Saturday, February 5, 2011

An Offering of Tea

I checked my email before the lecture this morning and discovered that the Green Gulch contingent would not arrive until one thirty, which scuppered the idea of a rehearsal at one o'clock.
This did allow me the opportunity to have a brief sit down after lunch. It was always going to be a big day, with Jerome's funeral coming after the usual Saturday program of zazen, service, oryoki, zazen, lecture and nenju.
When Tenshin Roshi and his attendants arrived, I followed them into the dokusan room and sat with him as we looked at a change he wanted to make that we had spoken about on the phone after lecture, at the versions of the dedications that he had brought with him, and at who would say what. His anja had brought him the cup of green tea that he had asked for, and I was watching the space between knowing that there were a dozen or more people outside waiting to rehearse the procession and other parts of the ceremony, and wanting to allow our most senior teacher to have a chance to drink his tea.
It was as well that we did rehearse; the procession had seventeen people in it; apart from the three doshis, attendants and the people playing instruments, there were the people carrying Jerome's ashes, his portrait, the ihai (the wooden memorial tablet), and other ceremonial objects that belonged to him; all these things had to be placed on the altar with reverence. In the Buddha Hall there were many other details which Tenshin Roshi fleshed out for us carefully; I was nervous about the time, as people were arriving and waiting outside - of course I would have liked to have had the opportunity to take the amendments, re-write the script I had, and print it out nice and neat for everyone. What I realised I would get to do instead was make a copy of the new dedications for myself, the kokyo and the doan, pencil in a few things, and trust that we had people with the experience to make it happen smoothly. We came out of the rehearsal at two fifty; the densho should have begun at two forty-five, though luckily I had told the shoten not to begin until he got an okay from me. I told him to begin it at three; it was another opportunity for me to try to manage the dynamic of the moment - I didn't want us to be too late starting, but I also knew I was making it tough for people, including Blanche, who needed to go and change, and would have no time to rest before we got under way.
In the end, the ceremony was strong and beautiful. Of course there were a couple of things that didn't happen per the script, but they were somewhat imperceptible. I learnt a new form as well: during the ceremony, the ino is supposed to invite each of the doshis in turn to make offerings, of sweet water, tea, and then for the flame mudra. I was shown how to bow formally with my zagu draped over my hands, and having to do something unfamiliar kept me fully present in the ceremony,  just like when I am at the tsui ching, and made for three powerful moments for me, meeting the doshis with these bows.
I have seen the flame mudra done before, years ago, and I remember feeling disappointed that here in the city, with our tatami mats, we use a paper flame. This time, accompanied by drum crescendos and invocations by Tenshin Roshi, it felt deeply powerful, the crux of the ceremony.
The assembly was offered the opportunity to come to offer incense and make statements to Jerome. The people who came up covered the whole range from those who had practised with him, here or at Tassajara, thirty or forty years ago, and who remembered touching and distinctive moments with him, to people who had known him just a few years, but whom he had helped, or touched, or nurtured along the path. Liping made me cry with a reprise of Moon River, which many of us sang along with softly. It felt like just the right number of people got to speak.

The funeral altar in the Buddha Hall
Afterwards, as I approached the doshis in the hallway, Tenshin Roshi turned to me and said, "Suzuki Roshi used to say to the ino on occasions such as this 'You have done a good job'; thank you, you have done a good job", which compliment I was honoured to receive.

The doshis after the funeral: Tenshin Roshi, Abbot Myogen, Zenkei Roshi
I didn't last long at the reception, though I had a chance to thank many of the people who made the occasion a success and who made my day easier. I went to take a bath, after twelve hours of feeling hot in my robes, and when I emerged, I saw that the sky was luminous in all directions. Though I barely made it outside all day, it has been another beautiful warm day here in the city.


Sandy's witterings said...

Sounds as if it's not been an easy winter for you. Your pictures though always make the centre seem light, airy and peaceful - I should think it's a fine place to be passed on.

Shundo said...

Light, airy and peaceful,eh? Well I'm glad the pictures make it look like that. We love to complain about how overstretched we are all the time, but the people who come to visit probably just see the part of the swan that is floating gracefully above the water, not the furiously paddling feet.