We’re at sesshin, during which we gather the minds: the minds of others as well as the pieces of our own. While the group starts out feeling fragmented, with everyone in their own space, over time we become one. We will experience this by the end of sesshin.
But in the beginning it’s difficult; in the beginning I often wish I could sit alone. In some ways that’s easier: I can follow my own schedule, eat what I want, rest when I want. Most important, I don’t have to deal with other people. Because of course, it’s always the others who are messing up.
At the same time, our goal is to raise the Bodhi Mind. To awaken with others, for the sake of others. People wish to serve. When we began our jukai studies and we went around asking people why they were doing precepts study, the one motivation that was common to every person in the group was a wish to serve.
All this comes together in this sesshin whose two main themes are Transmission of Precepts and Loving Action, which was the focus of the two-month Intensive led by Jim Daikan Bastien. During that time we worked with a group of social action koans from Daikan’s real life of social service combined with a traditional koan or Zen story. The last pairing of these was titled How Deep is Your Love?
Daikan’s Social Action Koan:
Lou was the Community Director for a residential treatment program comprised of 10 group homes, each one staffed with a live-in married couple called Family-Teachers. Jeff and Becky were one of the best Family-Teacher couples in the program and lived with 10 kids in their group home. Billy ran away from Jeff and Becky’s group home six times in a month, causing considerable disruption for everyone in the home, including Jeff and Becky. At a Family-Meeting, the other kids in the group home told Jeff and Becky they should kick Billy out of the program as he was taking valuable time and attention away from them. Having finally reached their limit, Jeff and Becky met with Lou and told him to immediately terminate Billy from the program or they were going to resign. Who should stay and who should go?
101 Zen Stories – Case 45: Right and Wrong
When Bankei held his weeks of meditation, pupils from many parts of Japan came to attend. During one of these gatherings, a pupil was caught stealing. The matter was reported to Bankei with the request that the culprit be expelled. Bankei ignored the case. Later the pupil was caught in a similar act, and again Bankei disregarded the matter. This angered the other pupils, who drew up a petition asking for the dismissal of the thief; otherwise they would leave in a body. When Bankei had read the petition he called everyone before him. “You are wise brothers,” he told them. “You know what is right and what is not right. You may go somewhere else to study if you wish, but this poor brother does not even know right from wrong. Who will teach him if I do not? I am going to keep him here even if all the rest of you leave.” A torrent of tears cleansed the face of the brother who had stolen. All desire to steal vanished.
Who goes, and who stays? Taking effective action usually means making up rules, but someone will always fall in the cracks. Then we have to make a tough decision. We get angry and defensive. Sometimes we blame that person because we can’t help her. We also get angry because we see our limits, the areas we can’t or don’t wish to deal with.
How deep is your love? What is love? Often, love is made up of many things that are in conflict according to my dualistic mind. Donna Haraway writes that love is often found where simultaneously true and unharmonizable things meet. It’s found as much in the place of disappointment as in the place of joy, but our dualistic mind can only accept the latter. By its very nature our mind can’t find love in areas that don’t feel good.
We often talk of emptiness. How do I experience emptiness? There are different ways, but one way is to let your heart break. When you do you are encountering the frontiers of your mind, the boundaries of what’s acceptable, beyond which the only voice you hear says: This can’t be. This should not happen. There, in that very place that the mind rejects as impossible, where the mind/heart breaks, where we realize the ungraspability of our life, there is where we find love.