The practice period week ends with a ceremony called Nenju. It’s not TGIF, not an expression of relief that another week is over and now we can do what we want. It is an expression of gratitude for everything and everyone who helped us throughout the week. Basically, we all bow to each other. The ceremony lasts 10 minutes.
One of the hardest days of a practice period is the day off. After a week of firmly structured time and arcane forms (all of which are craftily designed to bring our habits and preferences into high relief), we’re confronted with a day of … nothing. An empty, unscheduled, unstructured day. And, oh my, how the habits and preferences come roaring back from exile.
“This practice,” Dogen said, “is the dharma gate of repose and bliss. The manifestation of totally culminated enlightenment.” That’s a tall order when our knees hurt, when the chant is unintelligible (even when it’s in English), and when the wake-up bell comes shortly after we’ve gone to bed. Yet ironically, when we get a day off, the to-do list is a mile long, the friends clamor to be seen, and at the end of the day there is a real danger of feeling more exhausted than after 6 days of practice. So we might be forgiven for asking:
Where’s the repose and bliss?
It’s a relief to know that Dogen spent most of his life wrestling with the same question. And what he finally realized is that precisely within the to-do list and the overbooked calendar is the repose and bliss. That realization is not separate from daily life. That awakening is not a weekend destination.
The purpose of practice is to develop the capacity for repose and bliss in any situation. Even on the most difficult day of the week – the day off.