Monday, December 6, 2010


I feel like I haven't said very much about the experience of sesshin. As was discussed with Paul during dokusan, the ino doesn't necessarily get to stay internally focused, as there is so much else happening. As it turned out, I had a fairly relaxed and spacious first few days; after that I felt quite tired, and then towards the end it was mainly very busy, and once again I felt sad that I didn't get to stay in the zendo more as I was organising the various ceremonies.
As for the silence...I accumulated large numbers of notes from many people about many things, and also had a lot of interactions. After one meal, I remained on the first floor as I needed to check in with someone, and ended up having six conversations in five minutes. I tried to minimise it from my end by deciding not to offer feedback to people about things that happened unless it really felt necessary. From the other end, there were people who didn't know what they needed to do, people who were upset with themselves as they didn't believe they were doing well enough, people who were upset with other people over various exchanges and the ramifications of them, people who were upset with me as they didn't have the information they needed, and people who just wanted to talk. There was sickness, old age and death.
One participant who was new to Zen Center complimented me afterwards on the way I handled all the people that were coming to the zendo; I replied that the people who came weren't the problem, it was the people who didn't come that caused the problems, as I had to figure who could cover their jobs and how to keep things running smoothly.

I am going to be cheeky and tack on a note about the stats - I was happy to see that the counter now stands at fifty flags, and I had to laugh when I saw that the newest flag was from Guernsey, which I didn't think would even qualify, though at least I know how to find it on the map. We are also up to thirty seven states, having picked up both Alaska and Hawaii, and I am now starting to wonder which are the missing ones - I don't think I have seen New Hampshire, but otherwise most of the gaps seem to be from the South.


Mike said...

I guess it is the difference between a Zendo in a City and my small(er) town. At our Sesshin, there is rarely talking, consulting, or requests for feedback on one's practice - communication - if any outside sesshin tasks- is kept to basic questions and answers. But the sesshins I've done are only at our little temple, and I guess it may be different elsewhere. Mostly, we have silence punctuated by bells and chanting, which is wonderful. Of course during my first sesshin some time ago, I went blabbing about this and that. Luckily, one of the sangha members was very, very polite to me to explain things.

I've also been training as Jikido at our temple (which is mostly run by the lay sangha - we only have one resident priest). It never occurred to me to strike the densho with my head instead of the mallet! :) Hope you are OK.

kevin said...

I felt the same way training to be tenzo being in the kitchen about 7 of the 16 hours each day. I missed out on all the services save the cook's jundo at the very end. I was hoping to have many of the chants memorized by the end of the week, but all I got to do were the meal chants.

Our kitchen program is still young and working towards a traditional routine of right speech and concentration so I too found myself resisting the urge to offer feedback at times to minimize conversation.

I think it was a nice introduction, but I look forwards to future sesshin where the spirit of the Tenzo Kyokun will strengthen and grow.

Shundo said...

Hi Kevin,

I was tenzo for two Rohatsus, and one of them I didn't set foot in the zendo once, except for the jundo...hard to square with 'do not miss one morning or evening meeting'.


What does the jikido do at your temple - the word strikes a chill into anyone who has been at Tassajara, as the jikido here has to sleep in the zendo, and get up at 3am to go out and light all the lanterns, rain or moonshine.
I didn't mean to suggest that everyone was talking - there was a deep silence in the building, and especially in the zendo, but as ino, you are kind of the nexus of a lot of stuff

Mike said...


At our temple the jikido keeps time for all temple activities, keeps time during zazen (the "keeper of the clock") and calls the sangha to the zendo and strikes the han outside the door to let the priest know the sangha is ready (his office is detached from the building so he needs a signal). The jikido is also responsible for the zendo durning zazen and is the only one facing out along with the priest and is there to help if someone gets ill or needs to leave or if the wind blows open the door from the outside and the cat sneaks in, to get her out. Also responsible for the lights in the zendo. I think I would like the jikido at Tassajara - it sounds pretty "hardcore" - I kinda like stuff like that. If I where to ever enter into that life - becoming ordained and giving my life over to it, I would want to be a hermit in a cave - or the lifetime jikido at Tassajara.

I enjoy your blog. It is an interesting insight into a place that I've long admired.

Shundo said...

Hey Mike,

I think if you wanted to offer to be the lifetime jikido at Tassajara, none of the monks would complain...
Thanks for your explanations. WE use different words for those roles here - the fukudo hits the han, the doan times the periods and rings the bells, and I would probably be the one to take care of any incidents. Regrettably we do not have a temple cat, so that skill is not called for.
You would neither have to be ordained nor make a lifetime commitment to be at Tassajara for practice period, by the way. A three-month commitment, and the okay from your teacher that you would be up for the rigours of the schedule would suffice.