At the conclusion of a sesshin, an intensive meditation of several days length, my Master Sekkei Harada Roshi would often give a brief talk. He would typically say, “For those of you who do not live in the monastery, please go home and forget about Zen.” This was usually a topic of discussion afterward, and people would inquire what the Roshi meant by such a thing. Some were disconcerted to hear it, after having worked so hard to embrace Zen, sitting long hours and forgoing so many of the comforts of home. To be told just to forget it was hard to hear. For others, this was a relief. They were glad to leave behind the strict schedule, painful knees and elaborate meal rituals. They hoped to forget about it before even leaving the temple gates.
Yet either response fails to see the Roshi’s meaning.
The point that Roshi was making is that Zen *is* your life. There is nothing you need to take home with you; no way for you to add it to your agenda. Zen is already here, there and everywhere. Even in a fast-paced, constantly distracted, over-stimulated modern life, Zen is fully manifesting. In fact Roshi also said, “Your life is completely resolved in each moment.”
Still, just saying it’s so doesn’t really cut it. If it were as simple as telling yourself that fact, there would be no need for monasteries or teachings or practice at all. We could all just sit in front of the television or the computer with our snacks and soda pop, and say that everything’s okay. We could even say it’s all perfect and we are all Buddhas. Sounds a bit Polly Anna don’t you think?
Thus, practice outside the monastery is to abide in this mystery, in the inconceivable teaching. It is to connect with the way in which this very life is ineffable: beyond words, beyond ideas, beyond the new notch in your belt after you sat a sesshin. You don’t get to go home and tell your neighbor how well you wielded your chopsticks, or that you asked the most insightful question, because that’s not the point. The point is that you sat on your cushion in a place where there is no distraction from the Zen of this very moment. What did you experience?
So you might say that practice off the cushion is experiencing the Zen of this very moment, whether that moment is sitting behind the wheel of a car or drinking a cup of tea at your desk. Practice off the cushion is abiding in the mystery, stepping closer and closer into intimacy with the present until there is no boundary between you and it. Practice in daily life is about being open to the way in which the mundane is expressing the absolute, being open to the way in which life is saying something larger than life.
Saying it that way, it becomes clear that Zen lives at the monastery and Zen lives outside the monastery. It becomes clear that wherever you live, the task is right in front of you. No matter what you wear, or what haircut you have, or how many minutes of meditation you have done, the task is so simple it may evade you. Don’t be confused by words and concepts; these are just pointers along the way. The Way itself is right before you, each moment and place full of opportunity. Remember, everyday mind is the Way.
So I ask you, how do you abide in the Zen of your life? How will you connect to the Zen of life in 2014?
Happy New Year! May you be safe, joyful, free from suffering, and may you fulfill your infinite potential.