This is another year Reb Anderson invited us to have a jam session with him at a Zen sesshin on the tiny island of Idöborg in Stockholm archipelago. I suspect Reb developed a strong bond with the island and the cold waters of the Baltic sea as he keeps returning to this place just as many of us do.
The little experience of sitting sesshins I have come from this environment, with this teacher and basically this gang so in a way it was like going home. Meeting some of the people at the boat terminal on our way to the island was like seeing old friends again – it felt as if we never parted. Apparently, nothing brings people closer than sitting, surviving the contents of one’s mind, and working, walking, eating and sharing living space in silence for about a week. Quite a few of the people have been to Green Gulch Farm where Reb’s been teaching and/or sat sesshins with him in other countries.
We have gathered here to practice being ourselves/realise enlightenment
The title for this sesshin was Being ready to be enlightened but once again the central message of Reb’s teaching evolved around compassion, the six bodhisattva virtues (giving, ethical study, patience, vigour, concentration and wisdom) and how by doing the six practices we are preparing for the enlightenment at as the same time as this is also what is going on in enlightenment. It has been my impression that with all this talk about emptiness and non-self in Zen traditions(s) it can be easy for a practitioner to get distanced from the matters of heart and compassion which seem to be paid much more attention to in Tibetan Buddhism. This is why hearing Reb talk about compassion resonated with me. Another thing that I appreciated was that he addressed the issue of enlightenment head-on (many teachers in Zen simply avoid talking about it) and dismantled the myth of Enlightenment as something mystical, out there.
Buddhist traditions are rich in practices aiming at cultivating compassion but I never really felt attracted to them. I believe compassion is something we all already have and is something to be actualized from moment to moment. This weaves into the teaching of Reb on the topic of enlightenment that I could summarize in just a few sentences. Enlightenment is not something we have to do or rather we don’t have to do anything special to become enlightened. Actually, just the other way round – we need to do less and be still to realise enlightenment. Enlightenment is nothing more and nothing less than realising who we already are by helping others. In the story Reb told us the student asked his teacher what (business) was going on underneath that patched robe (the pattern for the robe that Buddha’s followers have been wearing to this day was taken from the pattern of the paddy fields). “Intimacy”, answered the teacher. “Appropriate response”, was the answer of another teacher in yet another story with a similar question. For me both answers point in the same direction – the place of stillness, where I meet my authentic, deeper self, and from which the response arises without the involvement of the ego mind.
Reb defines intimacy as being devoted to others and oneself without being attached. In intimacy there is no here and there. It is marked by stillness. “Don’t move. Don’t move on before you meet. Stop and meet”. To be intimate, to be yourself, is to be still, be quiet. How can we be doing stuff and be still?
Picking violets by the side of the road,
I forgot my bowl.
How sad you must be, my poor little bowl!