What are we endeavoring to accomplish during these six weeks of concentrated and peaceful abiding? A student asked Suzuki Roshi what he meant by a non-gaining mind, to which he replied, “You are perfect just the way you are, and you also could use some improvement.” Practice is focused more on what we don’t need than on what we think we need or what we are told we need or want. There may be some value to self-improvement, but our true Self is not subject to gain or loss or improvement. Practice period is a time to set aside as best we can our “needy side” and to “settle the self on the Self,” taking off the cover and allowing our Big Self to breathe easy. It is a peaceful and harmonious abiding for six weeks and a renewal of our practice intention, setting a tone for the rest of the year.
The practice period has some minimum requirements, but within these requirements each person can create his or her own schedule. This is the nature of lay practice. Some will be able to do only the minimum, while others may have the opportunity to extend or stretch themselves much more. Find the right rhythm for this period of time and make adjustments as appropriate. Be mindful of your obligations while honoring your practice commitments and balancing and integrating zazen with your daily activities. This means creating a reasonable schedule without cherry-picking based on personal preference or convenience. This helps to create an edge: something to push against but not so much as to be discouraging. Give yourself space by letting go of some minor activities. It may not be possible to add more zazen to a busy schedule, but if you can, all the better. It is important to pay attention to your home and work practice and to ask for your family’s support.
It should also be clearly understood that in no way is any sangha member required to participate, nor is there any pressure to do so. You should all feel free to continue to come to BZC as usual and to attend any of the classes and talks and other events even if you have not committed to taking part in the practice period. We will all still be practicing together.
Here are some practices you can do at any time as the occasion arises:
- Patience: Find your center and settle on the present moment.
- Complete one activity before going on to the next.
- Always be aware of being centered.
- Continuously return to abdominal breathing.
- Engage each activity wholeheartedly.
- Honor your intention.
- Choose one clear-mind precept to work with. (This is good for dokusan.)
- Be an example for harmony. Be aware of, and helpful to, others.
- Feel free to ask questions.
If we pay attention to the elements of this simple outline, we will be sure to have a successful and satisfying practice period.