Rohatsu sesshin is a seven-day meditation intensive traditionally held in Zen monasteries sometime around the first week of December. The timing is intended to commemorate what East Asians hold as the calendar date of the Buddha’s enlightenment. This week, Rohastsu sesshin is being offered here at my home, the San Francisco Zen Center City Center monastery. Most all the people here in the building are either in the meditation hall sitting, or, when on break and wandering around the building, they are energetically on that deep-inside meditation-retreat vibe.
It would make sense for me to be taking the week off from work to be down in the meditation hall with the other fifty folks there, since, while living here, I have generally participated in all activities of the monastery while living here, including the long meditation intensives. The five- and seven-day sittings have combined with the great monthly one- or two-day all-day meditations that we have been sitting, to help me to see why I am as positively committed to Buddhism as I am
I am, however, not doing the intensive this week. Generally, in fact, I have been minimally participating in the scheduled activities of the monastery in the past couple weeks. This correlates with my tenure at City Center winding down, with me having one foot already out the door, and with having a load of to-do list items on my plate. And that is because I have been out looking for a new place to live, and, although the process has been a royal pain-in-the-ass, I think that I have found a place twenty-five blocks South of here that I am excited about.
[City Center rooftop]
So, have often felt uncomfortable being in the building this week, and indeed, have felt ill at ease for the last couple weeks. It reminds me of my experience last year, when I was living at a friend’s house for a couple weeks, getting graduate school applications out the door. I was aware of both my busy schedule and my busy busy busy mind the times I dropped by the supernaturally peaceful Zen Center during Rohatsu week least week to meditate, or pick up some things.
I could use some more meditation in my life these days. I generally feel centered because I know where I am going and feel like I am moving solidly in that direction, but a few days of all-day sitting would still be a good thing. I haven’t even been sitting much during the morning schedule the last week or two. I do plan to sit tonight, tomorrow morning, tomorrow night, and then both weekend days. I am also planning to sit the five-day spring sesshin, the third year in a row I will do that.
The Rebster was gone the last three months at Tassajara, leading the Fall practice period retreat there, but just got back. Before he left, I was going to a weekly sitting-and-lecture group with him that was dynamite with a laser beam. The group was initially being held at a yoga studio, which meant riding the bus or catching a ride, but then it moved to City Center, which entailed a more convenient walk down a couple flights of stairs.
As I said, I notably enjoyed the group. I remember the last time the group met — there were about thirty friends of mine in the room, and maybe a hundred strangers too – it was a warm social feeling for me that was so rich that it was almost too much. During most the class sessions, he talked about the difference between effortless, “enlightened” non-karmic action done with the awareness that the universe is interconnected (“chanda” motivation) and karmic action done willfully, individually, with a goal in mind, in a compulsive, striving manner (“tanha” motivation). But, during this last class, he also discussed a fascinating koan that explained that enlightenment is not like a commoner being given a noble title, it’s like a commoner suddenly becoming aware that he/she comes from a long line of royalty, and has been noble all along. Reb also, fascinatingly enough, talked about the Zen teaching on how to urinate – which, apparently, is full-on followed by full-off, with little trickles at either end evidently indicating something like too much muscular control and ego-mindedness.
At that point, a guy asked a bitchy question about how Siddharma Gautama [the Buddha] never taught original enlightenment, he taught a progressive path to enlightenment. I thought that Reb’s answer was artistry, it was colossal, I was honored to have witnessed it. He sat there for a second, and his whole body seemed to have lit on fire, and then he said, “I dedicate my life to Shakyamuni Buddha [the Buddha]. I love Shakyamuni Buddha with all of my being.” He named other teachers in the lineage as people he loved and gives his whole being to. He said, “I give all of my being to all of you.” He said, “Only one person has ever taught what Shakyamuni Buddha taught, and that’s Shakyamuni Buddha. I teach what Reb teaches, and Dong Shan (the Chinese teacher in the koan) teaches what Dong Shan taught. Because I love Shakyamuni, I am Reb, and he is him. Because Shakyamuni loves me, he wants me to be me, not to be Shakyamuni Buddha. If you don’t care about Shakayumni Buddha, try to be like him. If you love him, be yourself. Ultimately, you have no choice.” He then fucked all of our minds by pointing out that Shakyamuni Buddha is completely responsible for the teachings of Dong Shan, and those of Reb, and of Joseph Smith, and of the question-asker, in the same way that the question asker is completely responsible for all teachings that happen in the world, and for all that happens anywhere. He explained that, as soon as you make any distinction between anything in the universe, the whole thing falls apart, and that that doesn’t work, it’s all one big show. He said all of this and more, except somewhat more coherently. It was tres chic. I hope that he says cool shit like that when he starts his classes back up again.
Taking Reb’s wonderful classes has been part of the good vibes that living here has provided me. I was an emotional mess when I moved in, and I think that living here fifteen months has served its purpose of putting me back on my feet, healing some wounds, and letting my heart open to the world again.
But now, I am going to be enjoying all that positive Zen vibe as a non-resident, rather than as a resident of the monastery. I think that I will miss the community at City Center, specifically the many people that I love and am comfortable with. I have also been appreciating the spiritual discipline that living here demands, as I prepare to leave. Also, I am appreciating how the kitchen staff there do the food ordering and cooking, and how I only have to do dishes twice a week. I do plan to come back and visit the center often, but many things won’t be the same, I predict.
However: no more getting up at 4:50 am, that will be nice. I look forward to seeing my non-Zen friends more, having more free time to go out to parties, go to yoga class, and do other things. An even bigger reason why I want to move out of Zen Center is to have more time to play music, which is what is exciting to me these days. I bought a beautiful classic guitar, a cheap bass, and a guitar amp in the last six months, and I have been taking guitar lessons again for six months now, which has lit me up.
[Me, looking unhappy about something, but that something is probably not my lovely new Heritage Double-Cutaway Les Paul]
I was playing bass with a band’s practice sessions a few times a couple months back. I think however that that is over, since they haven’t called me,and I haven’t called them. Yesterday, I learned about a show that they are doing tonight by seeing an ad for it in a music paper, which was slightly painful. Anyway, at a Zen Center skit night on Halloween, I played electric guitar and sang on a song with some friends, which was fun. I had forgotten how cool it is to play music with people – and how much work it is to prepare.