Treeleaf and time
6 November 2007 2 Comments
A member of my local sangha recently drew my attention to an online Zendo (I hesitate to use the word ‘virtual’, because it is very real) called ‘Treeleaf‘. It is led by Jundo Cohen, a Zen teacher in the Soto lineage of Masters Eihei Dogen and Gudo Wafu Nishijima.
The premise of the site is wonderful, and it is an example of how the Internet may be utilised positively. It is designed to cater to individuals who may not have a local sangha to sit with. Jundo Cohen, the teacher, puts up a daily video on his blog in which he leads a sitting via the camera. Each sitting is about 25 to 30 minutes long. He opens each sitting with a short introduction — nothing theological or ponderous or ‘deep’ — usually about some little observation or comment he’s made about a particular experience or issue. And then, he sounds the bell and just sits. At the end of the period, he sounds the bell again. That’s it.
Cohen has pledged to sit everyday online for 9 years! Why 9 years, I don’t really know, and haven’t thought to ask, but maybe I will. Or maybe it doesn’t matter. The fact is, he sits. Mostly he is at home. Sometimes his daughter comes into the room and passes in front of the camera. He sits even when he’s travelling — there is an instalment conducted in an airport lounge. At these occasions, he doesn’t ring a bell per se, but rather goes ‘ding, ding, ding’!
The point is simple. We can practise wherever we are. The point is to practise.
My friend sits with Cohen nearly everyday, even though we have a local sangha. She finds it useful as a focus for her daily practice. I, on the other hand, have been telling myself I should, but have been put off by the half hour long sessions. In this day and busy age, I tell myself, who has the time?, even though I know perfectly well that one ought to make the time for zazen, and that in making the time for zazen, time for other things begin to open up.
My own daily practice has been intermittent, but ongoing, usually no more than 10 minutes, before I tell myself that’s enough, and that it’s okay that that’s enough. The trouble with being non-judgemental is, it becomes such a convenient excuse for failure. I know, in Zen, success and failure are irrelevant, but there is nonetheless such a thing as laziness, even if one were loath to judge it as a failing.
Earlier this evening, while changing channels on the TV with nothing to watch, but yet unwilling to give up on it, it occurred to me that I should just turn it off. For the half an hour it takes me to scroll through the channels, I may as well sit with Jundo. So I did.
Sitting for half an hour with my local sangha is no problem at all — the group energy and discipline keep me rooted. Sitting for half an hour, by myself, ostensibly with an online teacher who cannot know whether I’m there or not, is a whole other matter. I found my mind searching for a million distractions: ‘The dishes are in the sink’, ‘I’ve an email to send to so-and-so’, and so on. Then I found my mind making excuses, ‘If I get up to do the dishes now, I could do them mindfully and it will be part of the practice.’ Ha, never let it be said that one virtue could not be excused by another.
I’m glad I sat through all the excuses and the discomfort though. I sat with the video Cohen made on Halloween night — dressed as a pirate. But before I pat myself on the back and make a new pledge to sit with him everyday, I’m going to stop, and let it happen when it does. Perhaps I might manage it a couple of times a week, perhaps more, we’ll see.
What I did realise, in writing this, that despite my protestations that I never have enough time, the truth is, time is always there to be had, if I learn not to keep trying to fill it with inconsequential thoughts and insubstantial things.