Friday, May 28, 2010

Sudden Enlightenment

We had just started chanting the Self-receiving and -employing Samadhi at today's noon service when the doorbell rang. The ever diligent work leader went to get the door, and I could see the UPS man coming in with a cart-load of packages. I suddenly thought of the story of Hui-Neng: having lost his father at an early age, the future patriarch was unable to go to school, but instead supported his mother by selling firewood. He happened to hear a monk reciting from the Diamond Sutra - 'abiding nowhere, let the mind shine through' is the version of the line I have in my head - and was suddenly enlightened. He went off to seek the fifth patriarch on the recommendation of that monk. I wondered if the UPS man might hear a line from our chant - we had just reached 'when even for a moment you express the Buddha's seal in the three actions by sitting upright in samadhi, the whole phenomenal world becomes the Buddha's seal and the entire sky turns into enlightenment' - and be greatly awakened. From where I was standing, I couldn't say for sure, but I would like to think it could have happened.

Full Moon

There was a big moon shining into my room this morning when I got up.We had put the  Full Moon Ceremony back a day so that we could have our Way-seeking Mind talk yesterday - as the practice period is only six weeks long, we wanted to give as many people as possible a chance to tell their story.
I had rehearsed the ceremony several times with Renee the kokyo and Jay the doan, as it was a debut for both of them; I was confident they would do well, and they did. As usual I worried about the details, but by the time we got to the Bodhisattva vows, I was feeling very concentrated. In my position in the Buddha Hall, I do my prostrations right in front of the Tara statue, and I enjoyed having her beatific gaze upon me during this ceremony. And then when we were reciting the precepts, the sun rose above the house across the street and was shining directly onto me; I could see I was surrounded by clouds of incense, and it was a very moving moment as we did our final bows. I went up to the kaisando afterwards to do the breakfast food offering for Suzuki Roshi as well, which I don't often get a chance to do, so it was a powerful morning for me, and I could feel the positive energy of the sangha at breakfast.
My concentration has not been so great this past week or more; the times that it has been better are when I have been doshi for noon or evening service, or the couple of times I have stood in as doan, and I just get to concentrate on hitting the bells, which I love to do. As doshi, there is always a great opportunity to be present, as you are standing right in the middle of all the chanting and energy of the room. We have started chanting Dogen's Self-receiving and -employing Samadhi for noon service, and this is a very inspiring text. It is very dense, which makes it hard to take in while you are chanting, but I find if I just allow it to permeate, and don't think about it too much, it can send a shiver down my spine. It affirms for me why this practice is my life.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Nature of a Mistake

I was recounting the story of Jamie and Hekizan at dinner yesterday, and I used the phrase 'the ino cracking the whip'. A new resident sitting on the other side of me heard that, and said she got worried hearing that phrase. We got into a discussion about mistakes. How do I deal with them? For new people, I don't mind if they make mistakes, because it's part of the learning process, but for people who know what they're doing, or say they know what they're doing, I might respond differently. This is one reason why, during the service review each morning, I always ask the person what they noticed themselves about their performance, before I say anything, as people are often completely aware of the mistakes they have made.The new resident wanted to know if experienced people made mistakes too. Well of course it happens. Is it because they don't know what they're doing? Sometimes, but people also just forget things.

This morning the doshi had forgotten her zagu (the bowing cloth) when she came to service, and had to borrow the jiko's zagu. When I was first a priest, I also had to give my zagu to a doshi who had forgotten his. This morning's doshi confessed to me at breakfast that she had been so rattled by  forgetting her zagu that she made a couple of other mistakes later in the morning...

I also heard yesterday from a friend of mine a story of going to another zen centre where someone came round to correct her hand position during zazen, in a way that she had found quite aggresive and unnecessary. I hope that I never make anyone feel that bad in the zendo here.
I know that my first instinct is to be hard on people who get things wrong, and one of the strongest parts of my practice as tenzo was not letting that instinct dictate my attitude in an interaction with someone. The energy or motivation for telling someone off can be easily put aside when you allow yourself to hear the other person first, and consider their point of view, not just your own idea of right and wrong.
So this morning, just before breakfast, I passed a resident who had slept through the morning schedule. What did I say to them? 'Good morning'. I walked away and thought I could have added 'there are savoury muffins for breakfast'.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Dana Paramita

One of the announcements I am expected to make after the Saturday talk is a request for donations. This is always a tricky one. I try not to be too repetitive, but I tend to use phrases that I have heard former inos use.  One ino used to ask other people to make this request, a different person each week as I remember, which is a good way to keep it fresh. If the speaker has made a reference to generosity, or dana paramita, the perfection of giving, then that can be a good springboard. Linda Ruth talked recently about how the pleasure centre of the brain is activated in similar ways by three activities, giving, eating and sex, and I was tempted to follow that by saying, well, we can take care of the first two for you with our donation box and lunch, but the sex you will have to take care of for yourself - but I wasn't in a bold mood that day so I didn't.
In my re-reading of the Platform Sutra, I was struck by a line of Hui-neng's in response to questions from Governor Wei. The governor was asking about the famous exchange between Bodhidharma and Emperor Wu, in particular the idea of accruing merit by doing good deeds. In his verse at the end of the chapter, Hui-neng declares 'Attaining the way does not come from donating money'. I have been tempted to quote this, but I think it would be a little off-putting, and I am reminded of the famous speech given by Katagiri Roshi to a room full of donors, which he began by reminding them 'you're all going to die'.
As we are currently focusing on the Bodhisattva path,the words of the Diamond Sutra also hold good in this regard: 'Moreover, Subhuti, a Bodhisattva who gives a gift should not be supported by a thing, nor should he be supported anywhere...For, Subhuti, the Bodhisattva, the great being should give gifts in such a way that she is not supported by the notion of a sign. And why? Because the heap of merit of that Bodhi-being, who unsupported gives a gift, is not easy to measure'. In other words, we should give without expectation of result or reward. This is the perfection of giving. Now I just need to find a way to distill all of that into about thirty seconds of talking.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Busy Doing Nothing

Jamie Howell gave the dharma talk this morning, and in the course of reminiscing about his time at Zen Center over the years, told of how he would come in to be chiden or jiko in the morning, and because he was driving up from his house, he was often just a couple of minutes late despite his best intentions; he told how the ino at the time, Hekizan Tom Girardot, would invariably be waiting at the top of the stairs, tapping his foot.
I could definitely sympathise with this. Today was one of those days which was full of so many things that it was impossible to hold on to any one emotion that came up. To begin with, I woke up hearing crows, which was much more fun than an alarm clock, and it was already getting light at five forty. I was listening out for the wake-up bell at six, but I wasn't hearing anything. The usual Saturday fukudo (who rings the wake-up bell among other things) is at Tassajara this week, and his replacement had told me, 'oh I've done it before, but if you have the notes for the wake-up bell that would help', so I had given her the notes, and when I went downstairs at five past six, when the bell should be finished, she was just checking her notes before she set off, so I rather impatiently told her to hurry up. One of the things I can get very uptight about is punctuality, so if it says the bell should begin at six, I want it to begin at six. So I got to look at that, and a couple of other things that didn't go completely right, and seeing how I respond to those things, and what I was going to say to the stand-in fukudo. Then as I sat, the sun came into the zendo, and the light was beautifully soft, and in the Buddha Hall for service afterwards I watched the dust floating around in the shafts of sunlight, followed by trails of incense smoke, and at first I got impatient that the mokugyo was not as fast as I like it to be, and then with the stand-in kokyo leading the way, we went through the list of daioshos (the male lineage of ancestors) at exactly the right speed, which was very energising. Then I felt like I had to rush to be ready for oryoki, and get everyone seated in a way that made the servers' job easier, and then watching the new servers as they nervously made their way round, seeing a few mistakes but being happy that things went mostly very smoothly. After breakfast I went out to meet the Saturday Sangha people who were already gathered in the sunny courtyard, checked in with the soku who was worried about some of the things that hadn't gone completely perfectly during breakfast, then had just enough time to drink some coffee and go to the bathroom before putting on my robes again for the next sitting, seeing all the people who only come on Saturday mornings, but who are now familiar faces to me, and then getting the recording equipment and my announcements ready for the talk, and listening to Jamie telling great stories of his years of practice, and reminding us to smile. I made my announcements, which I find easier than when I started being ino, but which I always finish thinking, I could have done that better, or, oh I forgot to mention this. Another cup of coffee and then nenju. I had asked Bernd to be kokyo, and he chose the shorter eko as he finds it more joyful than the other one, and he did it, and the 'hosan' afterwards, very joyfully. Finally lunch with the Saturday Sangha. Last week I had been asked for a glossary, so I brought along the only one I could find, called 'terms used at Zen Center', and people found it very helpful, even though we thought of probably another dozen words that weren't on the list, and it proved to be a springboard for a very wide-ranging conversation about practice life and what it meant to me to be a priest (that could be a whole other entry).
Seven and a half hours of ordinary practice. Then it was time to clean my bike before tomorrow's ride.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Wheel of the Dharma Turns and Turns

I used to say, somewhat flippantly, that I had had more zen moments on a bicycle than on a zafu, but I don't know that I would try to claim that these days. Nevertheless, my practice energy has been a little diffuse this week, and a lot of this has to do with bicycle-related activities. On Tuesday I spent a couple of hours down at Ocean Beach at the start of the Tour of California; I waited by the sign-in stand, and had many of the world's best cyclists passing by a couple of feet away, so I happily took photos. The mood at events like this is always relaxed and upbeat. Simultaneously in Europe, the Giro d'Italia has been entertainingly unpredictable this year, and I have been watching streaming video of some of the stage finishes after breakfast instead of studying. Then today, just to prove that all conditioned phenomena are unreliable, there were potentially explosive allegations made by Floyd Landis about riders and doping practices.
If there is anyone reading this who is not regularly reading Trevor's blog, I wanted to highlight this excellent recent entry. There isn't much I could add to this; I had a similar conversation recently with someone, and I said that moving wasn't a problem, but I had to really insist before the other person believed me.
The problem with deciding to write something here after dinner is that I can easily spend afternoon zazen polishing prose in my head, which I would call moving without moving. I have many ways of doing this. I might seem still from the outside, but there is a lot going on. I used to think that sitting zazen was a matter of parking my body on the cushion while I got to work on some mental afflictions - or more frequently, got carried away enjoying them - but eventually I figured out that the two things are related. A few years ago I started noticing how I would get a little tighter across the top of the chest whenever I started thinking, and I have had many occasions over recent years to feel how emotionally charged times lead to tension and pain, which for me manifests in the base of the spine and the hips. Right now my body is more or less settled, so I can work on some of the more subtle habit patterns, like noticing when my right shoulder moves forward and upward. I can also do this when I am riding my bike; if my ride is not too physically demanding, I can pay attention to lifting my chest and relaxing my shoulders as I pedal, and notice which muscles I am using as I climb a hill. Now that the sun has reappeared after the unseasonably late rain, I can look forward to some joyful moments out on the roads this weekend. And perhaps some joyful moments on the cushion before then.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Each week at the end of the Saturday lecture during practice period, I try to entice people to come to nenju, and yet I find it a little difficult to describe. It marks the end of the practice week, for sure, and it is all about gratitude, as I have heard from a number of people. Last Saturday as I was casting around for words, Tova offered 'connection' as well, which was nice.
At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, my experience of this ceremony at Tassajara is much stronger than my experience of it here. At Tassajara, nenju comes at the end of the afternoon on three-and-eight days. For those unfamiliar with the traditional monastic schedule (confession - this is a word I pronounce like an American), Tassajara works largely on a four-and-one schedule, that is four days on, one day 'off' - it is usually called a personal day, rather than a day off, as you still have to get up in the morning and follow a limited schedule - and traditionally the personal days fall on the days of the month ending in four and nine, thus they are often called four-and-nine days. With me so far? So nenju comes near the end of the day before to mark the closing of the practice 'week'.
If you ask Tassajara monks about nenju, they will usually mention the waiting. There is a lot of standing on the engawa - the walkway around the zendo - while the Abbot does a procession to various altars, and then there are a few other steps before everyone goes inside for a jundo. It is usually cold outside at that time of the afternoon at Tassajara, sometimes very cold, which tends to colour people's perceptions of the ceremony.
At City Center there is less endurance involved; the Abbot just goes to the Buddha Hall to bow before coming to the dining room, where everyone is lined up in a large horseshoe formation.
 One of the highlights of nenju for me is getting to be the the kokyo, as the eko is one of the most fun things you get to do. There are actually two that are used at Tassajara, but here we just use the longer one, which goes thus:

Carefully listen everyone.
24 hundred 96 years ago the Great Tathagata entered nirvana.
When this day is gone, your life also decreases.
Like a fish in a puddle, what pleasure is there here?
We are to practice constantly, as if to save our head from fire.
Mindful of transiency, pursue the path with diligence and care.
Throughout Hosshinji the Dharma safely resides,
        bringing all peace.
Everyone in ten directions knows an increase in joy
and growth in wisdom.
Thankfully we recite the names of Buddha.

So last Saturday, I offered myself the opportunity to be kokyo, as this was the first nenju of the new practice period, and I wanted to set the tone as best I could. I was doing it from memory as I like to do, and I thought I was doing pretty well until I realised that I had said Zenshinji instead of Hosshinji, somewhat automatically, as I have done this more times there than here, even though I had been telling myself 'Hosshinji' as I went along towards that line. And then, even after what I wrote last time, just dwelling on that mistake for a moment meant that I didn't continue from 'safely resides' into 'bringing all peace', where the pitch is dropped, but paused, forgetting what I was supposed to do for the briefest moment. It is possible that many of the people there did not notice, and I did not beat myself up about it.
So we recited the names of Buddha, and did our jundo, where everyone goes around the group, bowing to and being bowed to by everyone, and then, after a whispered exchange with the Abbot (which is a secret of course), I announced 'Ho-san', which translates as 'no more dokusan', in other words, the weekend starts here. Paul offered us some encouraging words to keep in mind during the weekend so that we are not too tempted to think of it as 'time off'. Because after all, how can you take time off from practice?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Ino Anxiety Dream

This was a very full Saturday, and I might write about nenju or having lunch with the Saturday Sangha in due course (especially since I ended up telling them about the blog, as I was recycling some of the stories I have posted recently), but I had the most interesting dream just before waking up this morning: at the beginning I was down at Tassajara, talking with Mako on a nice sunny afternoon, but then there was a scene with two rooms full of people, whom Linda Ruth was organising as some kind of strategic group, and as I looked at what one table of people had been writing, someone said to me, 'oh yeah, we're going to do the Mountain Seat ceremony tonight'. My reaction was 'but nobody told me'...
We all have our own version of the anxiety dream - at the BBC, and for a while afterwards, I used to dream about being in charge of a transmission that was about to go live, and nobody else had showed up, or the tapes were missing. When I woke up and thought about this one, though, I noticed that I hadn't felt particularly anxious about the news, it was more feeling a little outraged that I hadn't been informed.
As it happened, I was scheduled to have dokusan with Paul this morning, so I kicked off with this little story before going over some of the other stuff that has been happening for me since we had last met. And of course, the dream did not come out of the blue; after the decision around restructuring the Abbacy, we have recently been discussing an installation ceremony for Steve here at City Center, as recently happened at Green Gulch, which is a ritual way to offer him a new seat in the zendo - and not a full-on Mountain Seat Ceremony which is when someone becomes Abbot, and as far as I can tell is the most complex and formal thing an ino could ever have to organise. A few people had been asking me about that yesterday, as that had been one of the original dates mentioned for the ceremony to take place, although it is currently planned for a couple of weeks from now. I certainly haven't felt out of the loop as far as that one goes, and Paul assured me he would keep me on board...

Friday, May 14, 2010


One of the things I remember about that first Saturday, ten years ago, was sitting on one of the pews in the Buddha Hall, the sun heating the back of my head, listening to Linda Ruth lecture, and not being able to concentrate on the words. This was less due to jet-lag or not understanding what she was talking about, than the fact that the ino at the time, although being hard of hearing, controlled the sound system, and there was a distinct edge of feedback happening as Linda Ruth talked, which was painful for me. Not in the physical sense, but more in the professional sense: coming to the States, I left behind a job as a sound engineer (we were called studio managers, which we loved to abbreviate of course) at the BBC World Service.
This had been a job I had loved doing for eight years, and I soon realised that it had been a good 'zen' job. Mostly I was working in live radio, the broadcasts usually in a language other than English, with people from almost every country of the world, so concentration, mindfulness, acceptance and a certain unflappability were good attributes to develop. I often repeat to doans these days a lesson I learned through years of experience: if you make a mistake, just make one mistake. It is easy to get something wrong, and then to dwell on that, and find you are getting other things wrong as well. Mistakes certainly happened, all kinds of things for all kinds of reasons, and the chilling feeling that you are responsible for a few seconds of silence rather than whatever audio was supposed to be happening, and there are literally millions of people listening, is very sobering. But, once it has happened, as Eric Dolphy used to say about his jazz performances, 'it's gone in the air'. You can't take your work home with you after a live transmission.
Anyway, I ventured to offer my services to the ino after a week or two, and ended up running the sound system here - my notes from the time are still on the cabinet - as well as the one at Tassajara when I was there, and now I am back doing it here again as ino, as well as editing, tweaking and uploading all the dharma talks; in those days, we did everything onto cassettes....
Greg was just in a couple of days ago with the first crop of this summer's talks at Tassajara, which had one or two technical problems to play with. The Abbot is also interested in getting new equipment in for classes and workshops, so Keith and I will probably be installing some new mics next week. I understand that the dharma talks page is one of the most popular on our website, and unlike live radio, these offerings are here to stay and enjoy repeatedly; but even if no-one was listening to them, I would still enjoy polishing the sound, just to keep my hand in - and my ear.

Study Hall

I have just finished reading the 'Sutra of Hui-Neng', sometimes referred to as the 'Platform Sutra', and am working through his commentary on the 'Diamond Sutra', which is included in Thomas Cleary's translation. It is a work I have read two or three times before, and has many familiar and well-loved stories in it. These days scholars tend to discount the possibility that the Sixth Ancestor actually had anything to do with it - I was going to say wrote it, but he was famously illiterate - and that the whole thing was a propaganda exercise by his followers two or three generations later.
A few years ago, I was able to do one of Shohaku Okamura's Genzo-e sesshins here at City Center, and while the focus of the sesshin is studying Dogen and the Shobogenzo, Shohaku's breadth of knowledge means that he often draws in other subjects. I remember he was talking about how lineage was very important in Chinese culture, especially at the time referred to as the golden age of zen in the generations after Hui-neng; in fact, he said, the idea of having an authentically transmitted lineage was too important for them not to make one up. But does that make what is communicated in the sutra any less valid?
One of the stories I like most in the sutra concerns Yung-chia; the exchange between him and Hui-neng is perhaps my favourite dharma combat, although I have never found a translation of it that I feel really brings out the whole flavour of the exchange in clear language. I really wouldn't claim to understand it, although I did  try to present it during a class I did at Tassajara a few summers ago, where I spoke about Yung-chia's 'Song of Enlightenment', which I had been coming across in a few different books and anthologies, but which seemed to have been somewhat neglected, certainly within Zen Center.
This time I enjoyed the story of Fa-ta, who had recited the Lotus Sutra 'as many as three thousand times already', but whose head did not touch the ground when he bowed. Hui-neng admonished him: 'If you just laboriously keep reciting and consider that an accomplishment, how is that different from a yak admiring its tail?' Fa-ta said 'Does that mean I shouldn't bother to recite the sutra, as long as I can understand the meaning?' The Master said 'What's wrong with the sutra? How can it obstruct your mindfulness? It's just that delusion and enlightenment are in the individual; gain and loss depend on oneself. If you recite it and also act on it mentally, then you are reading the sutra; if you recite it but don't practise it mentally, then you are being read by the sutra.'

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Coming and Going

This morning we had a departing student ceremony, our third one in the past month, all of whom have been for people heading to Tassajara - first my predecessor Greg, then Camilla, and now Konin. The ceremony is fairly simple, but also very significant in that it gives a concrete ritual dimension to a transition.
The format of the ceremony is that the ino lights the altar at the end of zazen, then offers incense, the departing student offers incense and does three prostrations behind the bowing mat. Then the ino leads the student in a jundo - a procession around the zendo - where everyone has their heads bowed and their hands in gassho, starting with a bow to the Abbot and ending with a bow to the Senior Dharma Teacher. The ino then goes back around the altar to the tsui ching - a wooden column with an octagonal-shaped block on top. Resting the right hand on the block, the ino moves it three times around the surface of the tsui ching, then lifts it and brings it down with a clunk, which usually causes people who don't know to expect it to jump. There is a form of words, which today went: 'having aroused way-seeking mind, having entered this temple, having practised faithfully, having contributed to the well-being of this temple, this student, Konin Melissa Cardenas, goes to Zenshinji to continue her practice. You go with our heart-felt gratitude and best wishes'. The ino does two more hits on the tsui ching, and the doan hits two bells. Then comes the fun part, when the Abbot asks the departing student a question, usually along the lines of 'who is it that goes?' or 'is there really any coming and going?', to test the student's ability to respond in the moment, and then there is usually an expression of gratitude for the person's practice as well.
At Tassajara when this ceremony happens, the departing student is then the first person to leave the zendo, which is the part I most remember from my first leaving ceremony there about six years ago, because it really brought home to me that I was going, and I started crying on the engawa.
Now, at Tassajara this is called a departing monk ceremony, and when I announced Greg's departing student ceremony the other week he came by me saying 'that's departing monk ceremony', but I beg to differ with him on this one. Being a literal-minded person most of the time, I feel that when you are at the monastery, you are a monk, and when you are at a temple, like City Center, you are not. I remember how hard it was for me when I moved to Tassajara to get my head around the fact that I was a monk. As I wrote recently, we certainly looked like monks, and that was already something, but it was a big leap for me to go from that stage to accepting that that was how I could describe what I was doing with my life.
I should add that, notwithstanding what I have written above, when I think of the strengths of Greg's and Konin's practice, which I would characterise as making themselves available for whatever needs to be done with a minimum of fuss, I think of them as good monks...
On a personal level, today's ceremony reminded me of what was almost my first act as ino, the shuso entering ceremony, which has a similar format, but obviously marks a different transition. I remember being very nervous about the choreography, but I told myself that I was in charge of the ceremony, or at least that portion of it, and that there was no need to hurry, which helped calm me down in that moment. What I remember very clearly about that morning was laying my hand on the tsui ching, and feeling that it had a life of its own, years of stored ceremonial energy.
One of my first entries here describes the feeling around taking on and embodying a role, just like trying to embody being a monk. I think I can say now, with the practice period underway, and a very purposeful energy in the building with all the new residents, and with the training I have started doing with them, that I feel like I really am the ino now. Whatever that means.

By the way, I tried googling 'tsui ching' to see if there was a picture I could link to, but the answer appears to be no.

You Say Neither

May 12th marks my ten year anniversary of arriving in San Francisco to take up residential practice. My main reason for coming was actually to get married to someone who was already living at the Zen Center; in fact my application to move in was so light on practice experience that the director of City Center at the time wrote to me to ask 'do you know what you are letting yourself in for?'. I said that I had been given a fair idea of what to expect, though I do remember being somewhat overwhelmed, having gone to bed very early that first day after the long flight from London, to get up and do the entire Saturday morning schedule for the first time.

I have only had one friend in England tell me, on the occasions I have gone back to visit since then, that I sound American, and I think, or I hope at least, that she was referring to my vocabulary more than my accent. Californians tend to assume that I am Australian, which can perhaps be attributed to the somewhat fluid accent I acquired living in London for twelve years, although no-one from England or Australia would make that same assumption.
My pronunciation has caused small ripples during services. This is mainly due to my obstinacy in saying neither (/ˈnaɪ.ðər/rather than neither (/ˈniː-//-ðɚ/), which occurs five times in the Heart Sutra. I am also wont to say path, (/pɑːθ/ rather than /pæθ/) chant (/tʃɑːnt/) and so on, but the neither sticks out most plainly. Indeed one Tassajara tanto, even though he was from New England himself, and I heard him say naɪ.ðər on other occasions, just as I have heard other English people say niː-//-ðɚ, went so far as to publicly forbid naɪ.ðər once when we were having a chanting review, though I confess that I just got a little quieter as I chanted those sections rather than give up my natural way of doing things. At one of the first Practice Committee meetings I went to as ino, there was some gentle ribbing from the Abbot and tanto here as to whether I would be imposing my version on the sangha now. I think I have heard a few defectors recently. I know that it would be good if we all sounded the same, but somehow I just can't bring myself to give it up.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Full Zendo

Ino usually translates as Head of the Meditation Hall, although at the opening ceremony for the practice period, which we did at the end of Saturday's sitting, I called on another translation when I stated my intention for the practice period as 'to manifest the ino as the bringer of joy' - as per Greg's original post on this blog. On certain levels it strikes me as faintly absurd that I could in any way be in charge of the zendo.. As Michael reminded us the other morning during zazen, thousands of people have sat in these seats in the forty years that City Center has been in this building, and they have all left their traces; they are all sitting with us still.
This morning, the first morning of the practice period, we had a full zendo, and a full Buddha Hall as well, with more priests than could fit on the ryoban (the front row usually reserved for ordained priests); the energy was good, and the chanting strong.
I thought I had mentioned the sunlight that has been shining across the zendo in the mornings towards the end of the second period of zazen, but perhaps I didn't after all.Today there was no sun as the rainy weather still lingers; anyway, here are some pictures I took on Sunday morning, which tell me that the zendo does have a life all its own even when no-one is actually sitting.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Exposed to the Golden Wind

Saturday turned out to be much less stressful for me than the last one-day sitting, which had been my debut, and I managed to settle down for most of the afternoon. Things happened, of course: people who were expected and didn't come, people who weren't expected and did come, there were a lot of people to try and seat in a way that made sense for the meals, trying to find a replacement for a serving crew, a cell phone that kept ringing in the cloakroom at the end of the hall which certainly tested my patience.
And then there were the windows. Usually we keep one of the upper windows open all the time for a little ventilation. As the zendo was going to be full all day, I had opened a second early in the morning. We have however been having a chilly north-westerly all week here, which was blowing right into the room, and in the afternoon a few people asked me if I could shut them as they were feeling cold. Several things went through my mind: first is a personal preference against stuffiness; then there are memories of exhortations by Dogen and others along the lines of 'if the roof leaks, then do zazen somewhere where the rain does not come in' (Shobogenzo Zuimonki), along with admonitions that monks of old always had it harder and they never complained. But I decided that the compassionate ino should listen to the needs of the assembly and take care of them, so I shut the windows, although I didn't shut one of them hard enough - they are high enough that shutting them involves wielding a long pole with hooks on the end - and it blew open again before the end of the next period...

I noticed I haven't put any photos up for a while, so, even though these are not remotely connected to the ino realm, some pictures of the skies of the last few days, with all the changeable weather that the winds have brought. And to give them a zen flavour, one of my favourite quotes, from Kosho Uchiyama, in his commentary on Dogen's 'Bendowa' : 'Only when I look up at the sky does it preach that there is a world in which we do not need to be excited'.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

All Day Sitting

This week so far has seen a succession of meetings; apart from the regularly scheduled meetings of the Practice Committee, on Tuesday afternoons, and Senior Staff, on Wednesday mornings, I also attended an all-day meeting on Monday, which was looking at the future of City Center. I confess I found it hard to keep my concentration levels up for that one. So this morning, even as we are gearing up for the next practice period, which begins with the one-day sitting on Saturday, I took myself off after breakfast to ride my bike, which as people who know me will attest, is one of my main pleasures in life.
We have almost eighty people signed up for Saturday, and when I sat down this afternoon, my to-do list looked like this: finalise the schedule, allocate jobs, work on the seating chart, assemble two sets of oryoki bowls, check how many spatulas we have for guest eating bowls, find a light-up chiden for tomorrow morning, fill out a vacation request form, look at some documents about sound systems, update the tenken (attendance) list to include all the new arrivals, reprint the tenken notes we give people who don't show up for part of the schedule, find chant sheets for noon service, write the doan and kokyo parts for noon service, and put out a sign-up sheet for people to do the doan jobs. I am happy to say that I managed to do almost all of that before going to the zendo at five fifteen, which means that a lot of the main work is done for Saturday, and now I can allow the hundred other things that I will need to take care of to manifest themselves, which they will. And then sit, and try to do some zazen in the midst of it all.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Ino Blog Ring

'Please honoured followers' again: I am happy to see that, even though I don't belong to Facebook and indeed have many misgivings about it, each time this blog has been featured on the Zen Center page, or wall or whatever, I have acquired more followers. I still have no idea who is reading this really, but I do recognise some of the names and pictures at least. I hope you are all enjoying yourselves here, and please let me know whether you are or not.
Being more or less technically proficient on this kind of platform, I sometimes find myself getting  frustrated with some of the things I don't seem to be able to do, not least of which is leaving comments either here or on other people's blogs. So anyway, thanks to Nedd, and Trevor, and Djinn for recent comments, and a tip of the hat to Trevor's blog,  which tells of his life as the ino at Austin Zen Center. If there are any other inos reading, I will add you to the list of blogs I am following.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Japanese Eko

This evening and tomorrow morning we will be doing our monthly memorial ceremonies for Suzuki Roshi, who died on the morning of the 4th of December 1971. This evening's ceremony is entirely in Japanese, as we chant the Sandokai and use a Japanese dedication as well. This is another of those things we do here that can be off-putting to people who don't see why we should chant something nobody understands.
I was teasing a good friend of mine at Tassajara recently who was the kokyo (that's the person who leads the chants and offers the dedication, and is one of the many Japanese terms we always use at Zen Center, like ino), and listening to her I realised that her style of intoning reminded me of Lady Bracknell, or more particularly, Edith Evans playing Lady Bracknell in the classic film version of 'The Importance of Being Earnest'. She told me that the one time she had felt most comfortable as kokyo was when she did the Japanese eko for the memorial ceremony, as it was the only time she did not try to editorialise as she was chanting.
I think this is a very useful notion. I have enjoyed chanting for many years, as I find it a strong way to continue mindfulness, especially of the breath, after sitting. Nowadays I have memorised almost all the chants we do on a regular basis, so I am not reading as we chant, but letting come out of that part of the brain where these things are stored. The whole process can be very energising; indeed with the dharanis that we chant most days, the Shosaimyo Kichijo Dharani and the Dai Hi Shin Dharani, the point of them is not the meaning of the words but the spirit and energy with which they are chanted, and then whatever positive energy or merit that is created by the chanting, we give away, and the eko, or dedication, tells us to whom we are giving this away.
Personally I love the Japanese chants, as the nature of the language with its strong vowels allows a different energy to come up to a chant in English. But that's not the reason we still chant in Japanese; we do it out of respect and gratitude for our founder, who brought the teachings to us just fifty years ago.
There is much talk these days of how Zen will transform now it is in the west, and eventually I suspect a lot of the Japanese elements will recede and be replaced, but seven hundred years elapsed between Dogen and Suzuki Roshi,  so in Buddhist terms, we are just at the beginning. Which is an exciting time to be around.