Jenny Wunderly writes after the December Sesshin
Jenny's Precept Project
1 - Experience at Rohatsu
- sesshin at Green Gulch
2 - Sticking with It - on her work with Suzuki Roshi's use of the word precept(s) and cuke.com.
Two to go:
3. My favorite PRECEPT passages in a Nutshell, from all posts combined
4. My personal Precepts I wrote for my refuge ceremony (John Tarrant Roshi asks students to write precepts in their own words)
My experience at Rohatsu at Green Gulch Farm (Dec. 2-9, 2012)
It didn’t really dawn on me why I decided to sit Rohastu (seven day sesshin) at Green Gulch Farms until I heard Linda Ruth Cutts mention Suzuki Roshi in her first talk. I thought I was there to make up for missing sesshin at Pacific Zen Institute (PZI) in October. When I heard Suzuki Roshi’s name and teachings invoked in the Green Gulch zendo by Linda’s sweet but solid voice, I felt a sort of homecoming and deep relaxation. Having spent so many quiet hours reading his transcribed talks, I thought, “hey, I know this guy”. The under-five-foot man that I had trailed behind for the past year had come to life.
On December 4th, Green Gulch held a memorial service to commemorate his passing 41 years ago on the first morning of sesshin in 1971. Bowing to the floor of Cloud Hall, I joined the wave of monks’ robes that rippled all the way to the front where Suzuki’s shrine perches above.
Orienting myself in an unfamiliar place, settling down as a guest among year-round students, and taking in the beauty all around me, I was overwhelmed at first. Soon though, I picked up familiar threads from other sesshins in other places: busy thinking gradually quieting down, my inner world slowing down to the rhythm of the outer tasks at hand, unfolding Orioki cloths, laying spoon and chopsticks pointing right, then left.
I don’t find sesshin easy. There are the physical pains and the mental hijackings. Yet breakthroughs mysteriously appear. By day two, I was left without immediate neighbors on either side to my cushion, one having fallen ill and the other taking over a zendo function. Each time chanting started, I was lost, fumbling through the pages of the chant booklet, looking in vain for the right place. Eventually a student, sitting on the raised platform along the walls, would notice and glide down to rescue me. I thought of strategies to avoid feeling lost each time, but remembered Linda saying how strategies are of little use to avoid suffering. I had a sense that a strategy would rob me of an experience that wanted to come to awareness. Each time the fumbling in the dark repeated I felt a chiseling away on my inside, and gradually tears welled up closer and closer to the top. On the fifth day they spilled over, and I felt the pain of abandonment and struggle to survive at a young age. Each time help arrived, I felt the pain of not knowing how to let help in. As I sat with these feelings, cracks gradually appeared in the darkness and warm light flooded my face, dispersing old hopes and sorrows. I began to look forward to service, watching with curiosity.
The following evening, just before the end of the last sitting, Linda spoke into the night words that are part of a koan:
““Little Jade, little Jade,” she calls to her serving girl,
Not because she wants something,
But just so her lover will hear her voice."
From my koan study with Roshis John Tarrant and David Weinstein, I’ve learned that I don’t do koans; they do me. Openings never come from the place I am looking or expecting. The Little Jade words expressed my experience perfectly. I was the lover, the caller, and the serving girl. I called out for my place in the sutra book and the community, all the while holding the space for something deeper to open. I was the lover, witnessing the unraveling and feeling the kiss of grace on my salty cheek.
I was surprised and relieved to find that SR’s teaching of precepts went far beyond a list of prohibitions. After just two years of practice, my grasp of Zen was still limited. Spending a year with Suzuki Roshi’s talks on the precepts led me to feel increasingly grounded, whether sitting, walking, or living life.
Had I not decided to see the precept excerpt project to the end, I would have perhaps given up after the first weeks. Suzuki’s way of expressing things was difficult for me to follow. I had to slow down to sense the meaning behind the words, like one might with poetry.
Through this process I also came to appreciate David Chadwick’s work as archivist of Suzuki Roshi’s teaching. I saw why David has dedicated his life to making sure we have access to this amazing record. He constantly adds to and improves the archives. He also works on the human archive in ways that are invisible to many. He keeps up with sometimes sick or dying Suzuki students, retrieving new memories.
Not many know that David relies on people like you and me to support his work on Cuke.com. I used to take David’s generosity of spirit and tireless work for granted, not realizing that he lives on funds people donated to Cuke.com, and that his books haven’t supported him for a long time. Michael and I and a few others that are aware of David’s situation donate what they can. I am hoping that you have followed my thread and will also make a donation, big or small, to Cuke.com.
Thank you with all my heart,