Thousands of miles away, a bat had a chance encounter with a pangolin and now residents of Indiana are sheltered in their homes.
This pandemic is a tragic reminder of the deep web of interrelations that form our reality and how inseverable our situation is from the causes and conditions that create it. The current crisis invites us to reflect on our Zen practice and consider the ways in which our distancing efforts need not separate ourselves from the suffering that pervades the interconnected world we inhabit. In this spirit, I was
inspired to convert my 150 square foot guest room into a makeshift zendo to prepare for a two-day sit in the style of sesshin practice cultivated by Kosho Uchiyama Roshi.
Following a 6am to 9pm schedule, I participated in twelve 50-minute periods of zazen (with ten minutes of kinhin in between each period) with one-hour breaks for meals. While the practice was solitary, I was not alone. Several acts of kindness conditioned my practice.
- Hoko and the folks at Sanshin developed a web page where sangha members could share resources for maintaining our Zen practice at home. Hoko shared her experiences with intensive home practice and offered encouragement.
- My wife supported my shikantaza by preparing meals according to a set schedule. She did this even while she was struggling with the news that an ailing colleague of hers had just contracted the virus at the hospital.
- My supervisor and work colleagues encouraged my inclination to set aside my responsibilities for a time and commit myself to zazen.
Myriad other actors who I have never met provided invaluable gifts to support my zazen practice. These include the people who grew and sold the food I ate, supplied the heat that warmed my home, and tended to the water supply that kept me hydrated. These people are essential to our well-being, regardless of the public health situation. Okumura Roshi reminds us that “we must appreciate that we can practice as a result of such interconnectedness” (Realizing Genjokoan).
Anyone inspired to engage in in intensive practice at home may expect some similar experiences as practice in a zendo -- hours facing a wall wading through passing thoughts, desires, and emotions with an acute awareness of boredom and backache. Practicing during pandemic may give rise to feelings of
frustration and sorrow sewn into storehouse consciousness. A solitary practice may not capture the intimacy of a communal sit. But a supportive community can enrich our mutual connections whether we sit solo or with a sangha. In the interdependent fabric of our reality, we never practice alone.