Views from Myogen’s Cushion (Myogen is a member of the RRZC Sangha)
A Joy Leads Us On April, 2018
Our Sangha, guided by Sensei Deirdre Eisho Peterson, is currently tackling a text of Eihei Dogen, credited with reforming the practice of zen into what we now most commonly associate it with: a profound emphasis on sitting meditation. Dogen’s writings are notoriously difficult: abstract, figurative, paradoxical. This text, Bendowa, translated as “The Whole-hearted Way,” is no exception (even though it’s often considered one of Dogen’s more accessible works).
Central to it is the very elusive phrase “jijuyu zanmai,” (or “jijuyu samadhi”). In our work on Bendowa, Sensei has provided us with several translations and explanations, including “the self-receiving enjoyment,” “the functioning, the flow, the river-flowing sense of life ‘experiencing.’” Bendowa translator Shohaku Okamura writes of jijuyu samadhi, “The important point is that this is not the self that has an object. There is nothing other than, or outside of, this self. This is not an experience that is other than here and now; it is not something to be acquired.” Another Bendowa translator, Michael Eido Luetchford, often stresses jijuyu samadhi as an off-setting of forces, describing it as a practice “that balances the active and the passive,
and sets the body-and-mind right.”
How can zazen, in all its apparent self-containment, also incorporate the whole world? What’s the relationship of self-balancing to unity of self-and-world? This unity is certainly one of Bendowa’s central ideas, that in jijuyu samadhi, “because earth, grasses and trees, fences and walls, tiles and pebbles all things in the dharma realm in ten directions, carry our buddha work, therefore everyone receives the benefits of wind and water movement caused by this functioning, and all are imperceptibly helped by the wondrous and incomprehensible influence of buddha to actualize the enlightenment at hand.”
I still do not generally feel a cosmic unity when I sit zazen, and I sometimes worry about a practice that sends me too far inside myself. However, recently I was given a vivid illustration of the relationship of stillness to an immensity of interconnection. During the break after the midday meal, I walked along the edge of the country road, stretching legs cramped by the morning hours of sitting. The scenery in the Sedona area is tremendous: Bell Rock in thedistance, Courthouse Butte just off to the right, and long, high ridges of red rock striped with white limestone stretching off to the east. That day, fitful, windy, cloud-scudded, a hawk hovered between Courthouse Butte and the ridge beyond—unmoved in the turbulent air, untouched by gravity, its body utterly still—wings spread but motionless. What a perfect balance of forces! But in an instant the complex detente of wind, earth, and creature collapses and the hawk arrows off—and finds another still point, hanging there once again like an aerial statue. It does this several times in gusts strong enough to buffet my face and baffle my clothes. Then, like an apple blossom in a mild May breeze, the hawk drifts slowly down to earth, as if the force of the wind were only illusion, my own mental climate.
It is awesome enough to consider the math. How did the hawk manage such a perfect
comprehension of multiple dynamic forces? Spots in the air where the contrary winds and gravity offset each other in a perfect net zero—where it was unnecessary for the hawk to fly, to be a bird at all, in order to remain floating in the air? Maybe at that moment, the hawk, being free as a bird, was also able to be free FROM being a bird. Being freed from the self, the whole world becomes self, all part of a singular moment in time and space, inseparable. As I breathed, while watching, the movement of air through my body was also part of the balance.
To sit in zazen—what greater contrast, it might seem, to engagement with the world. In setting meditation, “body and mind fall away,” as Dogen writes in another essay. Isn’t this the work of isolation? But no: to truly be still in the present moment is to balance all impinging forces, elements, cells, cosmic rays, creatures, volcanism, the expansion of the universe. And like the hawk, we seem to want to do this. A joy leads us on.
Hello and Happy New Year from Red Rocks Zen Circle!
What are we doing at RRZC?
Here, just down the road from Sedona, eight (or seven, or maybe ten)
people sit facing the wall. Most are low down, on cushions set around the
bare wood floor. It could be the year 600, not 2018. Or before. Or since.
The (lack of) activity of “just sitting” has been a major feature of this
practice of addressing human suffering since the Buddha founded it
(Shakyamuni Buddha died around 483 BCE). It is simple. Although
nowadays you can now download a broad menu of meditation apps, all you
really need is what was available since the beginning: your butt and a place
to put it. If you are truly blessed, add a (physical, human) teacher and a
small—sometimes very small—community. As we have here at RRZC,
founded by Sensei Eisho Peterson.
These people in the meditation room, or zendo as it is called, have all
made the decision to practice. At least for now. At least this minute. Many
made their first decision to practice several decades ago. Many have
begun and stopped and begun again. Some are fairly new to the whole
idea of sitting. So I asked the sitters here (including myself), “Why do you
practice?” Here are some responses:
“My Zen practice helps me negotiate this path through life in a more
peaceful, open and compassionate way and allows me to make more
sense out of my mortality.”
“Practice teaches me how t be kind and grateful for this moment.”
“I practice so I can truly appreciate my life.”
“Practice is finding the root source of this dissatisfaction (suffering) and
being at peace with “just this.”
“Practice brings about things I could never program in my head.”
“Why do I practice Zen? Can’t think of any reason why not.”
“I practice because I’m not done yet.”
Some of these responses have a practical element; some seem to play with the question. It’s likely some are fleeting, a particular color at a time of day. They do not, on the whole, sound like product endorsements. It is good to begin without expectations. Red Rocks Zen Circle is a welcoming place. If you are interested in Zen practice, or in exploring what Zen practice is, please come. Our contact information, regular practice times, and our address appear on the website.