I once heard that my Zen teacher, Kyudo Nakagawa, then-abbot of Ryutaku monastery in Japan, had decided not to attend the chanting traditionally performed as part of morning services. He had done it for so many years and now he no longer would.
At the time I heard the story, Kyudo was getting along in years. He died in 2007 at the age of 80. He had accepted the role of abbot reluctantly several years earlier ... and I do not suspect him of playing the Japanese, toe-in-the-sand, ask-three-times game that others play: I honestly believe he didn't much want to be abbot. Still, he took on the chore: He was stuck with the farm of having been a Zen monk most of his adult life... read 'em and weep... just like anyone else. But there was only so much he was willing to surrender to old habits ... so, perhaps, he stopped going to morning chanting.
Most of this is speculation on my part, but it came to mind after a young woman arrived here yesterday in pursuit of doing a paper for her religion class at Smith College, which is up the road from my house. The assignment seemed to have something to do with getting a feel for some spiritual center ... what were the rituals, what did it look like, were the members concerned with a wider community, what were the beliefs or leanings ... ? Somehow the young woman had gotten wind of the small zendo or meditation hall out in my backyard.
Ahead of her arrival, I tried to sharpen up my mind, to be prepared, to impute importance to this small spiritual adventure. Much of my life has included taking spiritual endeavor seriously and lending people a hand -- not convincing, just lending a hand -- is part and parcel of that seriousness. So ahead of the young woman's arrival, I brushed the mental dandruff from my shoulders, straightened my mental tie, and prepared to be 'helpful.'
She was a nice enough young woman and I suppose I was nice enough in return ... or at any rate she didn't call the cops or run screaming from my environs. But there was something needlessly heavy about it from my point of view. Crabby-making. I could do it, sure. And certainly my life had taken an interest in such things. But ...
Which is more important -- chanting the chants or getting some rest? Nothing saying you can't acknowledge the past that convened into this present and nothing saying you can't bounce up and down enthusiastically if that's the current circumstance, but doesn't spiritual life, like any friend who comes for a weekend visit, need to go home and concern itself with its own concerns?
I'm not trying to force or enforce anything here. Just humming a little morning music. Soon, I suspect, it will be time for a nap ... you know, one of those things that helps without 'helping.'