Encouragement for Windblown Plum Home-Based Intensive — a talk by Leland Shields, April 5, 2020

Posted by on Apr 28, 2020 in Zen Talks | Comments Off on Encouragement for Windblown Plum Home-Based Intensive — a talk by Leland Shields, April 5, 2020

The phrase, “never apart from this very place” takes on new relevance as we are in lockdown for Covid-19, each practicing in our own homes, our own quiet rooms. This week is a chance to truly bring practice home, to the place before we were born, and to the home in which we sleep, cook, clean, and many of us now work.

This bizarre practice, assisted by the technology that has existed for only moments within the span of the Buddha-Dharma, is not a backup or compromise. It is the only practice. It is sesshin, without need to parse definitions of the word, “sesshin,” affording us the benefit of this time of persistent attention on that which is, simply is.

At sesshin we begin with cautions to help us set aside concepts to recognize then what remains, recognize the very simple cup in the sink, dripping of a faucet, and the mark on the wall where that old chair rubbed. Practicing intently right here, where you are, as you listen or read now, is then a new gift. How can you hold constancy, return repeatedly, even if you share your house with another who doesn’t participate or reinforce your commitment? We all have the chance to find out, each day, whether we’ve committed to join together for all sesshin days or not. Whether you will work this afternoon or not.

… [A] student said to Master Ichu, “Please write for me something of great wisdom.” Master Ichu picked up his brush and wrote one word: “Attention.” The student said, “Is that all?” The master wrote, “Attention. Attention.” The student became irritable. “That doesn’t seem profound or subtle to me.” In response, Master Ichu wrote simply, “Attention. Attention. Attention.” In frustration, the student demanded, “What does this word ‘attention’ mean?” Master Ichu replied, “Attention means attention.”

(Charlotte Joko Beck. 1993. Nothing special: Living Zen. New York: HarperCollins. 168.)

When attending sesshin at Mt. Lamp, one of the practices I employ is to return to breath, to mu, to what is, when my focus shifts to any manner of waiting. Pacing myself until the bell rings is waiting. Trusting the timekeeper and sitting as if there is no bell to ever ring, is a powerful practice. Recognizing hunger is attention, even as lunch does not exist. When the tenzo sounds the clappers, wonderful, lunch!

For our sesshin this week, I will offer encouragements rather than our traditional sesshin cautions. I encourage engagement without waiting. In the formal, timed sitting, there is no time, no afternoon to do anything else, no lunch to eat or dinner to cook. Return, hear (H-E-A-R), breathe. Breathe this breath that is without end. When with others, we listen, we speak, this too is sesshin, a chance to interact while noticing and releasing notions. Attention is included in not waiting.

A monk asked,

“How should one act during every hour of the day such that the ancestors are not betrayed?”

Yunmen said, “Give up your effort.”

The monk said, “How should I give up my effort?”

Yunmen said, “Give up the words you just uttered.”

And from Dogen, “Zazen Universally Recommended,”

Fundamentally speaking, the basis of the Way is perfectly pervasive. How could it be contingent on practice and verification? The vehicle of the Ancestors is naturally unrestricted. Why should we expend sustained effort? Surely the whole being is far beyond defilement; who could believe in a method to polish it? It is never apart from this very place; what is the use of a pilgrimage to practice it? And yet, with just a hair’s breadth of distinction, the gap is like that between heaven and earth…If you wish to transcend the extreme beyond, just directly accede to the Way…

(From our sutra book)

With inspiration from both Yunmen and Dogen, I offer encouragement for your effortless effort. Find persistence without a furrowed brow; simple attention is enough, more than enough. Simple attention means breath without need of attention to one breathing. Just breath, talk, sleep, wake. No need to concern ourselves with the depth of our attention. With ease, simply attend, now, and now. And now. Without waiting, comparison, or future, allow this effort, this attention to stand alone.

Again, from Dogen, “Zazen Universally Recommended,”

… If you grasp the point of this practice, the four elements of your body will become light and easy, your spirit will be fresh and sharp, thoughts will be correct and clear; the flavor of the Dharma will sustain your spirit, and you will be calm, pure, and joyful. Your daily life will express your true natural state…When you arise from sitting, move slowly and arise calmly; do not be hasty or undignified.

(From our sutra book)

This sesshin includes aspects of your daily life. Grasping “the point of this practice,” is no more or less than attention with effortless effort. When arising from sitting today, we will encounter many things that we do not at an away-residential retreat – at home there is always something to clean or organize. There may also be encounters with others not in away sesshin.

When at Dai Bosatsu Zendo in New York a friend of mine told me of being cook during a sesshin with Soen Roshi. My friend was relatively junior so didn’t know what to say when a number of senior students came in, sat at a table and were talking. Soen happened to walk through, seeing the scene he went forcefully and calmly to the table, pounded his fist on the table and loudly exclaimed, “This is sesshin!” The students scattered, Soen calmly picked up the tea he came for, and left without a word.

Whether in away-residential or home-residential retreat settings, we can find ourselves forgetting attention. In our home-residential retreat, the lines of form are fluid, requiring both greater attention, and great compassion as we each find our way here, today.

I encourage you to engage in, utilize the forms of this sesshin, and your own forms. We each already have forms. At Mt. Lamp we pick up our practice, our effortless attention when we wake. Here, your home morning rituals are your forms. When brushing teeth, simply brush. When making coffee, grinding beans is for no purpose but grinding. Pouring water in the coffee maker has no purpose beyond the action itself. There is no eventual cup of coffee, just pouring water.

If choosing to clean, can you do so with calm dignity for the action itself? When interacting with others, can you do so without effort?

This week is a chance to bring something new to your daily forms. It can become easy to drift through the routines of our days, waking with focus on what will come next, what to expect, feeling the need for vigilance. In the middle of your life and home, can effortless effort help you do this anew each moment? Without the reminders of bells and clappers for most of your day, make the very activities themselves the reminders, the form. Include bells as well, if fitting to you.

This is new. Build on your sesshin however possible. Use the formal sitting, and contact me or Madelon for interviews to add emphasis. Together we can creatively explore how best to use your form.

Enjoy your practice. Engage now, in this, without waiting. Engage with effortless vitality. Utilize sesshin forms, and your forms to emphasize and foster attention. Though in different buildings, we are one body, taking one breath.