet prepared to accept or understand another’s apology. Still, we can’t help but experience at least a small softening toward the one who gives the gift of saying “I’m sorry.” And I believe that this happens at our most basic level of functioning, because humans are beings that are meant to rely on one another for our survival. We do not live out our lives very far from other people. So we have to know, in our most primitive minds, the way to salvage a sense of connection. At times our lives have depended on it, both in the days of primitive man and in modern times.
Also, we can appreciate the cultural aspects of apology. There are many aspects of Zen practice that can be mystifying to newcomers, but perhaps none more so than the Japanese cultural influences in our practice. We chant in Japanese, bow to one another, dress in clothes that look appropriate for martial arts, and eat miso soup from special bowls. A noticeable and noble practice of generously offering apologies is widespread in Japanese culture. Westerners sometimes make jokes about how regularly their Japanese friends apologize, sometimes for behavior so trivial that it doesn’t seem to make sense. But the Japanese have recognized the gift of it, the simple ease that it can provoke, the way it answers our most fundamental needs. Sometimes I marvel at just how gracious the Japanese art of apology can be.
So, taking up the noble way, in the past week, Richard Baker Roshi made heartfelt, public apologies for what he referred to as “the mess” he made and “the damage to Suzuki Roshi’s legacy.” In doing so he continues the ancient way, and makes possible a new beginning. May I, the sangha of Zen Center, and the whole world truly accept this precious gift.