The Bliss of Retreat Meets the Horror of the Hamas Assault

I also see that my father-in-law sent a text message mid-retreat saying, "Love, joy, and peace should be the mantra of the world, but it falls on deaf ears."

The Bliss of Retreat Meets the Horror of the Hamas Assault
Trumpeter swans who shared their retreat lake wit

We've been away for a nine-day personal retreat - a wonderful time at generous and loving family members' lake cabin - including lots of zazen and sunrise coffee on the dock with bald eagles, trumpeter swans, otters, muskrats, and other like-minded creatures.

When on personal retreat, I stay offline completely, so it wasn't until the retreat ended that I learned of the Hamas assault on Israel. Oh, such suffering! What we do to each other in the names of our gods and our causes and our groups!

The contrast between the bliss of retreat and the suffering of the world has never felt clearer to me. And I feel a powerful sense of privilege - "extraordinary good karma" as we've been saying lately on the Vine of Obstacles - at having had the incredible opportunity to receive practice instructions from my teachers (Katagiri Roshi, Tangen Harada Roshi, James Myoun Ford Roshi, and others) and a karmic inheritance which includes a stubborn and angry streak that has not only pushed me to apply the instructions they offered, but also got me through some really tough stretches of the road.

So although my first several years of Zen sesshin were often utter agony, now as I begin my forty-seventh year of practice, retreats are mostly in the bliss-equanimity spectrum. The difficulty in Zen practice, as one of my teachers (maybe Daido Loori Roshi?) used to say, truly is front-end loaded.

Coming out of retreat and dipping into some news of the world, I feel deeply impacted by this horror and the likely horror of what is to come. In my conditioned view, 9/11 led to disastrous decisions. May some in high-levels of power here, Israel and, well, everywhere have some wisdom - vengeance does not make for the best policy.

I also see that my father-in-law sent a text message mid-retreat saying, "Love, joy, and peace should be the mantra of the world, but it falls on deaf ears." Indeed. Except in those moments when it doesn't, when we do hear even just a little of the sweet mantra that all beings are always reciting, millions of billions of times.

So in that spirit, I'll do what I can be make a difference, to do my lamebrained best to pay back my debt of gratitude to all my teachers. This week I'll be offering a few posts for you and anybody listening, including another in my series on the "Ten Line Life-Prolonging Kannon Sutra" and the practice of Great Compassion - see way below for links to the other posts in this series.

I'll also be posting "Linji's Great Satori and All-Encompassing Awe-Inspiring Great Function: Dharma Talk and Text," following up on a talk I gave for Rocks and Clouds Zendo last month. This post will include a recording of the talk as well as my new translation of The Record of Going Easy, "Case 86: Linji's Great Satori."

While the above posts will open for everyone (for a while), you are most certainly encouraged to become a subscriber, either free and paid. Thank you!

One point about "Ten Line Kannon" practice, though - and I want to stress strongly - it is of a different kind than just more "thoughts and prayers." Instead, it is becoming the cries of the world, for example, of the innocents who were killed in the latest act of human-on-human brutality. Working with the "Ten Line" can be the basis of the action of Great Compassion, not a replacement or appeasement for those impulses to do something good in the world. It is the all-encompassing awe-inspiring great function that all the buddhas and ancestors implore us to discover and actualize.


And we don't have to begin with ending the conflicts in the Middle East. Just being more kind and upright with all those beings we meet in our daily lives (including our own afflictive states of mind) is a great place to begin again and again. And if you're looking for other concrete ways to put your aspirations into action, see Jessica Craven's Chop Wood Carry Water (mostly about climate chaos action steps).

Then, too, you can get on your zazen cushion and enter the merit stream of all the buddhas and ancestors, with the absorptions and profound, sudden, subtle insights that come through wholehearted practice. Stick with it for life after life. Awakenings happen suddenly, but the deep fruits of practice can take years to mature.

Oh, and do make a vow to pay it forward. Those helpless ones in the future, living in a world of hurt, are going to be looking for some radical relief. That's what dharma practice truly has to offer.

Here are the posts in “Ten Line Kannon Sutra Series” to date:

Practicing Great Compassion Through the Ten Line Kannon: How To Do It.

Confusing an Interpretation for the Real Thing: On What the Ten Line Kannon is Not

What is Namo Buddha? A Bolt of Lightning

A Sutra Found in a Dream: The Source of the Ten Line Kannon Sutra

The above posts are available now for subscribers, both free and paid.