Sunday, December 6, 2009

Happy Rohatsu!

What a week that was! I truly do love Rohatsu sesshin (which celebrates Shakyamuni Buddha's waking up under the Bodhi Tree) or any sesshin for that matter, but that was my first Rohatsu as Ino, and it was quite an experience. As I see it, the Ino works hard so that others may have a settled experience. The Ino's experience may not necessarily be so settled, but sesshin is an offering - an offering I'm pleased to have a part in. The way the planets lined up for this sesshin it was a feast of ceremonies, including some big complicated ceremonies. To review: sesshin began November 28 with orientation. The first three days of sesshin were regular days, here is the schedule:

November 29 –
December 4, 2009

4:35 Wake-up Bell
4:50 First Bell
5:00 Zazen
5:40 Kinhin
5:50 Zazen
6:25 Densho begins
6:35 Service (Buddha Hall)
7:05 Soji
7:20 Breakfast
8:15 Break
9:10 First Bell
9:20 Zazen
10:00 Densho begins
10:15 Dharma Talk
11:00 Kinhin
11:15 Zazen
11:45 Interval
11:50 Zazen
12:15 Service (Zendo)
12:25 Lunch (Zendo)
1:15 Break
2:00 Work Meeting
2:50 End of work
3:00 Stretching (Buddha Hall)
3:45 First Bell
3:55 Zazen
4:30 Tea (Zendo)
4:50 Kinhin
5:00 Zazen
5:30 Kinhin
5:40 Zazen
6:20 Service (Zendo)
6:30 Dinner (Dining room)
7:10 Break
7:40 First Bell
7:50 Zazen
8:20 Kinhin
8:30 Zazen
8:55 Refuges

Hot drink available in kitchen.

Then things began to get kind of interesting. On Dec. 2nd, day 4 of sesshin, it was the full moon so we had a beautiful Ryaku Fusatsu (Bodhisattva Full Moon Ceremony) in the morning at morning service time. Our Shuso (head monk) Rev. Joan Amaral was the Kokyo (chant leader), and our Tenzo (head of practice in the kitchen) Rev. Shundo David Haye, was the Doan (bringing forth the voice of the bells). A very lovely ceremony to be sure. The evening of the 3rd and the morning of the 4th were the two ceremonies we do every month on those days for our founder Shogaku Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. However the morning of the 4th is the annual observance, as Suzuki Roshi died 38 years ago on December 4th, at the very beginning of a Rohatsu sesshin. So on December 4th we have the big annual ceremony and there is a procession to the Buddha Hall, and we place his portrait and Ihai on the altar, and some people in the ceremony talk to our founder, to thank him for the most part. Here's what the altar looked like.

The things in the offering tray on the right are fresh mochi from Benkyodo in Japantown. Yum! (Yes of course we ate them later, sillies!) Thanks to Rev. Konin Cardenas for picking up those and the tangerines! I certainly wasn't free to run any errands last week!

Then on Saturday, the last day of sesshin, we had a different schedule:

December 5, 2009

4:35 Wake-up Bell
4:50 First Bell
5:00 Zazen
5:40 Kinhin
5:50 Zazen
6:25 Densho begins
6:35 Buddha’s Enlightenment
7:30 Breakfast (Zendo)
8:25 Rest Period
9:15 First Bell
9:25 Zazen
10:00 Densho begins
10:15 Dharma Talk
11:15 Kinhin
11:30 Zazen
12:05 Service
12:15 Lunch (Zendo)
1:05 Cooks Jundo
1:15 Rest Period
1:45 Work Period
2:15 End Work
2:25 First Bell
2:35 Zazen
3:00 Kinhin
3:10 Zazen
3:40 End Zazen
3:45 Densho begins
4:00 Shuso ceremony
Shuso dinner following ceremony—everyone is invited.

The ceremony to mark Buddha's Enlightenment is one of the most bodacious ceremonies at Zen Center. To begin with we move the giant Taiko drum from the hallway outside the zendo in the basement upstairs to the Buddha Hall. That isn't part of the ceremony, but maybe it should be! It is really a big deal to do, and many thanks to our Work Leader Rose Auriau for supervising that! The ceremony itself has a lot of complicated choreography - procession with instruments, 5 person offering at the altar, etc. But the climax is when we all chant the Maka Hannya Haramita Shin Gyo really loud to the accompaniment of the Taiko (highly talented drumming provided by Rev. Linda Galijan and Rev. Shundo Haye) as we circumambulate the Buddha Hall. All the while throwing flower petals in the air! After 6 days of intense sitting practice this is quite an intense, ecstatic, maybe psychedelic experience! Whew! Sorry I don't have any pictures of it, but then a picture would never do it justice - you kind of have to be there. Come to think of it, maybe you kind of have to be there after having sat 6 days of sesshin!


After that I got a well-deserved break - NOT! The next thing coming up later the same day was the Shuso Hossen Shiki for our Shuso Joan Amaral. "Hossen Shiki" translates, I believe, as "Dharma Inquiry Ceremony", or is it "Dharma Combat Ceremony"? In any event, once you get past a huge amount of complicated choreography and tradition, the gist of the ceremony is that everybody gets to ask the Shuso a question one by one, first the practice period students and sesshin participants, and then all former shusos who have been invited - of whom there were about thirty at Joan's ceremony - and the Shuso responds to each in turn, showing us her mind and her practice. The Hossen Shiki is an ordeal and a rite of passage and a celebration. One of the scripted statements for the Shuso says, "Let us call forth the Dharma!" And that's certainly what happened in Joan's ceremony - we called forth the Dharma together. It was very beautiful and moving, and I know that Zenkei Roshi and Joan's root teacher Darlene Cohen, who was also there, were very proud of her. Here is a picture taken by Renee Meiffren of Joan and Roshi bowing to one another during the ceremony.

There were other parts of the sesshin that stood out for me. For a few of the periods of zazen in the sesshin we carried the kyosaku (wake up stick) in the zendo. The theme of the Practice Period was studying the teachings of Suzuki Roshi (to celebrate the 5oth anniversary of his arrival in the U.S.) and it may have been owing to that fact that Zenkei Roshi decided to do it, because as I understand it from my teacher Sojun Roshi, Suzuki Roshi carried the stick all the time! At any rate it was overall a popular decision if one were to judge by the number of people who were asking to receive it!

And even though my sesshin was very eventful, there were certainly precious moments that bespeak the experience of sesshin for me - like on the morning of the 3rd day, I recall feeling dog tired and yet so wide awake, unfolding my oryoki cloths and laying out my bowls for breakfast, and thinking "I wonder what's cooking?" What's on the menu? Just us, cooking our lives.


The day after sesshin I certainly enjoyed sleeping in. I didn't get up Sunday morning until 6:20! Then Sunday midday I was picked up at Zen Center by Ernie and Maralee, a couple I'd got to know in the process of planning their nuptials with them, and driven out to Land's End where we had a lovely intimate ceremony on the bluff overlooking the Golden Gate with their best friends as witnesses. It was like, "Wonder what I'll do on my day off? Oh, I know, how about another ceremony?" But really it was a pleasure to do, I just enjoy weddings so much. I love to see the happy couples vow their love and support to each other. Sigh. Here's the happy couple...

Hey, do you wonder where all those flower petals came from? You bet I recycled them from the day before! Why not? Frugal Ino. Now I'm heading to Tassajara Zen Mountain Center to sit Rohatsu sesshin there, which ought to be a very different experience. I mean, they'll put me to work of course - work is our core practice! But it will probably be something like chopping carrots.

See you when I get back!