Invitation to Sesshin
A Dharma Talk by Kongo Langlois, Roshi given on February 18, 1996
I think all of us are familiar with the old saying that we are our own worst enemy. "You know Joe he's his own worst enemy." "You know Jane she's her own worst enemy." We look in the mirror and we all see our own worst enemy. What does this mean? What does it really mean? Your own worst enemy? Your opponent, that which works against that which is naturally best for you?
We talk a lot about ego. One's self, what determines what ones self is? What is best for one's self? Why are we here, why are we sitting? Do we sit sufficiently at home to gain insight into deeper layers of this own worst enemy? We can be our own best friends. It works both ways. In this materialistic world that we live in, we really work against our selves much too much of the time. It's sad and it's too bad because life is really short. It isn't a matter of length whether it is long or short. It is a matter of quality. Don't lose sight of why we are doing what we are doing this morning, right here right now. Zazen should be seen as a process of sweeping obstructions, clearing the path then getting the hell out of your own way.
But no, we just can't resist manipulating with our grubby little paws. We really know, after all what's best for ourselves. Who better to know?' But who is the self that we are trusting to know when we are so busy grubbing about? So busy manipulating ourselves, our lives, thinking that we are when in actuality karma is already dictating. Cause and effect resonates, cause and effect echoes and echoes. You can't get away from yourself. By your very action, you are already setting yourself up for whatever, downfall uplift. It doesn't matter -it isn't that singular a matter of cause, effect, cause, effect.
Throw a rock and it's going to hit a window. Ah, it may just happen to bounce off a brick, hit the top of car, roll onto the windshield and go through. God knows, nobody else does but we think we do. You sit zazen and you begin to trust. You begin to trust in things. You must sit and you must at the same time in every day life act willfully but with wisdom behind that will. This only comes about when the path is cleared of obstructions. Sweeping obstructions in front of you aside so that you're best able to act in your behalf, in your friends and loved ones behalf, in behalf of all beings on this planet.
How sad it is when you consider the condition of this frail human being and how we go through life in a smug way. We love slithering about, just once we can do it after all, we can make it happen this way. Ah, yeah. Win a few, lose a few? Sometimes win a few lose a great deal. Watch out for that short-term gain. Life is very rich but only if you allow it to be. Only if you know how, and then proceed to get out of your way. Life is rolling on perpetually. Life is rolling on constantly. This is karma. If you look mentally over your shoulder, you will see karma in action. How you are, how you came to be where you are now and how where you are now will determine where you will be. No, it's not the quantity; it's the quality. Quality can only be cultivated if you cultivate yourself.
Let’s not be so prone, so eager to speak of higher plains of existence, higher selves and all this nonsense. We are really very not childlike but childish in many respects. I am handed books constantly; I am being turned on by the latest piece of wisdom between covers. There are some sad things going on. Let's develop, let us be self-cultivators and develop an innate internal wisdom that can only come about through such a practice as this, which is non-conceptual. Zazen is some kind of a strange, wonderful, beautiful, magnificent and elusive mirror. If you close your mind's eye you won't see it, sure you can get away with it as far as that goes. Indeed if you are standing before mirror and close your eyes, that doesn't mean that the reflection is not there. Look, see, learn from faults, learn from mistakes. This cultivates wisdom. Wisdom is the ability to say "I've been there before, I don't want to be there again." Back up or side step. A lot of small steps being tossed around here this morning. A lot of small points like pearls on a string. One pearl okay, a lovely string of pearls beautiful. These points pertain not to me only; these points pertain to every single one of us as members of the same species. Work hard in zazen. Don't work for a goal. I've been in the Zen business so long now that it's become most interesting to see sadly, some people grow old sadly, and how wonderful to see a few grow older and richer. Not monetarily, a real live human being is born. All life is a constantly on-going rebirth. As corny a line as it sounds it's true, like it or not it's true: You sit, "you pays your money and you gets what you pays for." Be honest, be hard with yourself in a good sense. Work hard in Zazen, don't worry about what you're going to get, what you’re not going to get. Life out here in the world is very demanding, are we ready to be buffeted? Well we can make ourselves ready. This is a daily on-going task, sit and sitting grows deeper, sit and sitting grows richer, broader.
On this point of depth, we all are so concerned with deep, profound, we all wish to be deeper. I've only recently, in the latter part of my life (to this point anyway), realized the other side of the coin so to speak, that breadth is at least as important as depth. Like dropping a stone in a pond, the ripples, the breadth of life that extends laterally. This takes work. I feel like I 'm robbing your time talking and in some ways I am. At the same time I understand what I 'm saying, what value if I can't share it with you. Work people, don't play with yourselves. You did that when you were little kids, we all played with ourselves. Stop the game, enhance your life, enrich your life. Cultivate this human being we call self. Zazen is not just on the cushion. It is the ability to observe almost as observing another being. Observe yourself in daily life. When we catch ourselves, let's not scheme. Let's draw back on the slithering that we do so well, that has in a way cultivated us to too great an extent. The doers, the shakers, the manipulators. Oh come on; we're all going to die. Look and see, it's all there within you. I only know what I know from inside. Yes I've had teachers, but we all must find that teacher inside, that guru, that Zen master within us. That's the truest. Keep that dust free and all else will become clear. And anyway, the way of the manipulator, the schemer, the slitherer is hard. It's hard work, it's taxing and inevitably we are left lesser being, emptier beings.
Beginning November 1st, Thursday continuing through Sunday, we will be having a Sesshin. You can't afford the time? Can you afford not to, though? Every one of us owes it to ourselves and to those close to us at least, so that we are less miserable SOBs, to take that time, sacrifice that day's pay and come and sit. Easy, difficult -this is irrelevant. We make it possible, so take advantage of it. For three days, we have the opportunity to practice zazen, in a quiet atmosphere and fortify ourselves. Please consider this for your benefit. Thank you.