Temple of Peace

Adult practice: Part 26
Sesshin without toys

Reading Keizan's Zazen-yojinki, it is quite obvious that he thinks not only of sitting indoors, but also considers "green waters, deep mountains and hidden valleys", but warns against robbers, fires, floods, women ("widows, virgins, whores and dancing girls"), politicians and other evils. He also doesn't recommend sitting in high places (cliffs etc.).

After I left Antaiji almost four years ago, I lived in a tent in Osaka castle park for six months and sat zazen outside, on top of the castle moat. Speaking from my own experience, I can say that if you live in a climate like that of Japan, humidity will be the most important factor to consider. Rather than sitting in a deep valley, you will prefer a spot were you can dry your sitting cushion from time to time. Don't sit in the direct sun though. Trees will give you shade. You will also need protection from rain. Even in the best tent you and everything will be wet after a couple of days of continuous rain. Unlike the quote at the top of this page ("Walking through a gentle mist - before you know it, you're dripping wet") in which Dogen Zenji describes the process of enlightenment, you will usually want to try to stay as dry as possible so as not to become sick. Sitting or sleeping on a wet mat will ruin your health in the long run (even after a few weeks, I had major problems). In a situation like that of continuous rain, you will realize what a privilege it can be to sit in a room with a roof, even if it is leaking in some spots. Again, there are lots of opportunities to practice the perfection of patience: You will have to put up with insects, birds, cats or dogs, and other people. In the mornings, many people passed my tent to practice gymnastics near the castle. In the evening, brass bands started to practice under the moon light. During Rôhatsu sesshin, an amateur drummer build up his drum kit next to the tent and "hit me with that rhythm stick" for a whole day long...
In the park in Osaka I also found that sitting in high spots (like on top of the moat, where I sat) will help you to stay awake, but it is cold in winter and can be extremely dangerous when you are really tired, and maybe that is why it is said in the next section:

b) Physical preparations

Summarized in "Shikantaza" as:
"Avoid sitting when you haven't had sufficient sleep or when you are physically exhausted. Before sitting, eat moderately and avoid alcohol. Wash your face and feet so that you feel refreshed."

Here Keizan recommends "eating two parts out of three and leaving one". I do not think that he means that we should leave one third of our meal untouched, but rather one third of our stomachs empty. Sawaki allows for a stomach to be "eighty percent full". Both warn against food that is hard to digest and upsets our body.

Another of the changes that I made three years ago is the sesshin schedule. The so called Antaiji style sesshins were created by Uchiyama Roshi almost 40 years ago, after Sawaki Roshi had died and Uchiyama became the next abbot. The idea of this schedule is that the whole sesshin should be like one single sitting of zazen. There were no more Dharma talks during sesshin, no monks walking around with the wake-up stick, no cleaning, no work, no sutra chants, no talking, nor bath or shower during those retreats. Uchiyama himself called them "sesshins without toys". For five days in a row, people had the chance to be absorbed in zazen and let themselves be themselves only by themselves. These sesshin were practiced around the first sunday of each month, except for the months of February and August, when there was no sesshin, and July and September, when the sesshin was only three days long. On all sundays outside these regular sesshins, there were "one-day sesshins".

1965 - 1977Antaiji sesshin schedule1977 - 2002
4:00Wake-up bell4:00
4:10Zazen (1)4:01
5:10Zazen (2)5:10
6:00Breakfast & Break5:50
7:10Zazen (3)7:00
8:10Zazen (4)8:10
9:10Zazen (5)9:10
10:10Zazen (6)10:10
11:10Zazen (7)11:00
12:00Lunch & Break11:50
13:10Zazen (8)13:00
14:10Zazen (9)14:10
15:10Zazen (10)15:10
16:10Zazen (11)16:10
17:10Zazen (12)17:10
18:00Dinner & Break17:50
19:10Zazen (13)19:00
20:10Zazen (14)20:10

Above you can find the sesshin schedules of the "old" Kyoto Antaiji and the "new" Antaiji in Kutoyama until 2002. While sesshins were held only once each month (with the exception of August and February) at the Kyoto Antaiji, at the "new" Kutoyama Antaiji sesshins are held twice each month (one five days and one three days long), except for August, when there is no sesshin, January, when there is only one three day sesshin, and December, when there is only one eight day sesshin. There are only few minor differences between the two schedules though: While all periods where 50 minutes long in Kyoto, the four periods at the beginning of each block (of two, five, five and two periods) of zazen were extended by ten minutes, while the three periods before each meal were reduced to 40 minutes. That means that we had 4 one-hour periods, 7 fifty-minute periods, and 3 forty-minute periods during the day. Now, three years ago I changed the sesshin schedule as follows:

Since 2002New Antaiji sesshin schedule
4:00Wake-up bell
4:01Zazen (1)
5:15Zazen (2)
6:15Zazen (3)
7:15Zazen (4)
8:15Zazen (5)
9:00Breakfast & Break
10:15Zazen (6)
11:15Zazen (7)
12:15Zazen (8)
13:15Zazen (9)
14:15Zazen (10)
15:00Dinner & Break
16:15Zazen (11)
17:15Zazen (12)
18:15Zazen (13)
19:15Zazen (14)
20:15Zazen (15)

There are only two meals now during sesshin, one extra period of zazen, but each period is only 45 minutes long (except for the first one in the morning). That means that we actually sit 20 minutes per day less on the cushion (690 minutes instead of 710), but have more kinhin (180 minutes instead of 100) and less time to rest. Also, we used to do 20 to 30 minutes of cleaning after lunch on the 3rd and 5th day, but there is no more cleaning during sesshin with the present schedule. Now, what were the reasons for this change?

Actually, there were a couple of reasons that led me to the decision to change the schedule, the most important ones had to do with the meals and with physical exhaustion. But let me continue about this next month.

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