Excerpted with permission from "Morning Dewdrops of the Mind: Teachings of a Contemporary Zen Master," published by North Atlantic Books/Frog, Ltd.
Every year when December approaches, monks everywhere tremble in anticipation of the arrival of the rohatsu sesshin
[intensive meditation retreat]. In Zen dojos
[practice halls] everywhere, people intensify their training energy in preparation for this sesshin held from the first to the eighth of December. The rohatsu sesshin is the consummation of a year's training, a time when everyone faces the final reckoning of a year of practice.
The Buddha was enlightened on the eighth of December when he looked up at the morning star, the planet we call Venus. The brightness of this planet was seen by Buddha from the depths of one week of samadhi
[deep awareness]. The Buddha received that brightness with the same eyes of zazen [sitting meditation] that enable us to realize perfect enlightenment.
One week straight of this deepest possible samadhi was burst through by the brilliance of that morning star. A whole week's experience of that world burst the brightness of the morning star, plunging into the Buddha's eyes and giving rebirth to the Buddha's consciousness.
That's it! That's it! That's it. That's me! That's me that's shining so brilliantly!
How deeply he was moved and what wonder he felt. From this comes all of the Buddha's dharma. From within this state of mind the Buddha said:
How wondrous, how wondrous! All beings are endowed with this pure nature! What a wondrous, astonishing thing has been realized! All the ten thousand things, all the flowers, all the trees, all the rocks, all things everywhere are shining brilliantly! What an amazing thing! It's the same landscape, but how brilliantly it is illuminated! What freshness is everything!
From within this deep illumination of the mind of the Buddha, all the Buddha's wisdom was born. All of Zen is held within the deep impression of the Buddha's mind at that moment.
People vow to experience this very same experience of the Buddha as they approach the rohatsu sesshin. In every single Zen dojo, people put their lives on the line to be able to experience the exact same state of mind, on the eighth of December, as that of the Buddha. This is the firm vow with which they come to the rohatsu sesshin.