Roshi: Practice is Awakening

Practice is Awakening

From a talk by Roshi Enkyo O’Hara

Recently I’ve been reading the journals of Robert Genjin Savage, a dear friend of the Zendo who died of AIDS in 1993, and I ran across this entry from 1986 when he was just getting into Zen:  –œEven if sitting achieves nothing –˜spiritual’–”the mere taking stock of oneself every morning, putting aside so-called immediate concerns and seeing exactly what’s left–”that by itself justifies wasting 40 minutes a day.–  I like that description: putting aside immediate concerns and seeing exactly what’s left. What would it be like right now to put aside all the demands of life: the fantasies, the duties, the machinations of the mind, the recriminations, the conditioning–”put all that aside for just a moment, or maybe for 20 minutes if not 40, and be present to what’s left. What happens when we do that? We reenter the depth of our life: the reality of our breath, the meaning of our life itself without all the rules and ideas that we have put on top of it–”the actual experience of our life.

There is a well-known koan about Bodhidharma, an Indian monk who brought the teachings to China and is considered the First Ancestor of Zen. He is said to have sat facing the wall of his cave for many years. In the koan the Second Ancestor, who will later succeed him, stands outside in the snow, begging for the teachings of liberation.  Bodhidharma says, –œGo away. I can’t help you.–  The Second Ancestor cuts off his arm–”it’s a pretty gory scene there! He says, –œHelp me! My mind is not yet at peace. I beg you my teacher, please give me peace.–  So Bodhidharma says, –œBring me your mind and I’ll put it at rest.– We don’t know how long it takes–”an hour, a day, a day and a night–”but the Second Ancestor comes back and says, –œI have searched for my mind and it is finally unattainable.– And Bodhidharma says, –œThere, I have thoroughly set it at rest for you.–

You know, before I began to practice Zen when I read this koan I thought it was a really cheap trick! But it isn’t. It is the teaching–” Genjin’s teaching–”of what’s left. Facing the wall–” in Japan it’s called –œBodhidharma’s Zen––”is a very simple practice. You don’t need to complicate it at all; you simply face the wall. And that’s what we do here at the Village Zendo; that’s what all of the rigmarole is about. We’re creating a container that will allow us to sit and face the wall. And, of course, no one comes every day to the Zendo, but our practice provides a structure for you to then take home and do –”even if it’s not 40 minutes, even if it’s 20 minutes–”you take that time to be present to your life. It’s so important! Bodhidharma devoted his life to it.


Read the whole transcript here Practice is Awakening – full transcript

Listen to the talk here: practice is awakening – audio

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