Skip to main content

Milk Squirts Out of ShiShi Bodai and Beyonce Gets Up Dancing

I’ve a got a new lease on sesshin. Since we have a baby now, Lauren and Calliope leave Tassajara for the sesshins. My teacher suggested this, it’s what she did when she had children living here. It’s great for the three of us. Lauren doesn’t feel isolated out of the schedule, Calliope doesn’t have to interpret all our silent eyes cast down, and I’ve been getting to sit sesshin in whole hearted fashion. I feel young again!

We sat two sesshin this practice period, a 9 day and 7 day Rohatsu. Rohatsu is the celebration of Buddha’s enlightenment and most Zen temples sit from December 1st to December 8th. To think we’re taking our seats with thousands of others all over the world!

Our first 9 day was really “good” for me. It’s hard to talk about sesshin in conventional terms. I think they’re all good, eventually, when time has passed or I hold them as concept, like “Running is good for you” while acknowledging sometimes I have a good run and sometimes I have a bad run, get injured maybe. But the act as a practice always comes up “good.” Or as Suzuki Roshi would avoid the term, “A thing to do.”

Rohatsu was not quite a bad sesshin, but it was rough. The energy in the valley was quite charged. For many students, this was their last Tassajara sesshin and the emotions were raw around that. For some other students it’s a mandatory foray that they might not be up for. Moving into a Zen temple is like becoming a professional athlete; what you used to do for fun you now must do if want to continue sleeping and eating in your current abode. Football players most go through that, like, “Man, I just want to watch some football on Sunday.” I don’t really watch football, except for The Saints, because they need all the support they can get.

For senior staff, Rohatsu can get quite busy as we’re all headed out for vacation during the interim between practice periods. That came up for me. I’m sitting there thinking, “What if the pipes freeze while I’m gone, who will know how to turn off the propane if there’s a fire, and who will equalize the batteries for our solar array?” I had to sign out of zazen and go address those issues. A good storm blew through-a pine apple express- and we got 2.5” of rain or so. In our burn scarred terrain, flash flood warnings were in effect, so I spent a good 10 hours digging out culverts and making water bars. Afterward, cold and wet, I took a shower and passed out at 6pm, missing the last two periods of zazen. I stayed up the night before. That’s a tradition a lot of people observe during rohatsu to reenact Buddha’s night under the Bodhi tree. Usually, I’m just fine- the digging really whooped me.
But the hardest thing was the same hardest thing of my whole practice: What is shikantaza?

Shikantaza is the flagship of our Buddhist practice. Dogen wrote about it a bunch. Here are his instructions in Fukanzazengi, or his Universal Recommendation of Zazen.

But that’s not answering my question, which arises like a deep growl, what is shikantaza? WHAT is shikantaza!?

The night before sesshin I was reading Okamura’s Realizing Genjo Koan and he went on a little tirade, saying shikantaza is not this and not that, but the thing that stuck was, “Shikantaza is not counting our breaths.”

Suzuki Roshi taught both shikantaza and breath counting. Or you might say he didn’t distinguish between them, but I can’t say he said that. I do know he on occasion suggested that students count their breaths and admonished the students when they thought not counting the breaths was better. But I’m not mixed up like that. Here’s what I know: I love counting my breaths and I shudder at the thought of a whole sesshin of not counting my breaths. I also dabble heavily in Shamatha, which, whoa, IS LEARNING MEDITATION! So, inspired by Okamura, on I went determined not to count my breaths.

Mostly, I suffered more than usual. Thoughts that usually sound like distant waves were battering about. It was almost like a classroom where the teacher has left and someone cuts of ShiShiBodai’s head to see if milk will squirt out and Subu tears out her eye and many jeweled peaks start lazer beaming out of the middle of everyone’s forehead. But, there was at least 5 minutes where I thought okay:
Shikantaza
Is the self
Becoming
A student
Of the self
And fantasies
And cravings
Are not
Mistakes
Just
Expressions
It’s okay
It’s okay.
Then enter Beyonce.

Happy Buddha’s Enlightenment, Y’all.


Comments

  1. an interesting article by carl bielefeldt on the problems of translating eihei dogen!

    https://web.stanford.edu/group/scbs/sztp3/news/archive/translating_dogen.html

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

How To Become A Zen Monk (or die trying)

"Now, if you have decided to become a monk because you think that life in this world is too hard and bitter for you and you would prefer to rather live off other people's donations while drinking your tea - if you want to become a monk just to make a living, then the following is not for you." -Kosho Uchiyama
So you want to be a Zen monk or priest? Unsui, which means clouds and water? Good on ya. Me too. 
Having googled that very aspiration for the first time in 2003, I was convinced it was impossible. I'll admit I am as thick headed as they come. I was also resistant to meet some figure in a robe. I heard my father's voice when I begged him to get my fortune read in Jackson Square, New Orleans, "I'm not paying some fat asshole in a bathrobe to tell you lies." Instead, for the first four years of my Zen practice, I committed as little as possible to my local sangha, left when they started chanting, and never talked to the teacher. I was so unapproacha…

Boredom and Buddhism

To say I feel bored feels disrespectful. How could that be? I have a three month old daughter, I'm training for a demanding job in the temple, I'm a wilderness medic responding to incidents every 4 days or so, and I'm sewing my priest robes for ordination. And I have this sense of disinterest.

I have a few theories as to why I feel bored. One could be the natural come down from having the baby and becoming stable in our schedule. Another come down plays out in the adrenaline crash after responding to a medical emergency or the general up keep work I do at the temple when compared to fixing something crucial to operations. When I hear there's a fire in the area I'm pretty excited to be mobilized for stay and defend duty. I feel pretty guilty about that, too.

So I read Beyond Boredom and Depression by Ajahn Jagaro and I was reminded to be careful about looking outward by this passage:

So what is boredom? It is a subjective experience that occurs when the mind is not i…

Goodbye Green Gulch Sama! Hello Tassajara!

About two years ago I left Mid City Zen in New Orleans. I feared I was leaving something, and now I'm about to leave Green Gulch and that same fear has arisen. I imagined there was wealth, a sort of freedom, and a lot to "renounce."  I had a car (a fast one!), a playstation 3, many books, many articles of clothing, and as I look around our little cabin, that same perception has arisen- I have too much stuff! And I like it!

My book collection that I sold or gave away in New Orleans has somehow manifested out here. And I have quite the collection of farm hats and farm boots. Rubber ones, Redwings, Ropers, Bogs to the ankle, Bogs to the knee, a navy seal Solomon for the wet spring weather. Most of them are fit to throw away, glued back together and stitched with fishing line, and just so smelly, so smelly my wife won't let me keep them in the cabin, so I hide them all around Green Gulch.

So I started packing, and while that fear of renunciation has arisen, it's not …