Sunday, December 2nd, is the start of this years Rohatsu Sesshin (meditation retreat) at Hokyoji. As About.com states: Rohatsu is Japanese for “eighth day of the twelfth month.” December 8 has come to be the day Japanese Buddhists observe the enlightenment of the historical Buddha. Other Buddhist traditions commemorate this on different dates and Buddha’s Enlightenment is how it is commonly referred to.
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Enlightenment is a tricky term, it implies an enlightened state. This leads to a perception of Siddhartha Gautama sitting under the Bodhi tree and reaching a permanent state, free of all attachments; in the words of the Heart Sutra: complete, perfect enlightenment. We chant this at each morning service. But as beautiful as the Heart Sutra is, to me, “complete, perfect enlightenment” is a complete and perfectly idealistic concept, not something that I feel is relevant to this life I am living. And it is not the term commonly used in the early teachings of the Buddha. The term most commonly used in the early teachings is awakening.
Awakening is a term I can relate to, it’s a process and not a state. If “enlightening” was used instead of “enlightenment”, I would be comfortable with it. I don’t feel that I am fully “awake” to this life, but I am waking up to it little by little, in fits and starts, and that’s good enough. As they say in Twelve Step groups: progress, not perfection. Buddhist practice gives me the opportunity to pay deeper attention to this life, and when I do, I sometimes wake up to it a bit more.
Rohatsu Sesshin provides a period of intensive practice at waking up to our lives and the Buddha’s example reminds us that we too, as human beings, are capable of doing so.