Issue 18;

Sitting In The Midst of Everything

Dharma Talk

Finding Your Place Right Where You Are - August 2006 at Gaia House, Transcribed & Edited by Angyu Devin Ashwood

By Tenshin Reb Anderson Roshi

I wanted to mention that a number of people in this retreat, and usually in retreats, bring up the issue that they are enjoying the retreat, but they wonder about whether they’ll be able to continue the enjoyable practice when the retreat’s over, and they wonder if they should go live in a monastery where they will be able to practice like they’re practicing now, more continuously.

When I first started practicing sitting meditation, I thought it was totally cool, but I noticed that sometimes I wouldn’t do it very frequently. I noticed spaces occurred between the sessions. Then the thought occurred to me that it might be good to do it with not such big spaces between, but to do it more regularly, and I tried to do it more regularly, but I couldn’t.  So then I thought, maybe if I practiced where a lot of other people were practicing sitting, that that would help me to be a bit more regular, and I heard about the Zen Centre in San Francisco so I went there to visit and I visited for a while and sure enough it did happen that I became regular in my sitting, so then I went back across the country and packed up my stuff and made three attempts to move across the country to live at Zen Centre and the third time I made it. 

Then I practiced in San Francisco for a while, I lived across the street from the Zen Centre and I practiced every day and it was not too difficult to get to the Zendo every day.  Once I was in the Zendo, it was difficult, but it wasn’t difficult to get into the difficulty.  I managed to enter the difficulty every morning, very regularly.  Then after practicing that way for about nine months, I went to the mountain monastery called Tassajara. And I went to a three-month practice period in the winter in the mountains and every moment I was there, there was a story in my mind, so I have 8,000,000 stories to tell you, the following is one of them. 

This story occurred towards the end of this three-month time. The whole time was a retreat, but then during the retreat sometimes, we had more periods of meditation than usual.  The usual day had five periods of sitting meditation and three periods of sitting formal meals, so we actually sat cross legged eight periods a day on a regular basis as a group and then during the intense part of the practice period we would sit more like 20 periods a day, but because we sat eight a day usually, it was only like doubling it, so you can imagine some of you sit one period a day, if you went to a retreat that had two periods, it wouldn’t be that difficult, but to go from one period like some of you do to 13, it’s a big jump, but to go from eight to 20, not easy exactly, but not such a big jump.  So there was this intense period of meditation at the end of the practice period, and I don’t remember exactly the reason but I was late for one of the periods and so I came into the hall, everyone else was already sitting. 

I had never seen the people sitting; I was always just one of the people sitting looking at the floor.  All I ever saw was the floor.  I knew there were people around me, but I never actually looked at the people sitting and I was deeply struck, deeply moved by what I saw and my feeling at that time was it was like going into the generator room of the Hoover dam.  The Hoover dam is a big dam that supplies the electrical power to Las Vegas, and maybe it’s the biggest dam in the world, I don’t know but anyway, in these generator rooms they have these long banks, these long lines of electrical generators and the long lines of students looked like long lines of electrical generators. They were just sitting there you know, it’s this kind of quiet energy, but they were still and pulsing with life and radiant, so I was happy to join the sitting. 

And also I realise that they did not know, they could not see, just as I could not see how they looked, even though that is the way they did look to me.  And during this retreat, someone came late to the sitting here and this person has been practicing sitting for 20 or 30 years, this person had never seen a zendo with people sitting in it.  He had sat in zendos, he had sat in meditation halls with people sitting but he had never got to see what it looked like, this time he came in late so he sat in the back of the room there, in one of those chairs and the chairs were positioned so he got to look at these rows of people sitting and he was struck by how beautiful we are and how the room’s full of sitting Buddhas, sitting so still and so beautifully and he thought, “maybe these people don’t know how beautiful they are when they are practicing seated Buddha”. He wanted them to know, so I’m telling you what he saw when he saw you practicing.

Since 1972 I’ve been sitting facing out as we say, so for the last 34 years I’ve been getting to see how beautiful sitting people are, so that’s why I keep coming, to see the beautiful people. It’s a very happy thing for me to see people sitting so still, so sincerely and I know that you are having a hard time being still sometimes, sometimes you don’t have a hard time, that’s OK but still with the help of each other you are sitting quite still.  I also understand that some of you when you’re sitting alone do not sit so still, so then you think you should go to a monastery. 

This situation right now is what some people would call ‘monastery’ we are practicing monastically this week, so if any of you want to be in a monastery, you are in one now. ‘You’ll never get rich by digging a ditch!’ you are in the monastery now.

Now when the retreat is over, most of you are going to leave the monastery, but I just wanted to mention to you that in Tibet and China and Japan and Korea, in South East Asia, the people who are in monasteries also leave monasteries.  They go in and they out and then a lot of them go back in again and then they go out.  Monastic life has a rhythm. It has retreat periods and within three-month retreat periods it has more or less intense periods within the intense period and then when the retreats are over, it has a different mode, the monks go out and do other things. So actually you people are spending part of your life as monks, during this time that you are here, you are monks.  As far as I know none of you are doing things which monks don’t do during this week and you are doing things that monks do do during this week.  You are practicing together, you are helping other people practice you are receiving their help and we’re practicing.  The practice is happening, that’s the story of what’s going on here that I’m telling. Maybe you have a different story but that’s my story, the story is “we are in a monastery” and we are monks helping monks be monks. So some of you think “I want to move to a monastery”, and if you want to, you have my full support, but I want to point out that even if you don’t so called ‘move’ to a monastery, you already are somewhat practicing monastically.  And for all of us for the rest of our lives, the question is are we going to be in a monastery one week a year, two weeks a year, three weeks a year, four weeks a year, ten weeks a year, twenty weeks a year, 30 weeks a year or 52 weeks a year, but I just want to point out that most monks are not in the monastery 52 weeks a year, most of them go out of the monastery, however as you might guess, if you spend a lot of time in monasteries, when you are outside the monastery, you are still kind of in the monastery.  And if you are not in the monastery between monastic visits, when you are out of the monastery, if you are not in the monastery, you feel kind of funny.  In other words if you leave the monastery and find yourself in the security line at the airport and you don’t feel like you are in a monastery, you feel like confessing and repenting because you understand that the practice can be realised right there if you find your place right where you are.  Sometime people are in these lines and they feel like they are wasting their time, but sometimes they wake up and realise that they are doing walking meditation with the people. That it’s a period of meditation and sometimes in a monastery people are doing walking meditation and they sometimes try to get ahead of other people in the line, just like they think they are at the airport.  They actually want to butt in front of somebody in a monastery, they forget they are in a monastery and sometimes people in the security lines or in the lines to check in, they also forget they are in a monastery. They also forget that they are doing walking meditation or standing meditation at the airport.

So each of us has to see how much time we need to spend in a literal monastic setting in order to remember that we are in the monastery when we are not in the literal monastic setting.

And the monastery is the place where you are when you find your place where you are. And you could say that the monastery is the place that supports you to find your place where you are and if you have found your place where you are, suddenly there is a monastery. If you can’t find your place where you are even if you are in a monastery, for you there is not a monastery, it is not happening, because you don’t yet have sufficient support to find your place right where you are. 

At the beginning of this retreat I would guess some people could not find their place right where they are even though everybody was trying to help you, except some of the other people who couldn’t find their place and were angry and didn’t want you to find your place ahead of them!  But really your place, your way is right where you are and when you find the place right where you are, you are in a monastery and the people who find their place where they are, are in a monastery but also, a monastery arises when they find their place. So the stories of the Zen teachers is that they go sit some place and they find their place where they are and then people start putting buildings around them. 

“Hey somebody found their place where she is, lets build a temple around them to testify to the fact that somebody found her place right where she is and the practice is occurring here, lets put a sign up which says ‘temple’, ‘monastery’, ‘come, find your place’.”

I don’t know, it’s up to each of us how much time we are going to spend at places that have signs, but we all have to find our place where we are.  So each of you can look to see how many retreats like this you need so that you can eventually have continuity. 

The Buddha did not live in a building like this during his practice, most of the time, he was just standing on the earth and sitting on the earth, finding his place where he was so wherever he went was a monastery. 

He was walking along with his group one day and he stopped and pointed to the ground and said “this is a good place to build a monastery” and Indra the king of the gods who just happened to be in the group picked up a blade of grass, stuck it in the ground and said “The monastery is built” – If you can’t point to the ground moment after moment and say this is a place to build a monastery and then build a monastery there, if you can’t, get some help until you can. And I hope you get the help you need so you can be in a monastery all the time without needing walls, but you may need walls for a while, so this fall, I’m going to the mountains again where I went quite a while ago and saw the people sitting, I’m going there this fall, back to those mountains to sit there for three months again with a group of people and you know, I will be challenged that whole time to find my place right where I am every moment, and in the monastery with these people who are in the monastery for three months, after not too long into the three months, they will be coming  to me and talking about being some place else, they will come to me and start talking about “after the practice period is over” and I will beg them to enjoy that they are in the monastery right now and actually it is like October 2nd and that all day Oct 2nd, they can enjoy Oct 2nd and not think about December 17th –At least today, “One day, during this practice period, would you please be here in the monastery”. It’s amazing!  People make this big sacrifice to arrange to be in this remote mountain valley with other people who have done similarly and then when they get in there, they start thinking about how to get out and for months and years before that they are thinking about how they can get in. Still we have these places for people to go, where it is really silly that they are trying to get out shortly after they arrive.



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