I still try to get to the zendo early, though I am not quite as punctual as I was last year, and I don't often get to bow with Lien as she comes back upstairs. Time was, I would generally be the first person in the zendo, which was a feeling I enjoyed; now there are usually a couple of people already sitting when I arrive. The first few minutes are quiet and dark - the doan is instructed to turn on the lights and light the altar before the han starts at five ten. Sometimes they don't make it in time, and I get up with a little sigh and do it myself. Otherwise I just sit at my seat by the door as people come into the zendo. At first it is just a trickle, but after the first roll-down, at five seventeen, the flow becomes more steady.
In my early days, I used to take the first roll-down as my cue to go to the zendo. The pattern for the han is fifteen minutes long, divided into three rounds of seven, five and three minutes repectively, so the first roll-down is about half way through. When I did my practice period on the doanryo at Tassajara, we were instructed to be in the zendo by the first roll-down even when we didn't have a job that day. The next practice period, when I was the head doan, seeing that Linda, the ino, was always in the zendo before the han started, I decided to support her by doing the same, and since then I have always liked to be early. It was harder when I was tenzo and had to wait to check in with the breakfast cook - and I would get very impatient if they didn't arrive by five past five as requested.
While the han is going on, the morning doshi is doing the round of various altars in the building, starting with the kaisando, and including the kitchen and the hallway altar, before they go to the Buddha Hall. The difference between City Center and Tassajara is that at Tassajara the first and second roll-downs were timed by the doan, who would signal the person hitting the han, and then there would be a longer period before the third roll-down while the doshi completed their round. All the students would be expected to be inside and seated by the second roll-down, after which the shuso enters the zendo to do their jundo, inspecting to make sure everything is in order. In other words, you always knew how much time you had before the second roll-down to get to your seat at the last minute, if you were that way inclined - and it is invariably the same people who come early and the same people who come late every day...
Here in the city this is a more high-risk strategy, in that the signal for the second roll-down is given by the chiden who hits the big bell in the Buddha Hall as the doshi does their prostrations, so the time between the first roll-down and the second is entirely dependent on the speed that the doshi moves around the building. People get used to how long the Abbot takes when he is here, but during this practice period, a number of different people are being doshi during the week - Michael, Vicki, Jordan - and this morning Blanche was doing it, and obviously caught more than a few people out - instead of the increasing surge of people coming into the zendo before the second roll-down, there was a big influx after the shuso and Blanche had finished their jundos and the three bells were rung to begin the period of zazen. I might need to do some finger-wagging at some of the habitually late people, especially as I invoked the Gyoji Kihan at the residents' meeting last Saturday.
(If you are new to this, and all these Japanese words made you glaze over, you might want to refer to the glossary)