My first retreat wasn’t a Zen sesshin, however an Perception Meditation Retreat led by the late Ruth Denison. Because it was my first retreat, I used to be grateful Ruth gave us copious meditation directions. Actually, she by no means stopped speaking throughout our allegedly silent meditation retreat—silent for us, not for her—each meditation was a minimum of considerably guided—”now do that, now try this.” There was by no means a second through the 10-day retreat the place I needed to query what I must be doing.
Zen instruction is a distinct kettle of fish. DÁ²ngshÄn LiángjiÁ¨, the ninth century Tang Dynasty Chan Grasp who based the CáodÁ²ng faculty of Chan had a educating technique — “bÁ¹ shōu pÁ²“— don’t clarify too clearly.”
”Don’t clarify too clearly.” Zen inexperienced persons are instructed to imagine the zazen place and rely their breaths and are then just about left on their very own. Each Zen scholar struggles with the query, ”Am I doing this proper?” ”Am I doing this proper?” turns into a part of zazen. Throughout sesshin we regularly attempt one strategy to zazen after one other: ”Let me focus simply on the breath;” ”Let me focus simply on the power in my physique;” ”Let me overtly monitor the entire phenomenal area;” ”Wait, I’m not likely concentrating—let me rely my breaths; ”Let me say out and in’ as I breath out and in;” ”Let me say a mantra together with my respiration;” ”Let me do full belly respiration;” ”Let me observe my breath simply as it’s.” And none of those methods actually works in the long term. Certain, possibly they work for a sitting or two—we’ve got what we think about just a few ”good” meditation classes: “I used to be actually concentrated that point;” ”I used to be crammed with bliss that point;” ”I used to be actually current that point” — no matter we worth by way of what Zen trainer Barry Magid calls our ”secret apply” (extra about that in a second). However no matter technique yields that preliminary success finally turns into stale or counterproductive. Ultimately, we’re pressured to surrender. We develop in zazen not due to what we try to do, however regardless of it.
”Don’t clarify to obviously,” as a result of, actually, what are you able to say? It’s like giving directions about look in a mirror: ”Simply sit in entrance of the mirror and look.” You don’t need to do something—the minute one seems, the picture within the mirror seems. It’s the identical with zazen. We don’t need to do something—our thoughts instantly seems. What number of occasions and other ways can we are saying, ”simply take a look at your thoughts?”
”Sure, however what am I speculated to be doing with my thoughts? How ought to I’m going about bettering it?” However the directions don’t say something about doing something along with your thoughts or bettering it — solely seeing your nature. Bodhidharma allegedly wrote, ”jiÁ n xÁ¬ng” — “see your nature.” JiÁ n xÁ¬ng can imply seeing your nature, but additionally assembly your nature, or your nature making its look — and that’s what it does: we sit and it seems. Bodhidharma’s instruction — ‘jiÁ n xÁ¬ng” —doesn’t say see your authentic nature (bÄ›n xÁ¬ng) or your Buddha nature (fÁ³ xÁ¬ng) — simply your nature. It’s so easy it may hardly be talked about. What extra is there to say?
However all of us have our secret apply. The one the directions don’t inform us to do, however our ego adopts for itself. That is our personal non-public self-improvement challenge. We inevitably have one — in spite of everything, the true faith of America is self-improvement. One thing is improper with us that wants fixing. We need to turn into much less anxious, depressed, confused, or egocentric, or extra compassionate, non secular, disciplined, enlightened, or self-accepting — or no matter we expect we have to turn into. And we expect zazen will assist us try this. Isn’t that why we’re right here? Isn’t there one thing you hope will occur for you on this sesshin? Possibly you’ll turn into much less harassed, or possibly expertise satori?
Listed below are two bits of dangerous information: First, sesshin will defeat all of your secret practices. Second, the minute you surrender one self-improvement challenge, one other will rise as much as take its place. Simply attempt sitting with no gaining thought. Good luck.
What occurs in sesshin is we see all our gaining concepts, gross and refined, time and again. We are able to’t make them go away—gaining concepts are the ego’s job, and we are able to’t do away with the ego — ego might wax and wane, however not due to any effort on our half. What we are able to do, nonetheless, is see them again and again in all their varied guises—and within the course of, they doesn’t a lot disappear, as we study to take them much less severely as we turn into disillusioned with them—they’re there together with the breath and the chook track—however they’re not central to who we’re. These impulses to ”make” one thing completely different occur are nonetheless there, however they exist in an enormous open house.
So, that’s our job on sesshin. To see our life because it arises and passes away second by second. I’d advocate, as you sit this sesshin, to desert any thought of there being some brass ring you might be supposed to succeed in out and grasp. If there’s a mountain high known as Enlightenment, it’s a mountain high with many paths and approaches. Every of us is a distinct individual, with completely different previous histories, within the midst of various dilemmas, possessing completely different strengths and weaknesses, and at completely different phases of our life and alongside the trail.
Subsequently, what can be revealed to every of us throughout sesshin can be distinctive to us. You might be hoping for satori, however what you could get could also be one thing else— the one thing else that’s actually the factor that you just want on this second, whether or not you notice it or not. For some it could be merely a better appreciation for all times — the style of meals, the colours of the dawn. For some it could be a brand new acceptance of issues that may’t be modified, or the placing down of a burden, or the loosing of a knot in a single’s intestine. For some it will likely be a quick trip from the stress. For some it will likely be a realization of the persistence of ego in all its guises. For some it could be moments of nice peace or bliss. For some it could be a falling away of the self and intimacy with every little thing. No matter your reward, settle for it gratefully. The reward you get would be the proper one for you at this second in your life. Don’t assume it ought to have gotten one thing else. That’s the ego’s thought of apply, however having no gaining thought and trusting within the apply is the Zen approach. Satori could be the improper factor for you at this second and seeing the persistence of ego the best factor. What we want shouldn’t be some particular expertise, however an awakening to life as it’s—not some particular excellent life, however the valuable imperfect life we’ve been given.