I sat zazen in Japan this morning. For you handful of non-Buddhist out there, zazen is the Japanese word for Zen meditation, a practice that began in India a couple of millennia ago, traveled to China and came to Japan to develop into the form of Buddhism I’ve been practicing in one form or another for almost 40 years. So there was a satisfying kind of looped circle to be sitting half-lotus following my breath here in Yokohama and doing what I can to manifest my teacher’s question: “How can I disappear in love?”
My teacher is Joshu Sasaki Roshi, who left his monastery near Kyoto when he was my age—61— to travel to a new country whose language he didn’t speak (and still doesn’t) to help water the seed of Buddhism in Los Angeles, California. His first Zen meditation hall was in someone’s garage with a handful of students and five or so years later, they bought an old Boy Scout Camp atop Mt. Baldy overlooking Claremont, the place I went when I did my first Zen retreat in 1973. It’s still going on, with satellite centers in L.A., New Mexico, Sonoma County and other places. Up until recently when he was taken ill, the Roshi was still teaching—at 105 years old!
“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” There’s another kind of Zen question and mirrors aside, I feel healthier, more fit and more accomplished than I ever have before, truly at the top of my game when it comes to Orff workshops (and also jazz piano). But more times than is healthy for me, I find myself counting the years left of doing this work and don’t like the math. I don’t know any Orff teachers in their 80’s still teaching workshops and summer courses, only a handful in their 70’s, perhaps ten to twenty in their 60’s. If I think I just have ten or fifteen years left to live this kind of life, it feels too short. When I accept work for 2014, I start calculating my age. Aargh!
But if I think of my Roshi, I feel a lot better. Following his model, I have 44 more years of chanting “Criss cross applesauce” with grown adults, bringing the room alive with motion with some hot Steppin’ body percussion patterns or bringing it to a hush with “Rain Rain Go Away” sung and played on Orff instruments. That feels better.
And so after a hearty zazen, I pack up my recorder and set off for the first day of the rest of my life giving Orff workshops, taking the next step in my own strange path to disappearing in love.