Tesshin continued the discussion this week on the theme of reorienting our perspective. Last week he touched on the Jewish tradition of Shmita and the concept of “Beginners Mind” in Zen. This week Tesshin explained to us exactly to what are we reorienting to and why.
Recently, there was a funeral for the Soto Zen abbess Reverend Taihaku Gretchen Priest of Shao Shan Temple. She was one of only ten teachers in the United States formally trained and credentialed in Japan. (Tesshin is a member of that august group as well.) All throughout the service the topic of “return” kept coming up. So, what exactly is this return that Zen keeps talking about? Are we returning to our death? Is Zen nothing more than practicing to die? Taken literally, this is a bit macabre. The real message is that we must return to our life as it really is. The lesson of Death is that “Time passes by swiftly and opportunity is lost.” We cannot afford to drift aimlessly. There is a life which must be lived authentically!
Tesshin noted that most of us are submerged in the day-to-day struggles of life. We are responsible to our family and our jobs. We have bills to pay and things to get done. Days become weeks and weeks become months and months become years. Where did all the time go? Zen is nothing more than a call to us to “Wake up!” Everything we do in practice comes back to this simple idea. But what is waking up?
In our practice, waking up is direct experience. We practice Zazen in order to calm the mind and quiet the internal voice in our head providing a running commentary on everything. This is not easy, but if we can do this, then the richness of the “Ten Thousand Things” become available. This is nothing than stopping to smell the flowers instead of trampling them to make it to work on time. It is slowing down to smile at someone to make their day instead of being defensive. Stated differently, Zazen is the continual practice of saying, “I AM ALIVE! – I AM AWAKE! – NO TIME TO WASTE!”
Tesshin noted that in the past year and half we have been in “Covid Sleep.” We read every article talking about the number of hospitalizations and people who have died. We no longer touch or even look people in the eye. We are lost in thoughts about what is going on and how will it affect us. While this is understandable in times like this, our practice reminds us to look up from the phone and live! Tesshin asked us to enjoy the early fall weather. The leaves will be changing soon and there are other gifts nature will bestow if we just simply remember to look.
Tesshin wrapped up by reminding us to return to our authentic life. Practice diligently and remember that you are already perfect the way you are right now.