Zia Hassan

My Roshi

Well, here we are: we have a new child in the middle of a turbulent global moment.

Please welcome my second son, Roshi Cadence Hassan. His middle name, Cadence, has meaning in the musical sense: it usually refers to a sequence of chords that end a musical phrase. But it could also refer to a rhythmic flow (many of my colleagues refer to weekly meetings as a “cadence.”)

And as for Roshi: When a Zen practitioner gets trained, they acquire a teacher, affectionately known as Roshi.

A Roshi uses existential riddles, known as Koans, to bring a zen practitioner to a deeper level of understanding about the nature of reality. These riddles aren’t the kind of logic puzzles you find in activity books; instead, a Zen student must simultaneously hold and let go of their attachment to the problem to come to the solution of the koan. As a result, logic won’t get you anywhere.

A Roshi once asked me: “What is the one true and pure thing?”

“Uhh… the universe?” I replied.

“And what’s the universe?” he said.

“I guess I… don’t know.”

“Who is this ‘I’ that you speak of?”

“Uhhh… don’t…. know?”

“Don’t know! Nice! Good place to start grappling with this koan!”

I spent the next year thinking about it every so often, holding it in my mind like you’d hold sand in your hand, with a soft, delicate grip, not squeezing too hard but not being too careless either.

A Roshi asks questions that break you down almost to the point of frustration sometimes. Kind of like a young child who asks “why” repeatedly. It was a year and a half after I met with this Roshi that Dezi broke my mind wide open in a way that only a three-year-old can.

“Dada, why does the fridge make that beeping sound?”

“Because it’s letting me know I left the door open.”

“Why did you leave the door open?”

“Because I was distracted.”

“Why were you distracted?”

“Because there’s a lot going on at the moment.”

“What is going on at the moment?”

Wait. Whoah.

What IS going on at the moment? Amidst the anxiety, the endless fear, the uncertainty… there is beauty. There is hope. Whatever you need, there it is, right in front of you.

Right there, my attention returns to what’s essential: the right-nowness of the present moment.

What’s going on at the moment?

That’s my koan. My child has become my Roshi.

And, in an instant, I now know the one true and pure thing.