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Lions Roar : January 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2009 52 ists (and everyone else, for that matter) primarily as teaching op- portunities, in interviews he seldom talks about himself, preferring to keep the focus on Zen practice. None of this appears to concern him. He was firming up his teaching schedule for the rest of the year. “I have no plan [for retirement],” he tells me. “Of course, I have no plan, period. There is no word, ‘retirement,’ as far as I’m concerned.” Lately, though, he has been saying he will live to be 128. Sesshin, which in Japanese literally means, “gathering the mind,” is a staple of Zen practice. It is a physically and mentally demanding period of intense zazen (sitting Zen meditation) coupled with regular meetings with the teacher. Joshu Roshi continues to lead eighteen or more sesshins a year, a pace that challenges even his most dedicated students. “He has no dharma successor and he lives to teach,” says Seiju Bob Mammoser, the priest who was serving as the administrator for this sesshin. “It’s like if you have a child and you see he’s suf- fering because he’s caught on some foolish thing, and you want him to change. Roshi sees we’re suffering a lot, needlessly, and he’s trying to help us understand that.” AS WE ARRIVED for the Sunday-afternoon chanting session that would kick the sesshin off, I greeted old friends and introduced my- self to people I hadn’t met before. The setting was pure Southern California. The zendo was an eighty-year-old building modeled on a Spanish mission church, with whitewashed masonry walls and a high ceiling made of massive exposed wood beams. The sur- rounding streets were lined with stately hundred-foot palm trees, and a subtle floral fragrance wafted on the placid breeze. I’d never sat a sesshin at Rinzai-ji, but I knew more or less what to expect. We would rise at 3:00 a.m. for chanting, followed by four twenty-five-minute periods of zazen as students went one by one to sanzen, a private interview with the teacher. After a formal breakfast, Roshi would deliver an hour-long teisho, fol- lowed by more zazen and sanzen. Another round of chanting, zazen, and sanzen would follow in the afternoon and again in the evening before we retired, sometime after 9:00 p.m. We would do this for seven days in a row, not speaking the entire time. Although he is well south of five feet tall and only appears in pub- lic once a day for teisho, everyone always feels Roshi’s indomitable presence during sesshin. Photos from when he first came to the States portray a powerful bulldog of a man, and the tales of his fierceness back then are legion. He’s much gentler now that he must conserve his energy, but his determination to practice with every ounce of his remaining strength inspires great devotion among his students. A longtime student of Joshu Sasaki Roshi, MICHAEL HAEDERLE is a lay monk living in New Mexico. He has contributed to Time, People, Tr i - cycle, Discovery Channel Magazine, and other publications.