Friday, December 16, 2011

Ascending The Mountain

One thing that I had been thinking about the Mountain Seat Ceremony is that it was probably going to be my last big hurrah as ino, but it seems that the new plan is for me to stay on until September. After that, depending on whether there is something compelling to keep me in the city or not, I might be heading back to Tassajara.
Either way, the ceremony is going to take up a big chunk of thinking between now and February - not least because apart from the New Year extravaganza, there isn't a lot on right now, which feels very nice compared to recent times.
Naturally, as a diligent ino, not having been in attendance at one of these before (I was at Tassajara in 2003 and 2007, the last two times it has been performed), I have been consulting the files and also checking out the Gyoji Kihan. My conclusions from having done this are that we cleave pretty close to the Japanese forms on this occasion, which is perhaps not so surprising: since Suzuki Roshi handed over to Richard Baker in 1971, we haven't done the ceremony so many times, and Hoitsu Suzuki Roshi has, I think, always been on hand to guide us on the forms.
As ino I will get to have a lot of fun in the ceremony, not least leading the new Abbess on a jundo around the zendo and then doing prostrations to her. One part I will not be attending is the Inspection of the Seal, which will take place in the dokusan room. Here, I imagine the version we do will differ somewhat from the Japanese. This is from the Gyoji Kihan:

"Next, three people (senior people like the president for sure)... advance before table, burn incense, withdraw, and do 'spreading cloth twice, paying respects thrice' (a formal way to do prostrations)... At first when they have spread sitting cloths and are about to make prostration... new abbot expresses his/her opinion that they need not engage in such politeness. Thus, they immediately fold up their sitting cloths and speak the following words:
We merely wish to thave the honor of paying our respects to the abbot's dharma seat. We are distraught at having our praises rebuffed.
Next, they again spread sitting cloths and go to make prostrations... and new abbot again indicates that they do not need to go to the trouble. Thus, they immediately fold up their sitting cloths and, when finished, speak the following words:
With deferential consideration, we respectfully inquire of the Most Reverend Newly Appointed Abbot's well-being, and pray that he/she has every good fortune".
None of the versions I have of our Mountain Seat detail what is actually going to be said during this exchange, but these very Japanese phrases put me in mind of the words in the Shuso Entering Ceremony, which the Gyoji Kihan renders thus:

"Head seat (shuso) spreads cloth twice in paying respects thrice to the abbot. Upon first spread of sitting cloth, intones following words:
I am a newly ordained monk who has just entered the monastery. I am uncultivated in all the procedures. It must be by mistake that I have received your reverence's commission. An ordinary person with no responsibilities like me is intimidated in the extreme.
Next, makes second spread of cloth and says:
The weather these days is very warm. With deferential consideration for you, reverend abbot, I respectfuly inquire whether everything is going well.
Head seat makes three abbreviated prostrations; abbot also makes one prostration in reply".

Here is how we have rendered it a little more western in our version:

"Shuso says, in gassho:
I have received Buddha’s Precepts and have entered this temple, and I am deeply grateful for your teaching. But I am not yet ready to be shuso.
Shuso tries to turn away three times but is stopped by gesture from teacher each time.
At conclusion of turning away, shuso, hands in shashu, faces teacher and says:
These are beautiful days. May your good health continue. Please let me help you to continue the practice in this temple.
Teacher says:
Yes, please help me. This monastic shares our seat and our responsibility. Please give her your support".


Djinn said...

Yes! Call me selfish, but I'm delighted to hear that you'll be spending a bit longer in the city, my dear dharma brother - it was hard feeling that you and I were basically going to be swapping places. So I'll be delighted to be working side by side with you on that Mountain Seat ceremony, or at least in the same neighbourhood. (Speaking of which, I enjoyed your correct spelling of "honoured" followers of Zen...)

Shundo said...

Hello dear, nice to hear from you. Yes, I'll be very happy to have you guys alongside us here next year. Will you be backing me on the 'neither' as well?

Djinn said...

Ah, that brings back delightful memories of an entire zendo chorusing "neether" while one precise English voice says "nigh-ther". But I'm Irish, angel, and I think we say "neether" too - I think "nigh-ther" was a pronunciation you chaps picked up from one of your German Hanoverian monarchs.

Shundo said...

Well, the Germanic roots of English go back a little deeper than that, dear. Tsk.