In my early days of Zen training, I spent a lot of time in the Dojo kitchen either talking with my first Zen teacher Tanouye Rotaishi or listening to him as he conversed with others who came to see him. One morning as he talked with a former politician, he spoke about the importance of her learning to “walk straight on the crooked path of life.”
Now, one thing that I learned early on at the Dojo was that even when Tanouye Rotaishi was not talking directly to you, he meant for you to hear what he was saying. There was always a reason.
I pondered the meaning of this “walking straight” for a long while.
For a few years I thought it meant that I should face things straight on -- however and wherever – I encountered them. The martial arts taught at the Dojo (including Kendo, Hojo, Karate, Kyudo and Iaido) seemed to reinforce this interpretation.
So, I consciously and conscientiously trained myself to interact with people navel-to-navel, and to meet events head on. In other words, accord to the myriad of circumstances whatever they might be.
In a way, that is what it does mean, at least on one level. Now, two decades later, though, I’ve come to realize that there is a deeper meaning.
In Fudochi Shimmyo Roku, a collection of letters to sword master Yagyu Tajima Munemori, Zen master Takuan Soho (1573-1645) wrote repeatedly about the importance of the non-stopping mind. When our mind stops or attaches on any object it encounters – or attaches to it, in other words – then this is a delusion.
We must develop the mind that does not attach, the immovable mind that is capable of infinite movements. Cut between the past and the present to set the mind free (Zengo Sai Dan), he said.
Essentially, we must approach life thought by thought, moment by moment, without stopping.
When we truly understand this, then we see that encountering life in this way means to seize life now-now-now. That is truly walking straight no matter how tortuously twisted the path may be. Each moment we let go, then each moment we walk straight.
Yes, begin with the physical navel-to-navel, but aim for the now-now-now. We can learn through our bodies to train our minds.