Somebody asked me recently if there are days of the year when Buddhists celebrate events in the Buddha’s life. And perhaps in Buddhist countries have a national holiday to mark the events. I know that Seck Kim Seng, who ordained Rev. Master Jiyu, was instrumental in getting Wesak marked as a national holiday in Malaysia. (Wesak celebrations embraces the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment (nirvāna), and passing away (Parinirvāna) and is on the 8th day of the 12th lunar month. We in the West tend to think of Wesak as being on May 8th in our calendar.
Soon it will be the Buddha’s Enlightenment Day. Also known as Bodhi Day which we celebrate on December 8th. In Zen, and other traditions too, there is generally an intensive week-long meditation retreat leading up to the 8th. In days gone by we called this retreat Rohatsu Sesshin. It started on the first and ended at midnight on the seventh with a ceremony. We were all very tired and spacey by then! I always found this sesshin the most testing of the retreats we sit. As a younger monk there was something in the air that had me rather anxious I remember. It can’t have just been me either. Were we striving? Was I wondering if a chunk of something from my life in the past might zip in and overwhelm me? Emotionally flatten me? The sub-title of the retreat was ‘the searching of the heart retreat’ and search my heart I dutifully did. Nothing dramatic ever happened, nothing horrible came up and on the 8th normal life resumed.
Yesterday I was bending low to find something at the bottom of the fridge and discovered a container of cheese somebody must have left some time ago. Needless to say it was not salvageable! I dealt with it and that was the end of it. But I was reminded of those ‘searching of the heart retreats’. My understanding of the spirit behind Rohatsu sesshin has matured since those early days. They were not an opportunity for mentally scrubbing the heart/mind clean and shiny but more about allowing the heart/mind to be soft and open and above all they were nothing to do with striving. But I guess I learnt that by sitting those sesshins!
Yes, and I will address the fridge and its contents with greater care and attention. And knowing that by adopting a different position one will see things differently. And likely encounter things I didn’t know were there. As with the fridge so also when sitting sesshin.