Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Arc Of Sitting

As is often the case after sesshin, I am prevaricating about what to say, and as part of that humming and hawing, I looked back at last year's stuff (and helpfully found this picture, which I had wanted to link to as the same okesa came out again, only this time nobody had a camera on hand).
The dates for Rohatsu were different to last year's so that on the first day we had the fortieth annual Suzuki Roshi Memorial, and on the last day Buddha's Enlightenment. We also had a shosan to wrap things up, and I asked Paul whether going from Suzuki Roshi to Buddha was going forwards or backwards. Actually, I had a much better question - or rather a more alive one - but I bottled it. The tanto and the ino traditionally ask the first two questions at the ceremony, so Rosalie and I went to the zabutons put out on either side of the central row of tatamis in the Buddha Hall to do our prostrations, and we carefully laid out our zagus and did the bows in unison, which felt nice. I thought back to some ten minutes previously, when Paul and I, in our kimonos, had been simultaneously pissing in adjacent cubicles before the ceremony started, and wondered if one activity was really any less of a full expression of the Buddha way than the other...
A shosan is always intimate, as we often get to see what is close to people's hearts as they express themselves; what I noticed this time was we got to hear for the first time the voices of people who had come for the sesshin. I had been impressed with the strength of sitting that many of our visitors had demonstrated, and made a point of talking to most of them at dinner afterwards to tell them so. In return, I got some compliments about my handling of the many things, and people all noticed my firmness, or as Dougald from Belfast most astutely labeled it, perhaps with a more practised ear for English tonalities, my tetchiness, which went along with a more caring side...

The Memorial on the first morning was a great way to start - albeit one that had caused part of my pre-sesshin stress. People got to make statements to Suzuki Roshi, Blanche starting by recalling that morning forty years ago. We had two young priests from Japan in attendance as well, and I thought they might be nervous having to say something in English in front of everybody, so I whispered to Jinen, who was next to me, that he should make his statement in Japanese - since Suzuki Roshi would understand that just as well - and it sounded great. As we also heard from Lucy, who comes from China, and Shindo spoke of reading about him in India, we had a nice manifestation of the phrase we often use - transmitting the lamp through four countries.

Once we got past that opening morning, I did get to settle a bit, and mostly enjoyed the sitting. Unlike some other recent sesshins, I was not inspired to sit more at night, but on the last night of sesshin, even though I had been feeling tired during the evening, I felt a little ashamed not to be even attempting to emulate the bone-smashing feats of our ancestors, feeling more like a jobsworth ino ("look mate, once we're done with the refuges, I'm off the clock. I've done my time on the cushion, organised all the ceremonies. You want me to concentrate as well - for the same money? You're having a laugh..."). Once we came upstairs from the refuges, Lucy whacked me on the shoulders with a long-handled zafu brush, and I felt motivated enough to go down for a little while...

We also threw in a Full Moon Ceremony on the morning of day six for good measure, and as part of my cunning plans to keep stress levels to a minimum, I had decided to be kokyo myself, which I haven't got to do since I have been ino, with Anna as the doan - we did one quick run through in the week before sesshin, just to check we had our timings down, and I was happy to forget about it until it came around. It was one of the highlights of the week though, as I felt pretty focused through the whole thing, and came away thinking I had done it as well as I ever had.

As usual, I was conflicted about taking photos during sesshin, but couldn't resist on a few occasions. Things tend to look so beautiful during sesshin. Well, some things, some of the time.

Chocolate-covered strawberries on day six - yes it is December, but it is California as well
Not too long after the first picture was taken
At the risk of turning into one of those food blogs - tangerines for the offering tray for Buddha's Enlightenment ceremony


Ruth said...

I chuckled at the idea of a "jobsworth ino". Don't know if everyone will get that cultural reference... and it's SO not you, anyway ;-)

Shundo said...

It was a bit of a stretch to use the word, but it popped into my head, so I wanted to. I would have linked to the Urban Dictionary if it had been closer to what I was trying to articulate - I don't think the concept exists here (of course not, cf "Have a nice day").