In this guest column, Joyce Schachter reflects on the Jewish Buddhist retreat she organized, November 1 to 4, in Aylmer. I awoke to morning bells chiming outside my room, rolled out of bed, dived into yogic sun salutations and shuffled to the 6:45 am meditation at the recent Jewish Buddhist Retreat in Aylmer, Québec. Thirty-five of us, of various denominations and affiliations, from 27 to 90, and from various locales, converged on La Maison Bruyère to contemplate Jewish and Buddhist practices on gratitude. Jews and Buddhists, both and neither, engaged in a supportive, inclusive, safe environment. On zafus and zabatons, benches or chairs, our main hall became the heart centre for a rich weekend of study, prayer, chanting, meditation, silence, discussions, and chevruta/dharma buddy exercises.
How much of what goes on in our lives is simple maintenance, the doing of routine tasks that could both be delayed and that once done will just need redoing? We wash the dishes or do the laundry with no hope that there will ever be an end to it. We know the job will never really be done. That's why we call them chores.
Life and death are of supreme importance / Time passes swiftly, and opportunity is lost / Let us awaken, AWAKEN! / (Do not squander your life). With that chant we end every Tuesday's talk. Although those words often strike me near the heart, never have they stung quite like they did on the evening of September 24th.
Till now when I asked myself about why I sit, my heartfelt reply is that it is a means to become enlightened. (Dogen's observation that we sit because we are enlightened is beyond me, at present.) Now, I know that I sit because it is also a political act, fully consistent with following the bodhisattva way. One of the core ideas about suffering is that it is universal. In that we are all aligned. Once that alignment becomes fully embodied in our practice, sitting becomes political, if we connect the insights that arise in zazen with actions taken off the cushion.