The Grace Of A Student

Written by on March 24, 2021 in Conscious Living, Inspirational with 0 Comments

“In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few.”

Shunryu Suzuki

Photo: Oleksandr Pyrohov

What Kind of Cup Are You?

There is an old zen story which asks, what kind of a cup are you? Are you a cup that is too full, not able to receive any more?  Is your cup turned over refusing to do it any other way but your own?  Or is you cup turned up, empty and ready to receive what the master has to offer?

When I lived in Korea, I often attended meditation retreats in the mountains with a dear friend Jin-Soon. Jin-Soon was a devout Buddhist and suggested that we go on a light hike up the mountain to her favorite temple. About two hours from our city was  Geryangson mountain which housed several Buddhist temple.

It was late Autumn. We hiked, swimming in the warmth and light of the sun, especially after the biting cold of the morning. Eventually, We came to a small temple and quietly, we took off our shoes and stepped inside. Already sitting inside the temple were 2 female monks, both with shaved heads, sitting on mats deep in meditation. I wondered how long they had been there or planned to be there. They looked as though they may as well have been permanent fixtures in the temple. It felt so peaceful and quiet inside that little meditation temple.

Jin-Soon gathered mats for us placed near the door and we sat down and began our own meditation. The sun shone through the window of the door in a perfect rectangle that surrounded my body like a picture frame. I was warm and quiet. I don't know how much time we spent there. Time just dissolved.


Honoring Angels

Somewhere in the middle of my meditation, I began thinking about Ryan, a friend of my sister whom I had met on several occasions, who had died earlier that year along with his sister. It was a tragic event and even though I didn't know Ryan very well, and his sister not at all, I still felt a deep grief in their passing. I had made a promise to my sister to light a candle for them the next time I visited a Buddhist a temple. I had lit a candle several times for lost loved ones in cathedrals but I wasn't sure that such a ritual was even done in Buddhist temples.

Once we had finished our meditation, I asked Jin-Soon about whether or not people honored the dead in this fashion at a Buddhist temple and if so, how I might go about getting candles lit for Ryan and his sister. She kindly walked me to a small kiosk not far away and helped me buy two 14-inch candles. With candles in hand, I walked to the main temple, a large, imposing edifice, took off my shoes, and reverently entered the door.

The Rite of a Student

Just inside the door was an old monk whose face was very wrinkled, the evidence of a lifetime of smiles. He saw the candles in my hand and I motioned that I wished to place them on the alter. He beckoned me to follow his lead and walking to the center shrine, three gigantic golden buddhas each 15–20 feet high, sitting performed a dramatic bow, he performed a rather elaborate bow, lowering himself to the floor then standing up again with his hands together in a prayer motion. I followed him the best I could, not quite remembering every step of the bow.  Then, together, walked together to the alter and placed the candles gently on the alter. I retreated slowly backward and made motions to leave. My monk, however, had more to teach me.

He held up seven fingers and gestured to me that it was now necessary to complete seven more bows. Again, he repeated his dramatic motions and bade me to follow his precise movements to complete the ritual. In that moment, I had suddenly become his student. After many frustrating attempts, I finally learned the sequence: Standing with legs together, hands in a prayer stance, kneel down to the floor without using your hands. Cross the left foot over the right. Then, placing the palms on the floor, bend forward to touch the forehead to the floor. The butt must come down and touch your ankles in this position which was clearly easier for the the old monk than it was for me because my teacher couldn't figure out why I couldn't perform that part and corrected me repeatedly on this point. With the forehead on the ground, turn the palms up lifting the hands off the ground a few inches. Replace the hands on the ground, palms down, uncross your feet, and press yourself up to a squatting position. Then stand up, feet together. Finally, with hand pressed together in a prayer, make a deep bow toward the Buddha. With my every attempt at a bow, my monk hovered over me and corrected me (sometimes rather forcefully) where I forgot. When I completed my offering, my monk gave me a gentle bow and an enormous smile. I reciprocated in bowing and smiling my deep thanks to him.


The Grace of a Student

Despite my awkward offerings, I'm nonetheless convinced that Ryan and his sister were somehow sitting as angels in the rafters, happily laughing at my tutelage and grateful for my gesture. I'm sure of it.

According to you, what are the qualities of a good student? For me, principal among the qualities of a good student is grace, the grace of allowing yourself to be taught, to have an open cup.

As a life-long yoga teacher and practitioner, I will always consider myself first and foremost a student of yoga. Even as I am teaching, I am learning in the process. It's a beautiful paradox, learning while teaching. Whether by formal teaching of a master or from the masters degree from Knocks University (the school of hard knocks) if your eyes are open and heart humbled, there is always something to learn.

With the beginner's mind, there is always now. There is always wonder. There are always possibilities.

I invite you to embrace the beginner's mind in all of your practices, passions, and in the study of life.


Scott Moore Yoga (Photo by Alex Adams)

Scott Moore is a senior teacher of yoga and mindfulness in the US. He’s taught classes, trainings and workshops in New York, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, and L.A. as well as in Europe and Asia. Scott is the author of Practical Yoga Nidra: The 10-Step Method to Reduce Stress, Improve Sleep, and Restore Your Spirit. When he's not teaching or conducting retreats, he loves to write for print and online publications such as Yogi Times, Conscious Life News, Elephant Journal, Mantra Magazine, Medium, and his own blog at Scott also loves to run, play the saxophone, and travel with his wife and son. Check out his yoga retreats and trainings in places like Tuscany, France, and Hong Kong , his online Yoga Nidra Course and his Yoga Teacher Mentor Program. Scott is currently living in Salt Lake City after living in Southern France with his family.

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