In traditional Zen practice, there are ways, there are techniques that are used which assist us in more clearly, more crisply, coming into contact with the content of our mind. When I talk about a monastic schedule one of the first observations is: how do you cope with such a little amount of sleep? Really this is part of the point. When we are strong, when we have a lot of energy, when we are getting a lot of sleep, we have a great deal of energy for defending ourselves, for putting up barriers. When things irritate us, we can hide it, we can mask it, we can get away from it. But as the sleep starts to dwindle, we can find that things aren’t so easy to mask. We haven’t got the energy to put on a happy face. We start to get a little bit cranky. I think that anybody who’s had a child experiences this reality of sleep deprivation. I don’t think there’s any more honest time in a relationship than in the first six months or a year of having a baby: "I haven’t got time to put varnish on this; I haven’t got energy to keep up the smile." Who we truly are starts to spill out. And it becomes readily apparent to ourselves and to those around us. It’s a difficult, difficult time of life.
In many ways for me a fever is very much like this. The energy to keep what’s uncomfortable at bay dissolves, and we find ourselves left in all that is uncomfortable. In a fever we have vivid dreams, visions. We experience emotions, physical sensations that in our day-to-day lives we can tend to just hold back, keep away from. So I’ve always found fevers to be quite a wonderful way to gain insight into how we’re doing in practice. A person who is at peace, at ease when they’re deprived of sleep, a person who is at ease in the depth of a fever, is a true practitioner.
I guess on this theme, I was feeling a little bit low energy today. I’m just starting to recover and I was buoyed, really uplifted, by seeing an old friend come in the door tonight, someone I haven’t seen for quite some time. Even more so I was buoyed by the news that this man is going to become a father. I think that the last time I was speaking to him, there was some talk about this taking place, this was a while ago, and I told him at that time that I thought he’d make a wonderful father.
As we were sitting just before the formal sit began, I was just reflecting on my own experience of having children, and really just wanted to acknowledge that for all of the happiness that’s expressed, my experience of becoming a father at the beginning before having a child, was terrifying. I don’t know if there was anything on earth that I wanted to do less than have a child.
It became a real problem for me in my marriage. My wife began talking to me saying, "the reason I married you was to have children. If we weren’t going to have children, why would we get married?" I was a young Zen monk and for me the idea of having children seemed to run very counter to my idea of practice. I saw it as an obstruction to practice. It was an obstruction to the development of a community.
Shortly thereafter, I remember very clearly going down to train with my teacher, Sasaki Roshi, and it seemed like the whole sesshin, the whole retreat, was pointed directly at me. The whole time he was talking about having children. I remember very clearly one talk that he gave in which he said: "I don’t really understand why so many young people come here to get sore backs, and sore knees, to eat this second rate food and to sit all day in this hot, hot climate, all so that they might gain some glimpse, some basic understanding, of this teaching of compassion. It’s far easier to have a child. In looking into your child’s eyes, immediately you realize self as other, other as self." By the end of the week I felt like I had been beaten. I came back to
The experience of having a child led me to other experiences - some of the darkest times of my life, in fact, after having a child, now I don’t want to scare anybody… The loneliness of a husband immediately after the family grows, I’ve never experienced anything like it.
Child completely focused on mother, mother completely focused on child, for me, was a very difficult time. But it opened an opportunity for me to truly look at myself, to look at what I was doing, to look at this activity of father and to finally come to acceptance, acceptance of interconnectedness, acceptance of responsibility.
To truly grasp the role of father is to understand that all things in this vast universe are one. All things in this vast universe are nothing other than our family. And in our family, and in this universe, we have a responsibility. We can try to be all things: mother, father. But in the end, we have to receive, we have to accept that which is our role in any given situation. We have to take up that responsibility, we have to take up that courage, to meet this moment as it is without distinction, without picking and choosing, without coming up with some idea about what’s right or what’s wrong, but letting go of our sense of separate self, manifesting clearly and appropriately in this moment, just as it is.
My teacher used to say one of the most important koans, one of the most important things to investig ate, is this simple fact that a child is not born alone. At the moment of birth, child is born, mother is born, and father is born. Before there is a child, there is no mother, there is no father. Simultaneously these three come into existence, interdependent. What was before, ceases. So the koan for each of us (particularly for you, Phil) is: how do I manifest father?
In each and every moment that arises we have to understand that our relationship with things exists. We are not born in isolation. In Buddhism there is a principle called pratityasamutpada, co-dependent origination. And the principle is very simple: all things in this universe are made up entirely of non-self things. We are dependent on everything else for our definition. I am so-and-so’s son, so-and-so’s father, the monk at so-and-so, so-and-so’s student. In fact one koan is: without depending, without referring, without relying on any other thing, who am I?
Investigate this in your practice. Coming to understand this situation, this teaching of pratityasamutpada, co-dependent origination, will change the way that you relate to this universe, change the way that you make relationship with people, with your environment, with objects. It’s not something that you can grasp in your head. This life that we have is an opportunity to investigate, to investigate this universe and its activity. So please, as we say traditionally in Zen, don’t waste time.