In this miniature, Robert Aitken describes a sesshin practice started by Gary Snyder at the Ring of Bones Zendo in the Sierra Foothills. This practice is described as hiking and camping in the wilderness with as little talk as possible with morning and evening dokusan held outdoors. Aitken seems to approve of this, which is surprising as he seem so disapproving of other nontraditional practices. He even says as much in the preface to this miniature.
"Zen in the West is faithful to its antecedents, or else it is faithless one way or another."
Yes this wilderness sesshin sounds wonderful. Yes it may in some small way replicate how some parts of our ancestors practiced. Yes this is yet one more adaptation to Zen as it migrates farther East.
My Dharma sister Pat and I have been having an on going conversation about shame and we'd like to hear from others. I'm afraid my bias will come out here. Pat feels differently about shame and its role than I do. Our discussions have been about exploration and not necessarily about convincing each other of the rightness of our perspective.
It all started with Susan Murphy and her book "Upside Down Zen". I quoted the section below - emphasis mine. It is on page 157.
"There is no curriculum for work on character except life, and no graduation from it except death. How we die is just the final articulation of our character spoken in the hearts of those we leave behind. The whole matter is properly a modest business. Good character is not expounded, it is merely lived. And shame, not praise, is its compass. Perfection of character is indeed a koan, like the bodhisattva vows -- we must resolve what it may be as moment by moment inquiry into who we really are, and what that wants of us."
Susan Murphy from "Upside Down Zen"
Shame to me seems like such a paleo-judao-christian concept that at first I was completely surprised in it appearance. Take out the "And shame, not praise, is its compass." and the quote above really moves me in my bones. So poignant, so eloquent.
Then Pat found another reference to shame in Albert Low's book "Hakuin on Kensho".
…if you want to see into this great matter, you must first generate great will, great faith, and great determination to see through the originally inherent, awakened nature.
Question like this, ponder like this-ultimately, what is it? If you keep on doubting continuously, with a bold spirit and a feeling of shame urging you on, your effort will naturally become unified and solid, turning into a single mass of doubt throughout heaven and earth. The spirit will feel suffocated, the mind distressed, like a bird in a cage, like a rat that has gone into a bamboo tube and cannot escape.
Albert Low's book "Hakuin on Kensho"
The quote above is Albert Low's translation of the historical text attributed to Hakuin. Low's commentary on the above section has more to say about shame.
A feeling of shame! It is not that we are ashamed because we can't resolve the question. If we really work at this question, eventually a sense of shame, of remorse, even a sense of unworthiness comes up. This recalls Nicodemus in the New Testament saying, "Lord, I am not worthy," or Buddha's calling upon the earth to bear witness to his worthiness. When it arises, we work with shame, with unworthiness. "Repent and be saved." Repentance arises when everything begins to return home, when everything comes together. The turnabout has already begun when repentance appears. Everything is becoming one. This is why humiliation is such an important aspect of work. Humiliation teaches us humility, and humility teaches us remorse.
Albert Low's book "Hakuin on Kensho"
I'm stuck. I really don't know. I'm confused. Shame, humiliation, unworthiness, "repent and be saved"; how are these any part of Zen practice? We are open to learning and seeing reality as it arises.
"To persevere and be open to change,
to have regular contact with sincere practitioners,
and to participate in dharma discussions -
this is the greatest happiness."
Discourse on Happiness - Mahamangala Sutta