Reorientation 11-Sept-2021


Tesshin noted that as we enter September, we need to take account of many things.  For instance, we are remembering the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in the United States.  Summer is ending and fall is just around the corner.  This is also the time when school begins and some of us are returning to work after the Covid lockdowns.  These events all point to the constant changes and cycles we experience in life.


Tesshin went on to talk about the Jewish tradition of “Shmita” – or the Sabbatical year which is just now starting.  It is common knowledge that the bible talks about working six days and resting on the seventh.  The Shmita tradition takes this a step farther by having people work the land for six years and allowing it rest in the seventh year.  In addition to agricultural practice, the Shmita tradition calls for debts to be forgiven, private property to be shared publicly, and obligations between people to be released. 


Tesshin next asked why would such a tradition exist.  We all have heard about crop rotation where we allow a piece of land to go fallow for a period of time so it can rebuild its nitrogen reserves.  However, how does this relate to wider life and our interactions with others?  Here Tesshin was clear – the concept of “rest” really means reorientation.  Stopping what we are doing and taking a fresh look at our life.  We take this rest to reevaluate our relationships, interactions, and ideas we hold dear.  If we are so busy laboring, gathering assets, and building a life, we will never have the time to stop and examine what our life really means in an absolute sense.  Shmita asks us to release our attachments built up over the past six years and reconnect with the real abiding truth of our existence.  Reorientation is difficult – this is why many religious traditions put ceremonies and liturgies in place to provide repeated opportunities to stop and reassess.   


Tesshin next pointed out that Zen is also replete with reorientation practices.  One could argue the main benefit of Zazen is to allow us to stop our daily activities and reorient our mind towards absolute truth.  Our whole tradition centers on reorientation.  Shunryu Suzuki wrote a book called “Zen Mind, Beginners Mind.”  The beginner’s mind is not a mind which is empty and ignorant.  It is the mind which is willing and able to reorient itself and see something totally new in daily life.  The beginner’s mind does not memorize facts – it absorbs experience directly.  Tesshin noted that he must have heard a thousand sermons and Dharma talks over his career as a monk – almost all of which he has forgotten.  However, the teachings have been absorbed directly into he being and changed him forever.  This is the direct experience pointed to by beginner’s mind.  


Tesshin wrapped up by noting that concepts like beginner’s mind and Shmita exist to allow us to break out of the ruts of our engrained notions.  They call to us to take a rest from that inner voice criticizing and nagging us that success and realization will never come.  Finally, Shmita and beginner’s mind remind us that we can cast away the “junk” in our head and return to our rightful home of peaceful abiding.