Aching-Legs Buddhism (comment on “The Dao Bums”)

Mt. Konocti in cloudsOn the subject of “aching-legs Buddhism”, I finally attended a five-day sesshin last fall, at Jikoji. I discovered that at least for the sesshin I attended, they were sitting mostly a 40-minute sitting followed by 30-minute sitting, throughout the day.

At one of the teas during the sesshin, I learned that the Los Angeles Zen Center sits 35 minutes (although they open their sesshins with a 50-minute sitting). Apparently the L. A. Zen Center teaches in a combination of the styles of Rinzai, Soto, and Sanbo Kyodan.

I offered at the tea that I understood Rinzai centers mostly sit for 25 minutes, and no one seemed to be able to confirm or deny that (I do have a friend who sits 25’s, and he says it’s the same effect by the end of the day).

I mentioned Shohaku Okumura and the 50-minute sitting they do at Antaiji–apparently they would sit fourteen 50-minute periods a day for a five-day sesshin every month?–and I was told Shohaku now sits in a chair, on account of his knees won’t go there anymore. I did see him sitting in a chair for lecture at Berkeley, and I wondered about that.

In the recently published “Embracing Mind”, Kobun Otogawa is quoted as saying he never had pain in the lotus (or just a trace, in his knees). In fact, he said he sat the lotus to stay out of pain.

I once heard Kobun say, “Take your time with the lotus”. I think what he meant by that was, take whatever time you need, but learn to sit the lotus without pain.

I was hoping to sit the whole sesshin at Jikoji in the lotus, alternating left and right, but I mostly ended up with the right leg on top (contrary to Dogen’s instructions in Fukanzazengi) and I almost never completed an entire 40 minute sitting that way. That surprised me, because I was sitting the lotus for 40 minutes at home.

I have to confess I had Kobun’s advice in the back of my mind, and sitting on into pain didn’t seem like the way to go (my apologies to my seatmates!). I guess I’ll continue to take my time with the lotus, and wait until I can sit a little longer before I return to Jikoji.

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