There is a scroll hung in the tea room 独坐大雄峰 Dokuza Daiyūhō, Sitting alone on the great sublime peak. Or sometimes translated as Sitting alone on the great hero peak. Doku (alone,) za (sit), dai (great), yū (sublime), hō (peak).
The Zen story is that Hyakujo Zenji was asked by a monk, “What is the most fortunate thing in the whole world?” To which he replied, “Sitting alone on the great hero peak.” Great Hero Peak was the name of the mountain where his teacher lived, and as a place of practice it was known for the strictness of both Hyakujo and his teacher.
In this time of Covid-19, sitting alone for these last six months in my tea room has not been, to my thinking, the most fortunate thing in the whole world. As social entities, people have come to rely on others to share burdens, sorrows, and work. Together we can accomplish greater things than we can alone. Working for something greather than oneself and being part of a team can feel empowering and uplifting.
And yet, sitting alone these past few months sometimes feels like a prison, isolating, and lonely. I haven’t held tea lessons in the tea room, I haven’t done any Chanoyu demonstrations, and I haven’t made tea for anyone or received tea from anyone either.
But consider the alternative. This past weekend, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the U.S. has surpassed 200,000 passed away, and the world has lost more than 900,000 people. None of these people can sit anymore, not even alone, on the great hero peak. So in this sense, the most fortunate thing is to be able to sit alone on the great hero peak. It is a matter of perspective. Change your perspective and we can be grateful for the circumstance that we once thought debilitating.