Sunday, March 13, 2022

Lest We Forget - - A Koan for Steps Two and Three

 Step 2:  Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Step 3:  Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.  


KOAN: Mazu eventually left his teacher Nanyue and established his own community. For some time, Nanyue had not heard from Mazu, so he dispatched a monk to his former student’s place and instructed him, “Wait until he enters the hall to speak, and then ask him ‘What’s going on?’ Take note of his answer, and then bring it back and tell me.” 

The monk did as instructed, and returned, saying “Master Ma said ‘In the thirty years since the barbarian uprising, I’ve never lacked for salt or sauce.’”

Nanyue approved of this answer.

~ Andy Ferguson, Zen’s Chinese Heritage, p. 56


- - - -

I have a folder on my desktop for next year’s possible 12&Zen koans. Whenever a koan comes to me and it resonates with the Steps, I’ll put it in this folder. This koan came to me via Jon Joseph Roshi’s Monday announcements back on November 8, 2021. How did this koan know I would need it so now? This is what a koans do.


Most of us, in our youth, had a “second mom” – the mom of our very best friend. My wife’s second mom passed away on January 8th.  And my friend Jerry, we were fixtures at meetings for 30+ years; he died on January 9th from cancer. On January 12th, our beloved dog Wendy died unexpectedly. Then on January 28th the other grandfather to our grandsons tripped and fell, hitting his head and died on the spot. January was a month of shock, loss, and grief. What’s going on?

Most importantly, not once did I have any thoughts that my higher power was doing this to me; instead, I’d like to believe it’s my ancestral Zen teachers asking, “What are you going to do with this?” What if I seek refuge in Steps 2 and 3?


From out of nowhere, 8th Century Shih-t’ou Xiqian gave me some reassuring words on the harmony of Difference and Sameness said …Light and dark are a pair, like the front and back foot walking. This is what I’ve been doing, putting one foot in front of the other, going where this koan is pointing.


When I take things back in self-will, holding on or pushing away, and not in collaboration with HP, things don’t go smoothly, I stumble. But when I embraced my sorrow and joy as each was happening, carrying them together with the universe, there came an ease in my walk that day. I felt this space open up and I attribute that to being in communion with Step 3.  Bill W. would call this his “God-consciousness within.”.  


The God Thing? 


It’s been a while since I talked about the “God” thing – the thing that’s been a troublesome concept for quite a few people when they come to AA, especially so for those who’ve had bad experiences with the church they grew up in. It’s not a new problem; after all, there’s an entire chapter dedicated to atheists and agnostics. It was around before the Big Book even rolled off the press. 


Founder Bill W. writes about “...the vestiges of my old prejudice. When the thought was expressed that there might be a God personal to me this feeling was intensified.” And then his friend suggested “what then seemed a novel idea...Why don’t you choose your own conception of God?” We know it In the Fourth Edition in the chapter called “A Vicious Cycle,” where the writer said, “ my only contribution to their literary efforts was my firm conviction – since I was a theological rebel – that the word God should be qualified with the phrase, ‘as we understand Him.’” A powerful suggestion indeed! Keeping this phrase in mind, we can have a personal higher power of our own choosing that doesn’t even have to be a god. A non-theistic god! 

  • On page 55 Bill W. writes: “...for deep down in every man, woman, and child, is the fundamental idea of God.” Many people embrace this phrase as it’s written. That’s wonderful! When the Big Book was written, 90% of the United States identified with Christianity, even if it was a love/hate relationship. Had there been some Buddhists among the first 100 people in AA, it might have been written differently. 


There are numerous ways I can accept this quotation from a 12 & Zen perspective:


  • “...for deep down in every person, is the fundamental idea of” the Tao. Tao Te Ching #6: “The Tao is called empty yet inexhaustible, it gives birth to infinite worlds. It is always within you. You can use it any way you want.” 
  • “…for deep down in every person, is the fundamental idea of” buddha nature: Buddha nature has many different definitions among the various Buddhist schools. Basically, it’s the fundamental nature of all beings. Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron said it’s “the innate quality of the mind that enables all beings to attain enlightenment.” 
  • “...for deep down in every person, is the fundamental idea of” the Dharma. - - a permanent universal truth, spanning both material and spiritual worlds, including the laws of nature and the nature of laws. (From The Buddha Garden) 
  • ...for deep down in every person, is the fundamental idea of” the power behind all things. I heard this from a Native American speaker on a radio interview.  
  • “...for deep down in every person, is the fundamental idea of” the universe. One word for everything that’s happening. 
  • And I know many people that have no name or concept at all; only to know that something outside themselves has a power to rely upon. That’s enough. 


What do I do with the “God’s will” concept in the Big Book? 


There was a well-known U.S. Buddhist teacher who got sober in the rooms of AA; but has since decided that AA is not for Buddhists. One of his complaints was that AA is a religion (it is not) and he has to decipher the Big Books verbiage into Buddhist terms. This has not been my experience at all. “We have ceased fighting everyone and everything” (P. 84). By choosing a higher power of my own understanding, in all its manifestations, the Big Book automatically comes alive for me. Instead of fighting over these supposed differences, I welcome them. The Big Book reminds me of Zen sutras – Zen sutras remind me of the Big Book, with each enriching the other.


How do I follow “the will of God” as written throughout the Big Book? What’s really being asked of me is to align my behavior with various codes of preferred conduct. Do what is right. All I need to do is pivot to Buddhism’s Eightfold Path (or the 16 Zen Precepts) to see how to conduct myself. 


Eightfold Path


Right Understanding

Right Thought

Right Speech

Right Action

Right Livelihood

Right Effort

Right Mindfulness

Right Concentration


When I come across the phrase “…praying only for the knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out,” little effort is required to pray for the understanding of the Eightfold Path and the power to carry that out.


A year after the Big Book was printed, Dr. Bob’s Akron Group commissioned a pamphlet called “Spiritual Milestones in Alcoholics Anonymous.” They included the Eightfold Path saying, “…these eight points, could be literally adopted by AA as a substitute for an addition to the Twelve Steps. Generosity, universal love and welfare of others rather than consideration of self are basic to Buddhism.”


So close…I find this very gratifying to see Buddhist philosophy acknowledged so early in AA history.  Had our founders discovered this earlier, it might have made it into the Big Book.  Come to think of it, it’s spirit is throughout the Big Book already..


Back to my morning walk …  by letting go and surrendering, which is all about Step 3, joyful thoughts from the past appeared; these led me into feeling grateful for it all.


Grief in balance with

The love for another

Produces gratitude


In my small mind day-to-day realm, I feel as if I have a symbiotic relation with the universe (whatever is happening). I’m a part of it all. I’m not a free floating disconnected spare part. In the realm of my practice, I’m a contributing participant, simply trying to be a decent human being, and bring a little goodness into the world. In February I began experiencing the harmony of joy and sorrow, the harmony of Step 2 and Step 3, and the harmony of coming and going. It appears, that even with this January uprising of losses, I’ve never lacked for salt or sauce!

Yes, the wind was knocked out of my sails - - but not all the wind - - I’m still moving forward…even gaining speed as the days pass.  Taking in my surroundings is connecting to my spirit source.  It not only includes my conscious contact, it includes all my senses. The warm morning sun on my face when the air is still freezing; a gentle breeze rustling my clothes; catching the fragrance from unseen flowers; and quietly feeling our presence together - -` is enough. This is that space for revelations, for changing perceptions, and realizing it’s been a good day.


There’s more.  When I’m looking “deeply into the form of the universe,” I see birth and death corresponding to each other, by carrying them in my heart-mind, not as one, not as two. This is the same for health and sicknesssorrow and joyStep 2 and Step, Zen Buddhism and 12 Step Programs…


Just yesterday I learned that Angelo, my one and only sponsor, whose had health issues for quite some time, was sent home from the hospital to hospice care. Words from The Five Remembrances came to mind:


Leader:       I am of the nature to have ill health. 

All:      There is no way to escape ill health. 

Leader:       I am of the nature to die. 

All:      There is no way to escape this.


Oh, how I appreciate my life just now…


“What are you looking for?” wrote Linji Yixuan (d. 866), “This person of the Way who depends on nothing, here before my eyes now listening to the Dharma - - your brightness shines clearly, you have never lacked anything.”

                                                                   From the Record of Linji                                              

May you find your space…

Bill K.