The New Year has dawned at Stones and Clouds with the sun rising over valley fog and glistening off the snowy mountain peaks. The sun is always shining even during the darkest days, just as our bright inner spirit is always shining even during the most troublesome times.
I was reflecting this morning that in the world of tea ceremony, the four major principles of practice are harmony, respect, purity and tranquility (wa, kei, sei, jaku). These are also essential principles for the whole spiritual life. Whether our practice is contemplative prayer or Zen or both, these principles guide us and root us in our lives.
Harmony (wa) is the positive interaction between any two people or within a group. We do not practice in isolation but with and for all others. Harmony extends to our relationship with nature as well, a sensitivity to nature’s gifts and to the changing rhythms of the seasons. Harmony leads to peace and to an ability to touch the unchanging in the midst of impermanence.
Respect (kei) is the ability to understand and accept others, even those with whom we may disagree. Respect results naturally from a sense of gratitude and helps us to relinquish our longstanding habits of judgment and criticism. When we are kind to others, and are humble ourselves, we can both show and receive respect. It is important to show respect not only to people but also to the inanimate items of daily life, which are themselves the products of human effort, and which support us in their own way on the path.
Purity (sei) is the ability to treat oneself and others with a pure and open heart and mind. This is the core of practice. With a pure heart, harmony and respect can be realized. A pure heart is not showy but natural and manifests not only in our person but also our surroundings. Cleanliness and orderliness, in both the physical and spiritual sense, are a very important part of practice. Even the most mundane acts—washing dishes or cleaning floors—are the seeds and of spiritual growth and enlightenment, as Brother Lawrence (1614-1691) has shown us in The Practice of the Presence of God. Purity also implies simplicity; that is, the elimination of all that is extraneous to the conduct of an upright and charitable life.
And tranquility (jaku) is the point in practice where a measure of selflessness has been reached and is, in a very real sense, the fruit of practicing with harmony, respect and a pure heart. It is the ability to remain calm in the midst of turmoil and to retain the big picture that helps us transcend the dualities of life. With a tranquil mind and heart and a grateful spirit the abundant gifts and possibilities of life can be experienced for advancing on the path and serving others.
So, on this clear and bright first day of the New Year, let us allow harmony, respect, purity and tranquility to be our guides as we renew our commitment to practice and to training intently and with devotion throughout the year. And let us take advantage of the various practice opportunities offered by Seven Thunders to deepen that practice.
Warm good wishes for deep peace, quiet joy, unflagging optimism and enduring compassion in the year ahead,