Joyfulness is different. It’s not conditioned; it’s intrinsic to being awake, to being in relationship with the whole world. Joy works nicely given the theme of the ango and our focus on old age, sickness and death. We rarely connect those qualities of our experience with joy, but here again is the challenge: in making intimate contact with the totality of our life and everybody else’s life, it is possible to find joy in old age, sickness and death. Why shouldn’t it be? They, too, are part of this reality. They, too, include wisdom and compassion.
It’s especially important to bring our attention to joyfulness because we inherited the Zen tradition through a culture that emphasized emotional containment. I was speaking with somebody who was reading a book by a Japanese author and he was shocked by how repressive that culture is, and in Zen we can confuse Japanese cultural baggage with actual practice. In Chinese monasteries, just to frame the difference for you, there would be chickens running through the zendo and laundry would be hanging in the back. But don’t get any ideas.
In the beginning we can ask ourselves what the purpose of rejoicing is, given how when we enter practice we encounter all this pain, this schism within us. One participant of the Zen Training Weekend last weekend kept insistently saying how screwed up everything in his life was, how unclear and disjointed from reality, and Hojin mildly pointed out to him, “You’re here, aren’t you? Something made you come to this place, to be with yourself. Don’t you think that there is some clarity there?” It is important to recognize that we can rejoice in the fact that we’re here, that we have found our path to the Dharma. It is an occasion of joy. Again, this can serve as another checkpoint because to the degree to which we find what we’re looking for here, we will feel joy. It’s strange because we can be almost embarrassed to share that with each other—like we’re not supposed to feel visibly glad about this because this is very serious and grave. It’s almost as if we feel like we need to tug that under and conceal it somehow.