The Day after our Winter Retreat came to a close we woke up to an active snowfall. It has been fairly mild since the very cold week at the end of December and signs of spring were everywhere: daffodils and tulips popping up everywhere, buds and new growth on all the trees, little flowers on the umi and cherry trees, leaves bursting out on a few shrubs and trees and so on.
The snow this morning was very wet with slush everywhere. This late in the winter (a month to spring!) dry powder is a real rarity. But as the sky lightened it cooled down a little further and light dryer snow continued to fall.
“The preparation of a monastery for winter may seem unremarkable. Everything that needs to be attended to is done, yet no trace of effort is apparent. This expresses the spirit of my teacher, Gempo Yamamoto Roshi, who spent most of his time doing zazen, and who was often completely absorbed in studying the Diamond Sutra. He would say that you are not yet mature if you are seen as great or wise by others. It is not good to be absentminded, but you should be unpretentious while being aware of all necessary matters. This is important!”
As the activity from Rohatsu fades away and the solstice has marked the start of winter I often think of these words from Sōen Nakagawa. The days are surely getting longer but these are the cold, hard times. Especially right now where there is so much suffering that often has to be endured on ones own. It is vital to remember what is important. Today, December 24th, we held a memorial for Mumon Roshi and read these words from him:
All who promise to seek the wisdom of awakening and to serve all human beings are without exceptions Bodhisattvas. Those laymen and women who join our zazen are also Bodhisattvas–Bodhisattvas who study prajña-wisdom.
In the Buddha mind there are two aspects; wisdom and compassion, just as the sun shines making light and heat. To seek for wisdom or “Bodhi” is to train oneself in the practice of awareness. Compassion is the practical manifestation of wisdom. To attempt to save sentient beings is to practice Buddha’s wisdom, even if we are not awakened to it ourselves. “Compassion is not far from us. It is here in our hands whenever we practice.”
Mumon Yamada Roshi, from Lectures on the Zazen Gi in How to Practice Zazen, p. 6
In this time around the solstice people everywhere practice compassion through acts of charity, kindness, helping out others as they can. Likewise when we attend to that which needs attending, preparing the monastery, our homes, our lives for winter, we are manifesting this wisdom, this practice of compassion. At this time, when staying away from others is the most compassionate action we can take, prajna-wisdom is essential.
These times too will pass and we will again gather together to laugh, hug, share a meal, sit together. As the New Year dawns may we all deepen in our maturity, renewing our vows to practice for all beings and with no trace of effort manifest this wisdom.
On New Years Eve we will ring the Kansho Bell 108 times, dispelling all delusions for a moment. Join us if you will. There will be no formal activities beforehand but the zendo will be open for unstructured sitting throughout the evening. Masks and Social Distancing required.