This weekend I practiced a short 3 day sesshin ( period of intense meditation ) with my Zen teacher (Sensei) and a small group of his students.
Sitting meditation ( zazen, shikantaza ), chanting, walking meditation, work periods, and mindful eating/drinking copious amounts of green tea from 5:00 AM until 11:00 PM.
Why, at this point, practice like this ?
The raft is set down upon reaching the other shore, right ?
A few motivations come to mind.
1) Humility. Am not above anything. If I imagined such, that would shout volumes how much more practice needed to happen ! It may be that some formal practice remains as an active part of this life until its conclusion. Practice no longer springs from a sense of lack, but rather calls attention to the wholesome and to the valued.
2) Good example. Humans watch each other. Without getting into the energetic aspects of our interactions, activity encourages more of the same. Others are (at least sometimes ) encouraged by what we do.
3) Compassion. Suffering is perceived real by the sufferer. Sure, it’s a dream, but it feels real enough. The dream life pervades much of human experience. Seeing the immediacy of suffering in most people’s lives has great value in complementing the sense that there is nowhere to go, nothing to do, no doers anywhere.
4) Gratitude. Am grateful to all that is, for all that is. In particular my parents and all of the Dharma teachers who cared enough to share their practice and wisdom. Sensei was my last Buddhist teacher. I respect and deeply appreciate how he has put much love, energy and effort into teaching and encouraging just about everyone he encounters, creating a wonderful physical space for practice, and living a model life of a 21st century Buddhist. Sensei honors the forms and lineages without being trapped in or blinded by them, thus providing an unusual opportunity for his students.
5) Are we ever completely done ?
Certainly there is further here to go.
The Buddha never stopped practicing.
He meditated and shared the Dharma every day until death.
His last words encouraged others to practice.
Are we called to do anything less ?
Samu means “work period” in Japanese.
Apologies for the foreign words to my non-Zen readers. One or two words like shikantaza don’t precisely translate. Most of the Japanese languaging seems to stem from a fear that without its Japaneseness, Zen isn’t real Zen. Shorn of foreign vocabulary, it’s just clearly seeing everyday reality with fresh eyes, which isn’t nearly as sexy as chanting in an inscrutable Asian language.
Thanks to the following sites for their contributions:
For a more in depth explanation of shikantaza please see:
For a more in-depth explanation of sesshin: http://buddhism.about.com/od/abuddhistglossary/g/sesshindef.htm
The photo of lodge pole pines in the snow came from here:
The photo of my kind teacher in action was taken on site during the sesshin.
The last words of the Buddha (as recorded in the Maha-parinibbana sutta) can be read here: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/dn/dn.16.5-6.than.html#chap5