Sharing the beginning of Zazen

First sesshin 1983. In the autumn I first joined ‘the Zen Buddhist society’ in Copenhagen Denmark and sat there with them for a couple of months, when I returned in the end of spring they where almost finished arranging the sesshin. I was in luck and was allow a place in it. We where 28 in total meeting up in a rather run down old school colony place, build in the forties. It was old wooden buildings all was brown, except the grey linoleum floors and the bright red plastic plates. There where one sleeping hall with bunker beds and a few rooms where the women and roshi slept. The sesshin was 3  whole days and the form was very different from today's sesshins, what mostly stood out was that we all went to the kitchen after eating and handed over our plates and spoon to the tenzo. One day I had been to greedy, so my plate still held two peanut butter sandwich that I did not had time to finish eating. Still recall the tenzos raised eyes brows at the sight of them on my plate. I felt so embarrassed.

Going to the sesshin was very exciting for me, I had long searched for a master and teacher. I did not know how to greet a master, so when I arrived and entered the room where everybody was standing around the roshi sitting in a chair, I knelt and put my head to the ground in front of the Roshi`s feet. (As I had seen in samurai movies) When the sesshin started Tim Taigu Pallis who was Jikijitsu held a little speech. His tone was hard and firm. It was very inspiring. ‘We sit like statues!’ he said and left no doubt that moving on the cushion was not an option. In the introduction letter we where asked to bring a cushion and I had no zafu, so I brought a flat red sofa cushion (25*25 cm) that I folded two times and sat on. Rather fast this very little cushion led to intense pain. I dared not move and all I got to handle it with was the breathing. Oooooooooonnnnneeee, Ooooooonnnnneeee, Ooooooonnnneee over and over. Then the magic happened and I became one with the breathing in hara and the pain was gone. ‘Huurrraaa.. it is gone’ I thought and BAM all pain was back. So difficult to come back to yet the pain was so intense that I had to do it. It worked short time, then thoughts came and pain with them. In the middle of the second day I could not take it any more and asked Tim for help and he got me a blanket that I could fold and use to sit on. It helped a lot and took the worst pain. Sanzen was strange, the Roshi was sitting in a little bedroom on the floor in between two bunk beds, we could barely be there and Chi-san was pressed in on a chair between the end of the a bunk bed and the wall. Yet the air of seriousness and intensity was there as well as respect for the sanzen. I was so into finding out who this character the master was. Watch him and asked questions whenever possible. My conclusion was, he is a mix of a joyful child and a medium in deep trance. I was taken aback and enrolled from day one.

The effect of the sesshin was deep. Riding the bus home was wild as the shaking of the driving was experience deeply. When I walked with my wife back I was so slow and aware of all my steps, she got a bit worried that I was no longer the man she knew, but have become a monk with no worldly desires. Unfortunately the deep way of being steams in the days after returning to society and ones regular life.

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