We are all on the sesshin called life and death whether we are aware of it or not, and which we share with all beings, great and small.
I used to hear about the “great matter” in Zen and tend to feel a bit afraid: oh no, not another thing I’m not attending to… and what is it anyway, this ominous “matter”?
On the one hand, of course, the “great matter” is simply life and death: the fact of being alive, having a human body and mind: what is this life, and what will it be for it to end? What are we? Why are we here?
On another level, it is the opportunity, marvelous and baffling, to discover that we are entirely free of life and death, even while existing as entirely mortal human beings.
Either way, we shouldn’t worry. If we practice, we are attending to the great matter. Even if we don’t, we are in some sense still attending to it – and actually even no-practice is a kind of practice, according to some teachers. We are all on the sesshin called life and death whether we are aware of it or not, and which we share with all beings, great and small.
So in another sense, the Great Matter is the fact that we are never, never alone. The “great matter” is also the single Great Life.