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You wake me up, and I’ll wake you up!

May 7, 2012

by Stephen Damon

The Chinese symbol for zazen has two figures sitting. The literal meaning of “za,” according to Katagiri Roshi, is “two persons sitting in the universe.” He goes on to say that “you cannot sit alone, in your own egoistic, selfish territory.”  We need the help of others.

Whenever our sangha sits together, especially on a one-day sitting, I can feel the energy of the room inside my own body as deep compassion and I am filled with gratitude for all of our efforts. In a way, there is no inside or outside; there is just an ever- deepening silence that eradicates all boundaries of space and time—emptiness. When a person to my left or right moves and gasshos I feel that we are in this together and I gassho with deep respect and a feeling of friendship. It feels like we have an unwritten pact with each other: You wake me up and I’ll wake you up. I cannot imagine doing this difficult practice without the help of others. I am often inspired by a new person who is struggling with her first tentative efforts to sit still for forty minutes.

Help comes not only from the person sitting next to you, but also from everything around you—the entire universe is sitting with you. Katagiri continues: “You must open yourself and sit in the universe, with all sentient beings. That sitting is zen, tranquility. The universe, the earth, all beings and all circumstances are sitting with you.” In Zen we understand sangha to include not only all practitioners, but also all beings, mountains, rivers, rocks, and wild grasses—everything. To embrace all life as our own life, and not to see our life as separate, is to take refuge in sangha.

A useful metaphor for the Sangha is the Net of Indra from the Flower Garland Sutra, which describes a vast net that reaches infinitely in all directions. In the net are an infinite number of jewels. Each individual jewel reflects all of the other jewels, and the reflected jewels also reflect all of the other jewels. Each jewel is intimately interconnected with every other jewel throughout time and space. Everything contains everything else. At the same time, each individual knot is an individual person, altogether his or her own jewel, unlike any other.


From → Zen Buddhism

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