Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Chosan

Chosan should not be confused with shosan. For sure they both involve everyone sitting in rows with the Abbot in the middle, but in shosan you have to get up and ask a question face to face with the Abbot, in front of everybody, and then stand there to hear the answer. In chosan you get to stay where you are, you get served tea and a treat, and asking a question is entirely optional. Actually, at Zen Center there are two kinds of chosan even. It means, as far as I understand, morning tea, and at Tassajara that usually involves small groups of people, like the kitchen crew, the doanryo, or senior staff, having tea with the Abbot in the Abbot's cabin (Abbot is shorthand throughout for Abbess or Practice Period Leader as well). It is quite formal, but usually enjoyable, although there was an occasion when no zafus were offered, and we were sitting in seiza on the tatami for an hour, which, even more than sitting full lotus, is really only to be recommended if you have been doing it since childhood. Occasionally there would be a chosan for everyone in the practice period in the zendo at Tassajara, which I mainly remember for the fiendishly difficult drum roll-down that had to coincide with the Abbot's entrance.
We don't have an Abbot's cabin here, and the other kind of chosan happens so rarely at City Center that there is no folder of instructions on the ino's computer, which has full archives going back more than ten years - I have a memory of doing it here, but the ino must not have written anything down, as the only thing I found for City Center was typewritten in a folder in one of the two filing cabinets filled with historical treasures in the ino's office. I scanned that yesterday, and started working on a hybrid of that version and my memories of the Tassajara set-up.
It is useful for me, when I start feeling stressed, to try to pinpoint exactly what it is that is causing the stress. I have Sejiki looming at the end of the week, which is a very big deal and will require a lot of preparation, some of which I have done. So throwing another unusual event into the mix, which took up a lot of thinking and planning time yesterday not only causes its own stress, but by deferring my attention to the other big event, causes the stress of not being able to focus on that.
So in itself, the chosan was not the problem, though there were a number of unknowns to work through. With much help from Joan and Tanya, we had a working seating plan and set of forms by the end of yesterday, as well as a big box of mochi, and after dinner I set up the cups, trays and other paraphenalia.
During zazen this morning, Tanya, Richard and I got the Buddha Hall set up according to plan, things carried over from the kitchen, the tea brewing and everything was coming out on time, so I started to relax. When everyone came upstairs though, I eventually realised that we had about half a dozen more people than we were catering for - evidently no-one was staying in bed this morning. This caused some running around for cups and extra treats, and some squeezing up on the tatamis, but once we were all settled, it went very well. The questions and discussion, which can be a little strained or stilted sometimes, were very rich today; the sun rose behind us as the tea progressed and Vicki and Paul fielded the enquiries and expounded the dharma for us. Surprisingly, nobody asked about the Giants' prospects for the World Series, which would have also made for some rich discussion.

8 comments:

LWA said...

Hi, Shundo. Very educational! Your thoughts on sitting on the tatami for an hour were funny (though I'm sure the actual experience was not fun at all) and I also really liked your earlier mention of the more formidable of your two grandmothers. (Are you taking oryoki questions here, by any chance?)

Chris D said...

Is Sejiki another transliteration of Segaki, or something else I haven't heard of?

Shundo said...

Yes it is Chris - hello Chile again. Segaki was deemed to have a derogatory meaning, so it was changed.
Linda, you can try me on oryoki, definitely...

LWA said...

Great; thank you. I thought I had learned in the couple of oryoki training sessions I've attended that if you request seconds of anything, you can continue eating your "firsts," but that you should wait to start your seconds until everyone has been served seconds.

However, in practice, it appears that everyone stops eating entirely while seconds are being served to those who want them. Therefore, I feel self-conscious continuing to eat during that time. Should I?

Shundo said...

Well I can't stop you feeling self-conscious, but your understanding of the form is correct - you can continue eating your first helpings while seconds are served, and when the servers have left after seconds, you bow and start on seconds. I wouldn't advise stopping eating for any reason during oryoki, you will only get behind. Blanche used to stop while the Buddha tray was being collected by the soku, but she did not insist on that as a form for everybody as she wanted people to be able to eat all their food in time...

LWA said...

You're right about the getting behind part! Thank you. I will proceed with confidence. :-)

Chris D said...

Shundo:

What's the derogatory meaning of "Segaki", and how does "Sejiki" remedy it?

Shundo said...

Hi Chris - I think you would need to ask someone who speaks Japanese. I never got to the bottom of that particular issue, sorry