Powerful admonition from Prof. Robert A. F. Thurman. This is truly worth listening to and considering.
When I first started training, at the end of the 1980s, the teachers who first instructed me were heavily imbued with Japanese Soto and Rinzai styles. They were people who had done “hard training” with Sasaki Roshi, Deshimaru Roshi, Eido Roshi, and others who had this intense “sit-until-your-knees-break” ethos. It was impossible for some of that not to rub off on my own early attitudes.
Thankfully, Dae Soen Sa Nim was a compassionate bodhisattva-force who would say “Body-sitting is not very very important. Most important is mind-sitting.” If you keep a don’t-know mind sitting in a chair, if you keep don’t-know mind while sitting on a seiza bench, if you keep don’t-know mind while lying down (he famously permitted a man with severe disc pain to attend a long 90-day retreat reclining whenever he wished!), if you keep don’t-know mind while walking, standing up during the sitting, during chanting or bowing — this is true sitting, this is the very essence of WHY we sit. The form of the sitting was not so crucial to him.
And yet, even with his good rounding of the form to fit different physical conditions, this edge that Prof. Thurman speaks to can still creep in and infect the view. His admonitions here are very helpful for refining and clarifying my own practice, so I am grateful for this. We can never give up being students, perfecting our practice, like a rocket ship that continually edges a few degrees off course, little by little, over time. It will not reach its goal. Maybe disaster will ensue.
We are fortunate to have such great wise teachers as him. I consider Robert Thurman to be one of the essential teachers for maintaining Right Understanding. This short talk should be helpful for people.