The Unknowable

By Myokaku Jane Schneider during BMZC Sesshin on May 23th, 2020 –

Sitting sesshin in the midst of everyday life conditions will bring a new perspective on your life if you can stick it out. Someone said, “If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.” That’s surely a difficult way to test your understanding of reality, not that they’re difficult but that our expectations are difficult. And that’s what most of us will experience in this time. Mostly it’ll just be pins to our ego balloons for the duration, but when finished, if we can hang in there and really be present, we’ll have a new perspective on ourselves and our place in the world. Even if we live alone, expectations still rule, and body, speech and mind habits are a comfort to rest on, and hide in. Putting them aside for two days could be complicated and leave us feeling vulnerable.

Now you have a chance to put practice in the zendo and at home, together and see what you can do. It may not be as difficult as you think, because there’s a time limit of two days. In that time, whether it feels uncomfortable or not, at first, try to look on all present as buddhas, your home as a temple, your food as nourishment of the spirit as well as the body, and the trials of the pandemic as a sesshin of daily life. Look on the push and pull of situations as a way to develop skillful means for your own balance, as well as for the rest of the household. Call up the Precepts, the 6 Perfections, the Eightfold Path and the Four Cornerstones of Practice to guide you. Ration your speech and give your words carefully, so that information and entertainment take on new meaning as well. Put aside your struggle for personal control, and limit interior and exterior complaining, and rely on Big Mind, instead of self, to drive the course of two days. You might relax into the situation and trust the world more, that is, come to trust yourselves more. The outcome of such a plan would be to rest yourselves, unreservedly, upon your indescribable, great nature, like resting in a boat moving safely in unknown waters. You may learn a new perspective of reality. The two days of sesshin would become a short term intensive learning of entering into the ‘unknown’ within a ‘known’ situation.

Peter quoted something from Suzuki Roshi yesterday that was really interesting. Suzuki Roshi  said that ‘enlightenment was, “not about attaining something, but forgetting everything.” That could seem alarming to us until you relate it to something familiar. If you always see someone as a person you know and can predict, more or less, what they will say anddo, that person has a comforting aspect to be around, even when you don’t particularly like them. You can try to set ‘your own behavior in stone’  to compensate for it, but that will just freeze everything more. It’s even more difficult when love is in the picture. You really want to prevent change from disturbing your oasis. But here is where the most interesting part of practice happens.

If you take away the comforting aspect of a person or situation, and the ‘unknowable’ enters the relationship, it shows how little we’re in control in a big, empty world. When the ‘knowable’ disappears, we feel the wind of eternity blow through; we feel our mortality; our touchstone of reality disappears. But our version of reality as ‘knowable’ is a delusion and this is what we have to do to see reality clearly. We must learn to live with a touch of the ‘knowable,’ and a touch of the ‘unknowable.’ Your spouse is your spouse and not your spouse, your child and not your child, your house and not your house, your pet and not your pet, ’you’ and ‘not you.’

When the ‘unknowable’ happens,‘all possibilities’ blow through your being. That can’t happen when all the doors to experience are closed and locked. But when they’re open, you begin to experience all of yourself. You meet yourself as you don’t know ‘you’ and ‘you’ as you know yourself. When that begins to happen, you won’t need to lookat an incredible movie to experience ‘incredible,’ or do extraordinary things to experience ‘extraordinary.’

Practice in sesshin in a zendo is usually loud/noise-free, talk-free, interruption-free and the opportunity to be of benefit to everyone, whether in bowing, chanting, sitting, helping in the kitchen, sweeping outside, or in giving general support to everyone by following rules and encouraging silence and meditation. If someone is difficult, great effort is made by everyone to keep the balance, while protecting the person from our own demanding selves. That happens in a special situation of zendo practice. Can you do that in an ordinary, familiar situation? Can you forget that you know the person, the place and the usual situation and, instead, meet that person in a new, unknowable place and create a new response? Can you remake yourself on-the-spot, as it were? In times of difficulty, can you turn to the guides in this practice, like the Precepts, Perfections, Cornerstones or Eightfold Path, instead of the usual brooding, questioning and clinging to past behavior as your guides? The practice guides are there to help us to travel through the ‘unknowable’ safely.

You want to be happy, and I hope that you find happiness in your lives. But aside from happiness in daily life, a bigger goal would be to look for what sustains us in our quest for freedom from self, which is the sustaining power of joy. Happiness springs from our usual understanding, from our self-nature and opens nothing new, except more ‘knowable.’ Joy springs from the ‘unknowable’ and opens many doors to new understandings of the world and us. If you want to continue the round of birth and death, of limited expectation and activity, then ‘happiness as a goal’ is for you. But if you want to know yourself as the ‘unknowable’ and ‘move in mysterious ways,’ freed from the tyranny of self, then cultivate the ‘unknowable.’ Look past the ‘knowable’ and put aside ‘comfortable’ for these two days and reach into the ‘unknowable’ of the interior and exterior. Unlock the doors and let the ‘indescribable’ into your lives. For a sustained practice of two days, you can do it. We all can.

Sit quietly for yourself; sit for the world. Maintain balance where you are, inside and outside, for yourself and for the world. Dedicate your efforts to the healing of the world. The very healing energy that you bring up from pure intention heals you as well. Keep in mind this sesshin to bow for the world, chant for the world, eat for the world, bathe for the world and relate to everyone as you would wish to have in the world. For two days let’s make a peaceful world in our households that we would like to see everywhere. Let’s dedicate this sesshin to everyone, everywhere.

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