Even if there were not signage identifying the Boundless Way Temple in Worcester, one could hardly miss the place because of the massive Buddha out front.
“The statue! Oh! It’s so cool!” Melissa Blacker tells me, breathlessly. One is struck by her verve and her energy, her apparent enthusiasm for just about everything. She’s an engaging and fun conversationalist. “So, we bought this building, but we had to do all these improvements including install a sprinkler system for fire. So the guy who was cutting through the pavement to divert water from the city into the temple came up to David [David Rynick, her husband and co-teacher at the temple] one day and said, ‘You guys need a Buddha statue?’ And ‘We have a lot of Buddha statues, thank you very much.’ And, ‘No, this is an outdoor one.’ Well, we have an outdoor one about a foot and a half tall. ‘No, no. This is a really big one.’ A friend of his had ordered it for a customer who wanted it for his garden. A Buddha to sit out in his garden. And when it arrived it was that huge statue which was—like—way bigger than he needed for his garden. I think it was a hairdresser, a Vietnamese hairdresser in town, wanted it. And there are two other temples in town; they’re ethnically Vietnamese. We’re the only convert temple. And the guy had offered it to both the Vietnamese temples. One was hosting this giant jade Buddha that was traveling all over the country, and so they couldn’t do it. The other one had just paved their driveway. They couldn’t do it. So we were number three. And David went down to the yard where it was being stored, this rejected Buddha statue nobody wanted, and it was surrounded—I have a photo on my computer somewhere—by other statues imported by the same company of Mickey Mouse and naked Venuses on couches, and it was just sitting there. And so he took a photograph of it and showed it to James Ford [the founder of the Boundless Way Order] and me, and we said, ‘We should buy it!’ And he said, ‘No, no. It’s really big.’ And James said, ‘It’s going to get smaller with the years.’ So now it seems like a normal size to me.”
Melissa has teaching authorization – through James – in both the Aitken-Tarrant Harada-Yasutani lineage and the Jiyu Kennett Soto tradition. David has authorization through the Seung Sahn’s Korean Rinzai lineage. “We’ve incorporated elements from all three, the John Tarrant-Robert Aitken-Harada-Yasutani line, Jiyu Kennett’s line, and Seung Sahn’s line. Our liturgy is mixed together, all three.
“All of these are different ways of pointing. We teach our students shikan taza—just the standard Soto practice—and koan practice. If you plot it on a bell curve, I think we have a couple of students who just do koan practice, and a couple that just do shikan taza, but the majority do some combination of both. They rest in shikan taza and mostly work with koans in dokusan. But sometimes they’ll sit with them, if we give them instructions to. And people will also see us in dokusan. We have our private individual students, but we encourage our students to do dokusan with the other teachers. And we have senior students, some of whom have permission to give interviews. So a student in Boundless Way Zen could see twelve different people for interviews in a month. And the onus—the responsibility—of practice is on the part of the student rather than teachers. So it’s very student-oriented. And, of course, people do what we call shoken; they take individual vows with one teacher.
“For me,” she goes on, “Zen is really a path to joy. My whole life is about meeting suffering. Like my father died when I was fifteen, and I had a lot of terrible things happen to me off and on throughout the years. Not that terrible, but—still—difficult stuff. So I could have gone down that route. I was depressed. I was anxious. But this little core, kernel of delight has always been the guiding light I keep orienting towards. Like, I know there’s something beyond all this.”
“Wonder, awe, gratitude, reverence,” I say, offering her a personal formula I had come to through my own practice.
“Yes! Yeah! Wonder, awe, gratitude and reverence. I love it! When everything drops away, that’s what’s revealed!”
Which is by no means a denial of the reality of suffering.
“We’ve been talking about this recently. You know, since the first noble truth is the truth of suffering, there’s sometimes the feeling that it’s sequential; you have to suffer; then you have to see the truth of suffering, and then blah, blah, blah. But another way of looking at it is that suffering exists, and suffering itself—the truth of it—is ennobling. It is a noble truth of suffering. And suffering never goes away. But there is a way to live with it in a more spacious manner. And so we don’t turn away from suffering. I think suffering and joy are like two sides of the same coin.”
Cypress Trees in the Garden: 200, 201, 207-215, 216, 217, 218, 220, 221, 222, 228, 229, 418
The Story of Zen: 302, 389
Zen Conversations: Pp. 38-39; 47.