This weekend we had aikido tests. There are five levels before black belt, and each test has a list of attack and defense techniques that must be demonstrated in order to pass. When there was just one school and one teacher, the teacher could see when you were ready and give you a black belt. Now, in order to minimize the differences between black belts from one school and another, we have standardized tests. (Same reason schools give standardized tests.)
We follow rules, take tests. In Zen monasteries, there are also rules to follow. Everyone is on the same schedule, following the same rules, keeping things moving in harmony. There are koans to pass, standards to keep.
Where are the rules in writing? Where are the tests, once we're out of school? Well, the obvious answer is, there aren't any, but if you look deeper, you'll see that there are, but we have to make them up ourselves, and everything we do, school, Zen training, martial arts training, is training for this moment, when we must follow the rules we set up for our own lives, writing and otherwise, and meet our own standards. Is it easier to follow someone else's rules? Easier to go to work every day, do the household chores, respond to the needs of others, than to practice every day, write every day?
Challenging, isn't it?
"Immersion in the life of the world, a willingness to be inhabited by and to speak for others, including those beyond the realm of the human, these are the practices not just of the bodhisattva but of the writer." --Jane Hirshfield