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Lions Roar : January 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2009 55 doesn’t deny God, Roshi told us, but it doesn’t personify God the way other religions do. Like everything else, he said, even God must obey the law of impermanence and cannot be a fixed entity. Anicca, the Buddhist principle of impermanence, plays a key role in Joshu Roshi’s teaching, a model in which two equal and mutu- ally opposing activities endlessly meet and separate. The instant in which they unify is variously described as true love, equality, zero, or emptiness. It is the unification of subject and object. But when these two activities separate, the objective world—the world of self-and- other—appears. Joshu Roshi uses a variety of synonyms for these two opposing activities, referring to them as expansion and contrac- tion, plus and minus, mother and father, or male and female. Joshu Roshi calls his style of teaching Tathagata Zen, Tathagata being one of the names for the Buddha. While the teaching may sound abstract, Roshi wants his students to manifest it in their zazen and, whatever else it may be, it is a very sophisticated guide to meditation. An hour into teisho, the administrator rang a bell. We hadn’t heard much yet about Hyakujo or the fox. “I’m not feeling well,” Roshi said. “I feel a little woozy.” But later, after a period of hot, sleepy zazen, we found ourselves filing off to sanzen. ALREADY ON THIS FIRST DAY, some people were so sleepy they forgot to bow when entering the zendo, or they moved when they weren’t supposed to. Groggy myself, I would relax into my breathing, only to drift involuntarily into micro-sleep. Catching myself, I’d sit bolt upright and straighten my back. But the sleepi- ness returned and the cycle would repeat itself. A fresh breeze cooled things off in the evening, and as the sun faded, a police helicopter circled overhead and a passing ice cream truck played “Für Elise.” No gunfire, though. Soon enough we were back in our dorms. The next morning, one of the priests opened the first period of zazen by hitting the first six monks—including me—with the keisaku. Good morning! This is sometimes done to set a more rigorous, energetic tone in the zendo. I found the blows relaxed the tense muscles in my shoulders and upper back. Roshi talked in teisho about plus and minus, mother and fa- ther, birth and death, fluidly shifting from one to the next, and in sanzen he assigned me a new koan, which I would wrestle with for the remainder of the week. After breakfast, I noticed the kitchen staff had brewed coffee. A small blessing. Another ice cream truck came by after dinner, blaring a repetitive ditty. As it happened, we were doing a practice that involved walking slowly around the zendo, chanting one syllable from the Heart Sutra with each step. This wholehearted chanting in unison was creating a powerful sound that filled the zendo and drowned out the extrane- ous—random thoughts and ice cream trucks included. I WAS COPING with a familiar pain beneath my right shoulder blade, an ache that intensified until it felt like someone was twist- ing a knife in my back. I knew it was arising from mental tension