Shuso talk by Alan Block at Sesshin 2010
You're tired. I'm tired. Maybe even Norman is a little tired, although I think he likes this. Our wonderful cooks are tired.
The question is how to work with it. What to do when we haven't slept enough or slept badly? We're spent. We are called upon once again to sit on our cushion in the name of a very big cause. We're saving the world and maybe even ourselves at the same time.
So what do we do? How do we approach the call for more energy and effort? As we sometimes feel about our lives - weary, fatigued, exhausted - we give it our best effort. We're all in, and here we are. As in our lives, our partner, our teacher, our boss, our employees, our kids, the world, the universe, or just ourselves, is asking for more.
How do we work with this condition of life when we feel that we have nothing more to give? We've given it all. Our whole life is really just about, and just like, the fourth day of sesshin. Every day is the fourth day of sesshin. Every day of our lives. What we realize is that there is no zazen. Zazen doesn't exist. There is only life.
So this is as rare chance in a rare human life to do it the way we want, without limits. Our zazen includes each of our stories. It's our favorite brand of no-brand. It's the empty vessel that we can fill however we want, because it holds our deepest wish.
How you do this in zazen is the same question as how do you live your life? Do we have the energy, the creativity, the compassion, loving kindness, the space for yourself and others? Can you give yourself to yourself? And others to others? Can we accept our disappointment, our conditioned habits, our habitual reactions, our reactivity, our tendencies, our tenderness, our problems as they are, and chose to be in our lives completely? How we approach this question is how we live our lives, and it's the same question as, "What do we do right now in the next period of zazen?"
Everything I've said applies to me as much as to you. Can we leap from the hundred foot pole together? For four days we have sat here silently, the sharp edges of our personalities, that we often cut ourselves or others on, have softened. The opportunity has arrived. Look at it this way: after four days of sesshin, you are being released. Your body and mind are free! From our ancient, twisted karma, there are so many possibilities. In sesshin we subject our bodies and minds to this difficult experience, because we know as we get closer to our real selves, we have the chance to inhabit our lives in a deeper way, with a clear eyed view of what we do and how we do it.
So how we occupy our cushion is our choice.
My deepest wish is for things to be otherwise - for us all to live forever with the people we love, and have no endings, just beginnings. It would be great, and I think the Buddha would be the first one to agree with me, if we didn't need him. If he had never existed. No Buddha, no Buddhism, no Zen. It would be nice if we could spend our time doing other things. But there is something about humans that doesn't go that way. Humans don't want to see the reality of their lives and the fact that every coming together has a parting.
Sometimes I think about my own life. I look at old family pictures and movies. I look at the pictures and think to myself, "Everyone in this picture is gone, is dead." At one time that was the center of my family existence. And I remember those people. Sometime in the future people will look at our pictures, happily at Everyday Zen - the wonderful pictures that Robin is taking. They will say, "They are all gone."
So there is something about our human situation that doesn't want to see it. So the one thought that I would like to leave you with is that we have to look deeper. We have to look harder. The alternative is not to see our lives in their beginnings and their endings with clarity. And when we don't see with clarity, we create suffering for ourselves and for the people around us, for the people we love.
I think that the process of denial is one of the reasons that our culture is as materialistic as it is. "I like to do it myself." But when we see things clearly, we realize that we really don't have an alternative, and this method that was created so many years ago by the Buddha, handed down to us by Bodhidharma and Dogen, is the best thing we have, as imperfect as it is. There isn't another way but to somehow figure out that there is no forever. It doesn't exist.
So thank you. Thank you for all being here. Thank you for wanting and being open to see this reality. Thank you for being willing to celebrate our time together, just as, hopefully, you celebrate your family together. And thank you for being willing to realize the poignancy and the value of what we have, right here and right now.