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Lions Roar : July 2016
right? Is this ridiculous, sweeping hourly during a windy snow- fall? Am I just looking for something to do, a relief from the unrelenting sameness of the days? Am I overeager in my desire to please, to be seen as a “good yogi”? I continue sweeping. Cassandra has descended out of the ether to deliver an unsought prophecy: Sisyphus. The word swirls around my mind, taking on deeper resonances with each spin. It rises to the status of a pronouncement, then drifts beyond sweeping snow: What am I doing here at all? What’s the point? Subjecting myself to months of silence and renunciation, willingly abdicating the many small freedoms and luxuries of daily life—to what end? This is my sixth intensive retreat in as many years. When not on retreat, I meditate every day. Why bother? Here are some stories I tell myself about why I study Bud- dhism and practice meditation: to quiet the mind so I may glimpse deeper “truth”; to overcome long-ingrained habits of judgment, selfishness, and fear; to heal my hard-heartedness in the remote hope that I may become “buddha”—or even a tiny bit more buddha-like, buddha-esque, or buddha-ish. Is all this crazy, unreachable, Sisyphean? Am I actually on retreat to hide from life? Am I just taking a pleasant vacation deceptively decked out in a spiritual wrapper? I continue sweeping the snow. The storm does not abate, outside or within. Maybe she’s right. Maybe I am Sisyphus, and so is everyone here. What better metaphor for the absurdity of life in a universe that defies, even mocks, meaning? Maybe Sisy- phus, as a broad encapsulation, is the best map available for the futility of human existence. But maybe, just maybe, it’s not. Maybe I’m not Sisyphus but Siddhartha. The central tenet of Buddhism is that the Buddha was not a god, not a son of God, but an ordinary human. He was a guy who saw through the deceptive veils of ignorance that keep us imprisoned in dissatisfaction or asleep in narcotized pleasure. Siddhartha Gautama was no different than any other person. Perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles may, just may, pay off. The rock doesn’t always slide back down the cliff. If even one person can awaken, it can be done. Sisyphus or Siddhartha? Is trying to transcend the absurdity of our lot folly? Or is Siddhartha’s the truer promise—that within each of us resides the antidote to the human toxins that exact so much suffering in ourselves and the world? Can I, through patience and diligence, or maybe, if I’m lucky, just through grace, uncover the state of pure, joyous freedom that Buddhism teaches is humanity’s ultimate birthright? Shortly after lunch, the snow stops. By mid-afternoon the sun is shining. For today at least, it’s Siddhartha 1, Sisyphus 0. ♦ Photos: Mountains by Shundo David Haye, Creek by Margo Moritz SUMMER 2016 GUEST SEASON April 28 – September 11 Deep in the coastal Califor nia mountains, you will findTassajara. Please come and enjoy our Japanese- style hot-spring baths, gour met vegetar ian food, hiking trails, as well as yoga, qigong, calligraphy, cooking, poetry, meditation, and more. sfzc.org/zmcguest LION’S ROAR | JULY 2016 28 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE