In sesshin we are like rows of seeds planted in the loam of the teaching, partially shaded from the fiercest sun by the leaves of Buddha’s original tree, and watered by the presence of the community of fellow-sitters…
SESSHIN – TOUCHING THE HEART
As practitioners we are in effect servants, or agents, of happiness. But it’s a fundamental, non-conditional kind of happiness we are talking about. So its path is not always easy. It will involve learning to go against our inclinations at times. It will involve unearthing and experiencing wounds, damage, sorrow, anger and fear, and boredom, and pain, at times. We don’t know what or when. We just sit still, and watch and wait – but not anywhere. Well, yes, we can more or less sit anywhere – but also we sit within the shade of the original Bodhi-tree under which our ancestor Shakyamuni sat, as that shade has been passed on down through the generations of guides on this way. If we sit still in the context of the “refuge” of the three treasures, we can’t go far wrong. In fact, we will inevitably “come right.”
But it takes time, and no one knows how much time, so it necessarily asks us of that we have trust. Trust, and steadfastness, and a bit of courage too.
Nowhere is all this more apparent than in the great analogue of life, a sesshin – a deep, intensive meditation retreat. This is our great opportunity to come face to face with ourselves, and to learn to be OK with ourselves, and thus to grow..
In sesshin we are like rows of seeds planted in the loam of the teaching, partially shaded from the fiercest sun by the leaves of Buddha’s original tree, and watered by the presence of the community of fellow-sitters..,
…both those immediately present, and the greater fellowship of people who have sat and do sit in this way, in other places and times. We join a great and semi-secret legacy of the human race – the path in life that opens up through sitting still, discovered by many others before us, and all around us.
Gradually, and sometimes suddenly, we open up to more and more of the reality of our situation, as mortal creatures driven by powerful desires and fears, clinging to their lives on a spinning globe in vast and growing space. Who would have thought that the closer we come to our reality, the deeper we fall toward Love? That the more we open to the bare facts of our existential situation, the more thoroughly we find ourselves to be at home – as if this vast universe were the most intimate home imaginable, a place we could not be more welcome in – as if it were no other than our very own body?
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To construct a little area – a lake, a pond, a pool – and call it “the Absolute,” within our known, phenomenal world: that is not Zen at all. Likewise to try to interpret koans from within our “relative” view: that is to fall far, far short of the true authority and power of the koans.
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It seems to be a characteristic of Mahayana Buddhism that it’s important to have a one-on-one relationship with a teacher. Yet in Zen the teacher is not an embodiment of the Dharma any more than we all are. The teacher is not a guru. Instead, the teacher is a guide. The student already has, and is, all we could ever be seeking. The teacher’s role is merely to help us along our own road to finding that, through the overall guidance and structure of the Zen way. For most of us, it’s likely to be quite a long and winding road. But how good to know that we are on the road, and moreover, in these nihilistic times, to know that indeed there is a road.