Thursday, April 19, 2012

Four Truths of Sesshin

One: All of Sesshin is Suffering

From forgetting my Oryoki bowls, to being late to take the refuges, to wake up bell, into hours and hours of sitting, through twenty services and oryoki meals, hundreds of prostrations, soji, dishes… Following the schedule completely is suffering, anyone who tells you differently is selling something.

Medicine Bowl might be the worst, though.

Two: There is a cause for Sesshin

We chant about it in morning service: all my ancient twisted karma; born from beginning-less greed, hate and delusion. Sitting is first and for most an exercise is not generating karma. What karma can accumulate when speech, movement and even thoughts are restrained?

Sesshin is the process of cutting the Gordian knot that we create in our lives, through our actions, speech and thoughts. Just sitting there the past and the future unwind into the present moment, past misdeeds are confronted and desires for the future examined in detail. Sitting puts our karmic life under the microscope and asks us to look at it, to classify it and understand the roots of our suffering.

Three: There is an end of Sesshin

The schedule loops day after day, it becomes a steady rhythm and you move from place to place, ceremony to ceremony, sit to kinhin, back to the cushion, setup for talk, eat lunch, take a break, afternoon sitting, service… The clock ticks through every moment of the week, keeping an eye on the schedules posted around is pretty much mandatory. It's also the only reading you get to do. Savor it.

Six full days of living in a darkened room, staring at a blank wall. But then, on the seventh day, it ends. You have breakfast, a closing talk, lunch and then the sesshin is over. You can talk again. Read. Have a cookie.

OMFB a Cookie.

Four: There is a path to the end of Sesshin

The path has eight steps

    1. Right View - Sure it's painful and exhausting but remember that you're here to have fun.
    2. Right Intention - Just to make it through to the end seems like enough of an intention.
    3. Right Speech - None. Well, as little as possible. Dish shifts are a good place to sneak in a word or two.
    4. Right Action - Do whatever is needed of you in the moment, you might luck out and get to serve tea.
    5. Right Livelihood - Do your soji job well, make it your personal mission to keep your area perfect for the week.
    6. Right Effort - Try not to miss sittings. Try. I signed out for one evening sit on the tenkin pad: "in room crying".
    7. Right Mindfulness - Remember that everyone else around you is going through the same process, give them space.
    8. Right Concentration - Enjoy your zazen. It is the dharma gate of bliss and repose, after all.

Keep these four truths in mind of and follow the eight steps and you might do a little better than just Surviving Sesshin.