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Grasping the Will
by Kuya Minogue
"By Our own wills and vigilance
May we our fetters cut away.
May we within the temple of our own hearts dwell
Amidst the myriad mountains."
—Soto Zen Vesper Service

When I was at Shasta Abbey there were three altars in the main ceremony hall. The central altar had a larger-than-life gilt statue of Shakyamuni Buddha. On the right of the main altar was the Kanzeon Shrine and on the left was a shrine to Fudo. Kanzeon inspires compassion and Fudo inspires discipline and vigilance. Fudo has so completely grasped her will, that she sits still even though her hair is on fire. She holds a sword that can cut through all delusion. The words quoted above are from "Song to Fudo."

During the academic year, I literally live "amidst the myriad mountains." I am setting up a centre for Northern Lights College in a Kaska village located at the base of a high mountain bowl. Amazenji, my home temple outside Burns Lake, is very far away, both physically and psychically. If I am to live in a temple, it will have to be the one that I have in my heart.

When I say "live in a temple," I am speaking of remembering to recognize and treat all beings and objects in my world as if they were Buddha, herself. This takes discipline — especially when I feel discouraged about the way my work is going, when I see people seriously harming themselves and others or when I get caught up in a wave of critical gossiping. At those times, I struggle with my vow to refrain from criticizing others and have to call on Fudo to help me grasp my will.

But whenever I slip into mystical thinking about how Fudo will wave her magic sword and instantly endow me with her strength of will, I hear her tell me that it is my own will and vigilance that will enable me to keep the precept against criticizing others. It is up to me to train myself to grasp my will.

My will is like a muscle. The more I exercise it, the stronger it gets. Sitting zazen regularly exercises my will, but only when I don't feel like meditating. In fact, for me, discipline is getting myself to do what I know is good for me when I don't feel like doing anything. If I'm already looking forward to sitting zazen, it takes no exercise of my will to light candle and incense and sit on my zafu.

A great way to exercise my will is to set up a schedule and follow it whether I feel like it or not. When my work seems so overwhelming that I want to skip my walk at 4:30 and continue writing a report, I am doing a giant will push-up by making myself go out the door and head up the mountain road.

© Kuya Minogue 1999. Last updated 25 April 1999

[Note: Kuya is talking about cultivating the will in ways that are spiritually skillful. Will can also be destructive; see Illusions about Pain. chc]

Honing my will by sitting zazen and taking walks on schedule may look like it has nothing to do with my struggle to keep the precept against criticizing others. This is an illusion. Each time I do a will push-up, I am strengthening my ability to remain aware of the precept and to intentionally refrain from criticizing others. When I have been training in the grasping of my will I can walk effortlessly across the bridge between intention and action. That is the true purpose of a well-trained will.

Note from Catherine: For more information on Kuya Minogue (including a photo), see her listing on Julia Milton's site, Women Active in Buddhism.