Every year when December approaches, monks everywhere tremble in anticipation of the arrival of the rohatsu sesshin (intensive meditation retreat). In zendos everywhere, people intensify their training energy in preparation for this sesshin held from the first to the eighth of December. The rohatsu sesshin is the consummation of a year's training, a time when everyone faces the final reckoning of a year of practice.
- from Morning Dewdrops of the Mind: Teachings of a Contemporary Zen Master
Rohatsu started last night, December 1, at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center. Since it was a Monday night, the usual evening for my service, I got to perform the doan role (time-keeping and chant leader) for the night. In other words, except for the following two distinguishing features, it was a typical Monday night.
First, we had about 18 people show up, far more than the usual 5 to 8 that we get on most Monday nights. Sensei was there, as well as three first-timers, a couple of members from our affiliate centers in Nashville and Chattanooga, two of the Monday-night regulars, and a good cross-section of the Atlanta sangha.
Second, we sat for three, rather than the usual two, 30-minute periods, including five minutes of kinhin (walking meditation) in the intervals. That may not sound like much more than the usual schedule and it isn't, but consider this: the first night's sitting is just a prelude to the main event. The only reason we start in the evening is so that everyone will be present first thing the following morning, today, and we can start at 6 am and continue all day through 9 pm. A typical day will consist of three 30-minute and four 45-minute meditation periods before the noon meal, followed by three 60-minute periods and a dharma talk in the afternoon, and three more 30-minute periods in the evening. And all of this culminates in an all-night sitting from 7:30 pm until 6:00 am on the last (Saturday) night.
The point of all this is that I'm not there. It's not that I'm not up for the intensive meditation, it's just that having taken time off of work last week, I have too much to do to take more time off this week. However, I will try to participate in some of the retreat, particularly this weekend, possibly even the all-nighter.
Also, being the good bodhisattva, I am helping to facilitate others to be at the retreat. Tomorrow night, Wednesday, I will open and lead the Kennesaw Zen group in their weekly service, so that the group's founder can attend the rohatsu retreat - giving up my opportunity for enlightenment so that others can enter into nirvana before me.
I also encourage you to attend rohatsu. What with a State unemployment rate of 7% and a national rate of 6.5%, the chance are good that at least some of you reading this have nothing else to do over the next couple of days. The Georgia run-off election's finally over and there are no more campaign rallies to attend, so come on over to the Zen Center and sit in on some of the retreat.
Enlightenment is guaranteed.