Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Nobuko's training continues in Japan

Here is a message that Nobuko sent recently, along with permission to pass it to the blog! It has been edited just at a couple of places. The third post in a row about people getting experience of monastery settings -- excitement, pressure cooker environment, sake, amusement....everything!

I had the most wonderful morning here! The monk that I met yesterday met me today at the Daisen-in, a temple in Daitoku-ji. Once I got there, he showed me the first room with the shrine, which he said we would come into first and then bow. Then he led me into the next room, which had sliding doors which he left open to the outside. He didn't really give me instruction, which was fine, he just sat me down on the tatami mat with his bell (like the one you use at sesshin) and his wooden clappers (and his stylish green cell phone to keep time). He said that his style was like this- which was full lotus. We didn't use zafus or zabutans. We just sat down on the tatami mat like that. So we sat for a period of 30 minutes, then stretched, then another 30 minutes. After about an hour he asked me a few questions. He asked me how long I'd been doing zazen for, which I said about two years, then he asked me about what I wanted to do, what my goals were. I was a little bit confused at first, then I just said I didn't really have any. Even if I did, I wouldn't have been able to explain it in Japanese anyway. So he said that was fine, and we continued to sit for a bit. I think this monk is the head monk's son, that's what my host-mother told me yesterday.

After three sits, about four monks dressed in full robes came in. The teacher there told me to get up and come to the shrine room, where he had me sit down. The monks stood outside. The monk lit some things on the shrine, then handed me a sutra book, which had all of the original chinese characters, with the Japanese pronunciation written on the side, which he thought was fine for me to read. We then recited the Heart Sutra together, which was unlike anything I'd ever experienced before. My teacher led, his voice drawn out and deep (like how enka singers sing, the traditional Japanese singing). Then the other four monks joined in. They pronounced everything very differently than even I thought was correct, but the experience was just amazing. At that point I kept thinking, am I really here? Is this really happening? But I didn't want to get too wrapped up in my head so I just kept going, and chanting the sutra which thankfully I already knew pretty well.

After the sutra he said I should come outside for tea, but then when I sat by the other monks, he told me to come somewhere inside instead. A woman came out and said, it's cold, no? And led me inside. I was led into a warm living room-kitchen area, with two little children, the young woman who led me there and an older woman. This was the monk's family who also lived at the temple. They gave me a sweet snack, a sort of sweet made of rice cake with sweet bean, and they made me traditional tea (the kind used for tea ceremony, with the whisk and everything) and as the young girl took the bowl, turned it twice, I followed suit. It wasn't official tea ceremony but I figured they did something of the sort, since it was a tea bowl and the kind of tea used for ceremony. Then the family kindly asked me questions and chatted, and I told them what I was doing there and such. It was really a wonderful experience, and when the older woman asked if I was homesick, she said any time I felt homesick I could come there to their house. I'll be going there anyway though, for zazen everyday at 7:30. That's what the monk said I could do. The two young children were his children, and very very cute. When I left the young girl who was ten years old made me an origami flower. I said "arigatou gozaimashita, mata ashita ne" which means thank you very much, and I'll see you tomorrow!

I'm really having a good experience so far. You know it's funny, I haven't experienced the euphoric shock that I think comes when studying abroad, maybe it's because I've been in Japan before. Even when going around the temple three days ago, I thought it was weird that I wasn't overwhelmed like I was three years ago, the first time I set foot in a real Buddhist temple in Japan. I felt rather at home, and maybe like the Japanese feel when they pass it, like it's normal but still beautiful. Anyway I will still try to enjoy it to the fullest, and do my best to do so naturally! Though I feel, perhaps I already am.

I'm so glad that I can practice here! The practice I got at home (in U.S) though is invaluable, and indeed I get the feeling that some American practitioners are much more serious than the Japanese ones. Though the monk asked me if we use "keisaku" and I told him we didn't, not anymore, I think that the American mindset is much more... stern in some ways. It depends on the sect. My host mother knows the monks pretty well- that's because she owns a liquor store around the corner- when she told the monk her name he said, "oh, Konaka-san!" And after talking to them she said to me, "all monk know me, I friendly with all monk because they drink much much sake!" Apparently they live well here in Daitoku-ji because it's funded by the government and they don't have to pay taxes. Also the tourism is high as well, this morning when I left there were already a lot of people around. But at any rate though, the monk has been so kind to me, as well as his family, so I really can't be grateful enough!


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Monday, March 30, 2009

Zen Training at a Monastery

Hello all!

It's so nice to read about the Sangha happenings and practice! I miss you all! For those who don't know me, I started my Zen practice with Cold Mountain Sangha in early 2006. It wasn't until after my first sesshin in March 2007 that I was hooked on Zen. Then after the June sesshin last year with the Sangha, I realized that I had to focus on my Zen training. So I applied for a one-year residency at Zen Mountain Monastery and have been here for the past eight months. Kriti asked me to share some of experiences training at a monastery, which I am more than happy to do so!

We just completed our first 30 days of our Spring Ango (literal meaning is "Peaceful Dwelling"), a 90-day intensive training period, where we intensify our practice with more sitting, earlier wake-up, scheduled body practice (yoga or movement led by a senior monastic), art practice, and oryoki breakfast during the training week. Every Ango here also has a theme, this ango's theme is Dogen's Genjokoan, which we have a one-week intensive on in May and our art practice is also based on lines from the Genjokoan.

For this ango we also have a Shuso (head monk), who leads the Sangha and is the model for practice during these 90-days. At the end of the 90-days she will undergo shuso hossen, which is a ceremonial rite-of-passage where she will become a senior and give her first dharma talk and do a dharma combat, which is like a public dokusan. The Shuso's dharma combat is when the Sangha can test the Shuso's understanding of the dharma.

For each training period, the residents and monastics all receive new service positions. I'm currently the AM jikido (timekeeper) which means that during the training week I have to make sure the tea and coffee service is ready by 4.15am, offer incense at the main altar, do the wake-up bell at 4.25, open up all the altars and hit the han at 4.50 to signal that the Zendo is closed, everyone should be sitting and doing zazen by then. During the sitting periods I signal the start and end of the periods and offer incense before each period, make sure the kyosaku stick is ready and watch the time for kinhin. Throughout the morning I make sure the tea and coffee service is stocked and clean. For ango sesshin, everything is moved up 30 minutes earler because wake-up is at 3.55am, not to mention there's also a lot more coffee making!

Training as AM jikido has been such an amazing experience so far. I get to serve the Sangha and have seen that the only way I could serve in the most efficient and effective way possible is by letting go of the self. The service tasks are timed quite tightly so that I have to move swifty, which I've been reminded of several times by the monitor. Once I almost missed canton, when the teacher walks by everyone's seat before the first morning period, because I took too long to close everything down in the dining hall. I've noticed that all of my concentration is required at whatever it is that I am doing so that I can do it swiftly and smoothly. So after I do whatever I have to do to get myself ready for the day my attention is solely focused on the jikido tasks to be carried out.

I enjoy sitting before our morning zazen so when I found out that I was AM jikido this training period I wondered what I was going to do. When I saw the idea of getting up at 2.30am to allow me to sit before morning zazen, I heard myself say to myself, "You've got to be kidding." But I felt like I couldn't just turn away from this opportunity (I don't know what else to call it!) so I set my alarm for 2.30am. I was quite tired by the end of the first week, maybe even a little delirious, but now I find that it's no big deal to wake up at 2.30 or at 2.00 during sesshin. And at that time of the day, it seems like it is neither night nor day. What is time in the end? And also, who said we needed 8 hours of sleep anyway??

This post has gotten quite long, but if anyone would like to know more about life at the monastery I'd be more than happy to share! Be well!

lots of love,

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Michael Pope's message from Taiwan

This post is just a bit edited version of Mike's (Tall comfortable Mike, if that's how you know him) original heartwarming message posted as a comment. Mike, please post directly as an author after accepting your invitation to be an author (it was resent today).

My name is michael and currently i am living in taiwan. i am running back and forth to Japan every three months for sesshin in japan. i am here in taiwan studying mandarin and such. last summer i lived in a Japanese temple called Bukkokuji. it is on the side of a mountain. i ve heard that most temples traditionally have been built on the sides of mountains. the town is called obama and it is on the west coast of japan. there is also a temple down the street from it called Hoshinji. last sesshin you could hear people yelling mu during our zazen period all the way from the other temple. i thought that was the sweetest and most inspiring thing. you really feel "in it", everyone is working hard.

dokusan is quite a challenge there. one time, i said to the teacher during dokusan "watashiwa gyogen". that means my name is gyogen (my dharma name there) in japanese. i think he went on and on in japanese about how much he loves his teacher because he kept pointing at him, smiling and holding his heart....finally i told him i don't speak a lick of japanese. he just laughed and said...continue, continue! ...so i did.

i am going back to japan in 4 weeks for next sesshin. possibly when i am finished here in taiwan with my studies i will go live in a different temple in japan south of kyoto... but i'll see how that all goes.

Text from an earlier email sent in 2008 (photo of his Takahatsu robes):

i did takahatsu (begging for alms) here. we do it about every 5 days or so. it was painful because we walk in these rice straw shoes. it rained all day! we walk around yelling HO! until we get to a door where we chant (and ask for alms). it is rather interesting. it's like some very old tradition juxtaposed to the modern world. this is the main way the temple is still supported along with donation and bukkokuji's small farms. i hope you enjoy the picture of my takahatsu outfit. i was getting ready to go out. we also have to wear a big hat. then we carry a bowl, small bell, and little papers we give to people..it is a blessing of sorts. we go out all day chanting and yelling!

do you know that most of these monks are not vegetarians. i was very surprised. they eat whatever is given to them. one day someone donated a sausage and pepperoni pizza! i ate a piece thinking it was surely vegetarian...

the sitting schedule changes depending on the weather. if it rains, then we sit 6 hours in a day. if no rain we sit 4 hours. we chant 2 times a day. we have to work in the fields if the weather is nice. the teacher's name is roshi sama. he is quite old...maybe 85. the temple is pretty laid back and people are very humble. i feel like a total beginner again.

From another mail:
i was lucky enough here to be assigned ringing the giant bell and chanting at 11 am. it is like a whole little thing that i do of chanting and bowing and ringing... i was a little nervous at first because everyone can hear you and i have to do it really loud! the bell must weigh 200 punds or more. i felt honored to do it.

Good Luck Mikey! You are missed here -- please post some pictures when you compose create new blog. It is very easy to upload pictures and also videos using the icons on the right side of the create post page! And please write more and often!

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Inviting new posts

Dear all,

Please feel free ask difficult questions, to write about your practice, give suggestions or write about experiences at sesshin anonymously. To write an anonymous post, you could either ask one of the authors to post it on your behalf or send an email to daibosa@gmail.com from an email account that does not mention your name and somehow convince the reader of the email that you are a longtime member of the sangha who has been to sesshins and you will be invited to become an anonymous author.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

March 2009 Sesshin

Some of us just got back from Spring sesshin! It wasn't a home run with 32 people like last sesshin, but it was wonderful - 2o people (at most times) and it took much lesser time to clean up the zendo and kitchen!

Kudos to Justin! It was his first sesshin -- and boy did he get transformed!! Many people thought he will just quit -- he had only sat for a week at Rutgers before jumping into sesshin but by the end, he "was home"! He loved food and thought it was excellent that, in words from a teisho at this sesshin, "we held each other up" so beautifully!

It was a party in the kitchen, as always --- Many thanks to Brian for endless shredding of carrots and beets, Nobuko for cutting (and eating ;)) pickled daikon, Mike Shawe for squeezing a million limes, Sandy for the rich dessert, Ashish for mixing that thick potato puree, Karen for ricing us up, Imtiaz for delicious eggplant and sambhar, Ilusha and Yvette for initiating laughter when most of us would suppress our giggles! Brian, Jeff, Mark, Alex, Nick and Rachel were doing dishes -- meal after meal. And Rodica ..she is the master mincer - she cuts veggies so beautifully that they seem like tiny jewels!

Gary donned his cold mountain sangha cap at the beginning of sesshin and remained in that spirit throughout - tirelessly drumming mukogyo (wooden fish, a fish is always awake) . Jacky and Alex kept the zendo warm and inviting. The altar looks amazing everyday - but especially when the earthern lamps are lit on the last evening. Alex has made them on Bob's turning wheel and painted these lamps himself. I think they beat everything ever sold in Indian markets during Diwali time! Ofcourse, no one did only one thing and we were all butting our heads and noses into everything!

At one point while announcing Kinhin, Kurt said, "It is time to go limping around in a big circle!" Kudos to all of us -- bunch of limpers! Thanks to everyone for holding each other up and to Kurt for guiding us along ....and making delicious Lasagna (we had rice based one too) on the way!

Some COLD news!

Jacky and some of us were wondering why exactly are we "cold" mountain sangha? We hug at the smallest excuse and seem to be very warm people, cold sounds a bit heartless! Here is a little poem by Hsu Yun, the great Chinese master who could sit for seven days at a stretch that, according to Kurt, explains the cold! Chia-ju (pronounced Jaru) later pointed out the word 'Han' in Han Shan (Cold Mountain) can be translated as both 'cold' and 'humble or poor'. Its beautiful ..isn't it?

Ilusha is leaving for Seattle soon and he is going to try to meet -- guess whom -- our dharma aunt! She is wonderful -- or sounds wonderful. Check this article for all most of us know about her!

Mike Pope has been going to sesshins in Japan and has promised to write a post soon but we heard a snippet in a teisho -- during winter sesshins, there is not heat in Japanese temples. He has taken bath is freezing cold waters! Mike, hope you are deep in mushin when you do that!

Nobuko is leaving for Japan tomorrow for 4 months! There is a wild "Rutgers gang" that sits almost every morning and evening - setting up cushions at rutgers zendo or driving around New Jersey on sundays. She has been an integral part of that "lets do it" spirit and she knows she will be missed! Keep in touch, Nob!

Rodica is inspired to try out sprout based salads and many other people over the years have wanted to atleast keep a recipe handy! So in the next post, there will be recipe for basic sprout making! But it won't turn out so well without help of so many people who chip in to chop, chop and chop!

And last but not the least --

make it known that you would like to edit this post-- to add or correct things!

Gassho and hugs!

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Friday, March 6, 2009

Three hour sits & multiple authors!

Dear all,

We will have 3 hr sit tomorrow at Rutgers (7 AM till 10). Once again, we have the option of joining only for 1.5 hours either at 7 or 8:30. We have made sure that the room is available all day tomorrow. We will end with tea (and goodbye hugs), so we should be done by 10:30. Hope to see some of you there! Kurt will be there as well.

If you are interested in future notification of 3 hour saturday sits by email, please let me know. Otherwise I will NOT flood your mailbox. Information about all sangha events other than the ones already on the sangha website will be posted on the blog.

Also, this blog now has multiple authors. A lot of people have already joined to create an online newsletter. The idea is to pass information of common interest to our sangha. You can post photos or videos of each other, sangha events, or post short notes about news of environmental/health/community interest. Those of you who are traveling the world, please share your experiences. If you would like to contribute to this blog, let me know! Feel free to not use your real/full name if that can interfere with your professional identity. I am hoping next few messages will not be from me!

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