Wednesday, March 18, 2009


In my last post on this blog (my first post on this blog!) I included a link to Ango, a Japanese word meaning "Peaceful Abiding" which is a Zen monastic training period, usually known around these parts as a Practice Period, typically lasting 90 days as it says in the Wiki entry. However, not every practice period in Zen Center lasts 90 days. In Tassajara they do, or at least they try to. The Practice Period currently in progress at Tassajara will be 88 days. The Practice Period currently in progress here at City Center will be 62 days long. Practice Period is a time in which Zen students practice intensively together. The historical origins of Practice Period are in the “rains retreats” of the early Buddhist monks and nuns when they could not travel due to heavy rains. During that time they settled down for more intensive practice. The Sangha making a mutual commitment to intensified practice and study is the main mark of a Practice Period. Another such mark is the leadership of a Shuso, or Head Student/Head Monk. While not every Practice Period at City Center has a Shuso, we are blessed in this current one to be enjoying the kind leadership of Shuso Bernd Bender, whose Dharma name is Kichu Chika, meaning Joyful Devotion, Wisdom Song.
Bernd was invited to be Shuso shortly after the beginning of the Practice Period by the co-leaders of the Practice Period, Gigen Victoria Austin and Dairyu Michael Wenger, in a moving ceremony usually referred to as the Shuso Entering Ceremony, wherein the Shuso-to-be always says, "This responsibility is too great for me!" and basically tries to get out of it, but in the end is always prevailed upon to accept the position and then takes a place in the Zendo facing outward next to the Practice Period leader for the remainder of the Practice Period.


Last Monday morning I was honored to share tea with the Shuso and my Dharma Sister Rev. Carol Benjamin, with whom I practiced at Tasssajara. Having tea with all of the students in the Practice Period is something the Shuso always does. Because space seems to be at a premium in City Center these days due to the vast smorgasbord of Dharma offerings available here, we wound up having tea in the Abbot's dokusan room, which made for an especially unique and intimate experience. The Shuso was a very gracious host, exemplifying what I believe is sometimes referred to as Old World charm. The conversation was civilized and stimulating. Bernd asked me about my experience as Shuso at Tassajara. I was Shuso at Tassajara Jan-April 2005 with my teacher Sojun Roshi leading that Practice Period. I told him it was one of the happiest times in my life! He asked me what I thought the most important job of the Shuso was, and I said, "Just to love everybody." When I said that he got a very cute smile on his face.


Our Shuso is also our Shissui, our Work Leader, another one of the six traditional administrative officers of a Zen temple mentioned in the beginning of Dogen's Tenzokyokun. Only around here we don't say Shissui we just say Work Leader. As Work Leader, Bernd runs our Guest Student program, gives out soji (temple cleaning) assignments in the morning, and leads our morning Work Circle each day. I truly appreciate that part of Bernd's Dharma name is Joyful Devotion, because more often than not, at the end of our Work Circle meeting, he wishes us all a "joyful day." We are very lucky to have a Shuso like Bernd.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Brian Ino

I know the name of this blog is dead boring, but I couldn't think of anything else at the time. I came real close to calling the blog Brian Ino, but I just couldn't quite go there, not as the name of the blog. My friend Brad Warner says he can't hear the word Ino without thinking of Brian Eno. (By the way Brian Eno and David Byrne have a new album out, with a title that is pretty dang zen, and it's killer!)

But what is an Ino, you say? It is the title for one of the traditional temple officer positions of a Zen temple or monastery. According to the Eihei Shingi, Dogen's Pure Standards for the Zen Community, "The Ino [a term derived] from the Sanskrit, here [in China] is called yuezhong [giver of joy to the assembly]." As you can see in the photo, a former Ino, Mark Lancaster, printed out this quote and posted it next to a sign outside the Ino's office on the 2nd floor of the building at 3oo Page. Since my last practice position at Zen Center was Treasurer/CFO, I like to joke that I've gone from being the bearer of bad news to the giver of joy. Well, hopefully giver of joy. My job, as I see it, is to keep things running smoothly in the Zendo and Buddha Hall in order to help create and sustain a space for practice, and to encourage the Sangha in their practice.

I have now been Ino at Hosshin-ji, Beginner's Mind Temple, which is San Francisco Zen Center's city practice place, for the past 12 days. Wow. It has been a very intense learning curve, particularly as I assumed this practice position in the midst of an ango, or practice period, already in progress at City Center. I am learning so much about this temple! And I am continually asking people for their help and feedback. I have told several people that my experience of the last few days has been somewhat akin to mosh pit surfing. What? Okay, maybe not, but it has been intense. Nonetheless I am enjoying it, and my practice intention is to share that with the community. The previous Ino, Kosho McCall, made a certificate for me which I am proudly displaying on the wall behind my desk.

Why an Ino's Blog? My intention is to use this as a skillful means to share something of my love for the Buddhadharma, the practice of the Ino, what's going on at City Center, maybe some helpful hints about forms and ceremonies around here, and no doubt, in the tradition of blogs all over teh interwebs, whatever the heck is on my tiny little mind!