A little over a week ago, I returned home from Rohatsu.
Many people sent me away with wishes of peace and happiness. It makes sense that folks equated an 8-day and 7-night meditation journey as a “retreat” where one might experience peace and relaxation because our culture has appropriated mindfulness as a tool for personal comfort and gain, divorcing it from the tradition from which it arose.
So, let me be frank—I didn’t enjoy Rohatsu at all. But going was the best decision I’ve made all year.
During Rohatsu, we celebrate Buddha’s spiritual re-birth via his enlightenment. He sat under the Pepal tree for 8 -day and 7-nights contemplating the nature of all things. When he arose, he’d realized the 4 Noble Truths, all of which are about the truth of suffering (the reality, cause, the end, and the solution).
But birth is never a pleasant experience. I don’t imagine that a person enjoys pushing something the size of a medicine ball from their womb through a very narrow canal. But, when it’s over, and if things end well, then that mother gets to hold the flesh of their labor. I imagine that for many mothers that moment is joyous and celebratory because it’s a momentous occasion.
During Buddha’s spiritual re-birth, he was probably cold, hungry, tired, aching from sitting, annoyed by the bugs, thirsty—you name it. Still, he sat there, weathering the storms within and without. It wasn’t an enjoyable process, but there was joy and celebration because it was a momentous occasion.
We sit in honor of Buddha in the temple’s womb for 17-hours a day, eating and sleeping less than we are accustomed. The body aches. We often feel cold and tired. But, like Buddha, we sit and weather the storms within and without. Then, each night we exit the narrow canal of the temple’s door. And we wake up the next morning to do it again, and again.
It’s not an enjoyable process, but we do this in joy and celebration to honor the momentous occasion that took place 2,586 years ago.
When I take to the mat to sit, it's never out of joy. It's out of moral and spiritual necessity.
Sitting with my suffering gives me the spiritual strength to witness and sit with the suffering of all beings.