Sunday, February 12, 2012

Stepping Up

I was wondering how I could describe the Mountain Seat to people back in England, and what came to mind was: well it's a little less fuss than a coronation.
Having woken up this morning at the usual time, I went downstairs to find the tenzo already making breakfast and the shika going to sit zazen. I managed to get the last instructions typed up before the umpan rang, then when it got light, went out to stretch my legs with a quick hour on my bike, taking in the sunrise over the Bay, the moon high over Coit Tower, cherry blossoms in the Marina and fog enveloping Mount Sutro. And then to work.
Since we had done so much preparation yesterday, the transformation to today's set-up took less time than anticipated, and the things I thought I was going to be running round trying to take care of at the last minute were being done well before lunch. There was a lovely atmosphere in the building; everyone was working positively with little stress - even the kitchen seemed relaxed when I passed through. With the chairs we had rented, we had more seats than we had planned for, which was a good state to be in - I think we ended up with space for 170 people in the Buddha Hall.
And then the dignitaries and guests started pouring in, and it was time to get dressed up. I felt like I had my finger on the ignition switch, as I went up to the Angesho tea in the Conference Center to ask the Shinmei, Christina, if she was ready for the densho to begin, and then we started getting everyone into their seats. Up and down the street a few more times, to check on readiness, and then it was really happening.
I had already been excited, when I looked over the ceremony for the first time, maybe three months ago, that I was going to lead the Shinmei in a jundo around the zendo. Hoitsu added to that in the rehearsal by indicating that the Shinmei should bow with the ino afterwards, which wasn't as previously scripted. It was the first of several lovely moments I got to share with Christina, not just prostrating in unison, but also the huge warm smile on her face when our zagus were folded up and we bowed again to each other.
In the Buddha Hall I had an unparalleled view of proceedings, but I enjoyed the backstage moments more: after the Jiden ceremony, where the documents are signed and stamped behind closed doors, and everyone else stretches their legs, I was invited into the dokusan room so that the new Abbess could check over the rest of the script; again, she was smiling and saying she was having fun. The jishas were also borrowing the script as they tried to remember their movements for the second part. And when all were happy, I signalled the shoten to get us underway again.
Now there were several times in all the complicated choreography where things did not go as scripted. On one occasion, one of the Japanese dignitaries was muttering instructions to the Ryoban quite loudly, though it didn't make any difference, and one key step got skipped over, though when we alerted Christina, she very simply said, oh, I should be there not here, and we went back to where we should have been. As everyone said afterwards, these are the things that make the ceremony real and human - indeed one of the sweetest moments was during the Robe Chant, which the Abbess was supposed to do unaccompanied, but hearing everyone join in for the second and third time was very moving. What was most abundant through it all was the sense of mutual support and great love.

Christina talks to Hoitsu at the Angesho tea

Flower girl and  photographer waiting for the off

Processing down the street

Couldn't get all the procession in one picture

At the gate

Shujo Jisha holds the staff

Ryoban mudras

Robe Chant

Statement of support from Daigaku

I think there was some Swiss-German humour happening here


Abbess and Reb

Abbess and Hoitsu

Marsha got the last word


Eli said...

Shundo- I LOVE these photographs- I'm so glad you got a new camera (though it isn't the camera, it's you). I especially love the combination of the freefall of the flowers that the flower girl is throwing and the expression on her face. The angle on the mudras shot stands out to me as what it means to capture an image. Somehow the hands in sequence or the focus on the hands or whatever it is you did gives a collective identity or personality to seemingly inanimate and separate objects (hands in mudras). Thank you for sharing them.

Shundo said...

It's not me and not the camera - what is it?

Eli said...

It's a compliment.

Shundo said...

Pish and tush.

Eli said...

I don't speak British, translation please?

Shundo said...

I don't speak British either...