The 2006 Zazen Retreat in Shizuoka, Japan is over and done with. So here I am at work making an ad for our company’s booth at this year’s MIPCOM television and film market. The deadline is like three weeks ago and here I am blogging away. Gotta make this quick.
The retreat went OK. No big incidents. A very nice group, a few of whom (who?) travelled long distances just to be there. Our final lecture of the retreat is always a chnace for each participant to say what he or she thought of the thing. This time arround the majority view seemed to be that the retreat was too easy. Although there were a few dissenters who thought it was pretty tough. If you want to see the schedule for yourself, click on the word “link” at the bottom of this article or on the title of the article.
When I first started going to these retreats, that schedule seemed damned intense to me. These days, I think it’s just fine. Not too little not too much. I am well aware that there are a great many retreats whose schedule is a lot more rigorous. But that’s too easy for me. I prefer a tougher approach.
What’s that, you say? How can a retreat with fewer Zazen periods and more free time be tougher than a retreat where you’re forced to sit from sunrise to sunset with barely a break to pee, where half the people choose to sit all night long rather than take advantage of the three hours alotted for sleep? It’s tougher because a schedule like we have forces the participants to make of the retreat what they make of it. Nothing is done for you. If you don’t bring any intensity to the retreat yourself, none is there for you to take free of charge. If the retreat is too easy, maybe you’re taking it too lightly. And perhaps that’s why it was so intense for me the first few times, because I just threw myself into it completely. GWWWWAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!
The other reason for the schedule being as it is and not more strenuous is because it was designed by Master Kodo Sawaki and reflects his view of Zazen as something normal, to be done as part of a person’s regular every day life, rather than a view of a Zazen retreat as some special event designed to supercharge your spiritual power. It’s true that going to a more strenuous retreat can often have the effect of making you feel like a spiritual superhero afterwards, your head buzzing with lovely Emptiness. But that’s just the thing we’re trying to avoid.
It’s good to appreciate silence and calm, it’s good to face yourself for a few days without interuption. I highly recommend attending at least one retreat a year. But if the attitude you find in the retreat can’t be carried over into your day to day life, what good is it? Or if a Zazen retreat produces a kind of spiritual high that makes you want to stay in the twilight zone for ever and ever amen, what good is that?
A zazen retreat ought to be a little bit special, but not too special. And — hey — if there’s too much free time, you can do what I did when I first started attending and spend your breaks in the zendo.