Robert Aitken Roshi, one of the most influential and respected western teachers in the Zen tradition, has passed away. I have to confess that I’m not that familiar with his writings (so many books, so little time) but I’m glad that although the man is no longer with us, he leaves an extensive body of work. Here’s one example of his teaching that I came across.
Recently, an old-timer came to me and complained that he no longer felt enthusiasm for his practice. I questioned him and learned that he was limiting his zazen to his visits to the Zendo. I can understand how his enthusiasm might erode over a period of time when his zazen is limited to two sessions a week.
It is not merely enthusiasm that erodes when practice declines. Your body and mind go out of tune.You are no longer a vessel of insight. The cardinal can sing; the wind can move the ironwood trees delicately; a child can ask a wise question –and where is your center? How can you respond?
It is time to put yourself back in tune, to be ready for experiences that make life fulfilling. Take up the advice for beginners. Put your zazen pad somewhere between your bathroom and your kitchen. Sit down there in the morning after you use the bathroom and before you cook breakfast. You are sitting with everyone in the world. If you can sit only briefly, you will at least have settled your day.
No advice is easier to give than this, or harder to follow — for me too. The day stretches forth before me invitingly. Surely I can cut my zazen without harm, and get at the important stuff. One tiny decision leads to more tiny decisions, and the path is neglected.