Leaving Thanksgiving/Arriving Rohatsu Sesshin: Are they the same or different?
Rohatsu, our celebration of the Buddha’s enlightenment occurs on December 8th. Most Zen centers and temples offer an extended retreat time in honor of this and participants are encouraged to let mind and body fall away. In one sense sesshin might sound selfish as it seems to focus on replicating the personal enlightenment of the Buddha, but, as with the Buddha himself, awakening does not get us food, nor does it wash our clothes, nor allow us to walk on water. And so, in another sense sesshin may be seen as an invitation to offer one’s self to others in order to free them from their suffering, how so? From the Buddha’s point of view, as his eye opened so did the universe.
In the United States, we celebrate a wonderful holiday on the last Thursday of November. On this day, we often consider what we may be grateful for and we share our gratitude with those around us. So, within a few days we will move from a family and society focused sharing of gratitude, to a personal, inward, spiritual experience allowing us to prepare for being in-service to others. Both events are deeply seated in, and derived from, our need to develop compassion for each other and our world. We cannot be selfish while at the same time live for others. Or can we?
Zen Master Seung Sahn carried with him a bag of sayings he could quickly access for the purpose of retort. He would ask a simple straightforward sort of question such as, “are they the same or different?” With an answer of thirty blows regardless, ready made and to the point, just as any koan master might do. The point was everything is one in the same, both same and different. At this stage of my life as a Zen teacher all things seem to be flowing from and to this “same and different” place.
My sense? This is as it should be. Yet, I wonder. When we are young and making our mark in the world, it is of little help (or so we think) to be focused on anything but the brass ring and how to capture it. We have little time to step away from the ride, or don’t we? Often stepping away from the ride offers us a unique and (in my opinion) necessary perspective. Makes me wonder (again) just how important time in reflection is versus the “just do it” mentality of our “don’t wobble” Zensters. In any event, as we approach our practice intensive, know this: the two truths of the Buddha Way can, in fact, be held together as one. Its just our penchant for the naming of things that creates a separation.