My Zen teacher, Kennett Roshi, often talked about the danger of quietism. By this she meant that it is no good thinking that one has arrived at the perfect understanding or the perfect organisation or the perfect practice. There has to be an endless dialectical process to re-invigorate the practice or things become stale and then become narrow. Wherever we have got to, there is always a next step. It is not that that next step takes us closer to the goal, it is that taking next steps is the goal. As soon as we stop doing so, we fall out of the Dharma creating a gap “as great as that between heaven and earth”.
In a spiritual community there should always be some grit, or it does not produce pearls. The Buddha Shakyamuni had many disciples and his leading ones were very different personalities. There was plenty of dynamic between them. Honen Shonin also had many disciples and after he died there were many different ideas about the precise meaning of his teaching. Different groups were in competition. The result was that Pureland in one shape or form spread all over Japan and became the most popular form of religion in the country. Since the second world war, Nichiren Buddhism has approached similar status and, again, we see many different Nichiren groups in competition.
Competition, debate, and airing of different perspectives can become conflict and go over into a destructive mode. There is, therefore, a middle path to be found between quietism and conflict - between death and destruction, one could say. On the middle path there is life, joy, respect and a continual ‘going beyond’. If we lose this spirit of adventure and exploration, then the Dharma decays. When we have it there is a vibrancy and the Dharma continues - we are all young at heart.
Although I have retired to the country, I am by no means retired in any other sense. We talk about going 'on retreat', but perhaps should be talking about 'advance'. Rather, instead of talking about it, we should be living it. There is no end to this path. The Dharma is not bland - there is always some pepper and salt and sometimes a dash of curry powder too.
Too many people are looking for the one right answer or the one right way. When you find it, give it a good kick and see if it says anything. If it gives a shout, then ask it the direction to somewhere it has never been.