My cell phone alarm clock awakens me before the jarring cow bell run of the shuso. A quick shower, and then I don two of the three layers of my new priest’s robes – the Japanese short-waisted white jubon with the grey kimono, and the flowing black koromo – a Japanese name for a Chinese garment that has sleeves twice as long as my arms and that hang below my knees. Then into my Birkenstocks and off to the Green Gulch Farm dining room for coffee. Every morning Steven, Tenshin Reb Anderson’s jiko, brews coffee so he can bring a cup to Tenshin Roshi’s dokusan room before 5:00 am zazen. I take my cup to a bench that overlooks the zendo and the residences, and sip coffee while I watch and listen to the monastery’s daily awakening.
One hit on the han that hangs outside the zendo is followed by that jangling, clanging cow bell being run through the monastery grounds. Windows in the Cloud Hall and Stillwater residences light up, trainees in pajamas stumble into the washrooms beside the zendo. Robed priests and lay trainees swish by me on their way to the dining room for a hot drink. The weather is crisp. The moon is close to full. Day after tomorrow we will do the monthly full moon ceremony where we will stand, kneel and bow in white socks as we recite the names of the ten Buddhas and the sixteen Bodhisattva precepts.
The han begins its call to the zendo. At the beginning of the first ringdown I return my cup to the dining room, wash it in the dishwashing room, where I will be spending two hours of my four-hour work day. In my application for ango I had said that I wanted to cook or garden. But a newly ordained priest does not get to choose. Dishes and dining room set-up it is.
Outside the zendo, I pick my okesa envelope up from my slot on the shelves that store the robes and rakusus and hold it in front of me, level with my nose as I enter the zendo. The converted barn is dark except for spotlights on the five-foot tall Shakyamuni statue that sits in the earth touching mudra on the main altar. Jizo and Prajnaparamita who are on the back altar are also illuminated. I take my spot on a chair in a back corner of the zendo. I switched to this chair after sitting tangaryo for forty-eight hours on my zafu. Such physical intensity was too much for my 71-year old body and my back muscles seized up in unforgiving deeply painful muscle knots. I sat the rest of the ango in a chair.
Immediately following the last three strikes of the han, the shuso does jundo and takes his seat. I know without looking that Tenshin Roshi has entered the zendo by the ringing of the large gong as he does his first bow on the haiseki in front of Shakyamuni. I listen for the sound of his feet hitting the floor and the song of his robes so I can place my hands in gasho when he is behind me. He takes his seat to the sound of three small gong hits. The shoten hits the drum outside the zendo five times and then strikes a small bell once telling us that it is ten minutes after five. I settle in for two hours of zazen. The reverberations of the eighteen strikes on the daibosho, the six- foot tall bell that hangs on a tree outside the zendo, resonate through my body and mind. I follow the sound of the last hit into stillness and silence.
Reb’s voice, deepened by his chest cold, echoes through the zendo after twenty minutes of zazen. “The mind of the great sage of India is transmitted from west to east. It is the stillness and silence of this self-receiving Samadhi that has been transmitted. In one moment of zazen, the whole world becomes the Buddha seal and the sky turns into enlightenment.” This has been the theme of Tenshin Roshi’s teaching from the first day I met him in an introductory gathering. It was the theme of his classes on the ox-herding pictures and of the talks we had during informal teas. It’s what he talked about during the three public lectures that he did when Green Dragon Temple opened to the public on Sunday mornings, and it was the theme of the two dokusans that I had with him in the second early morning period of zazen. It was also the theme that stayed in my mind throughout the work periods as I washed dishes, swept floors and wiped tables. And it remained the theme on my return to Sakuraji to resume my simple country temple life here, in Creston, BC, where, in my first sitting in my backyard temple, it was clear that the ango at Green Dragon Temple had deepened my sitting and moved me deeper into the clear light of the vast intimacy of stillness and silence. Everything has changed; and it’s all the same.
At the end of my first dokusan, just as I was leaving the room, Tenshin Roshi asked me if Matsuoka Roshi was still alive. I answered him from a factual frame of mind. “No, he isn’t,” I said. Later that week we took part in a memorial ceremony for Suzuki Shunryo, Reb’s teacher and founder of the San Francisco Zen Centre, Tassahara and Green Gulch farm. During the ceremony I realized how Tenshin Roshi and the other senior priests who trained with Suzuki have kept his teaching, and therefore, him, alive. I understood the shallowness of my answer and realized a deep gratitude to the senior priests in the Silent Thunder Order who have kept Matsuoka Roshi alive. Now, my answer to that question would be, “Yes, he lives in those of us who are carrying forward his teachings.” I resolved to enter our lineage more deeply.
At the closing ceremony for the whole ango, Tenshin Roshi said, “I pray that you remember the vast intimacy that we have entered into together in the stillness and silence of this temple. Now you have it, so take care of it. Sitting in this stillness is the pivotal activity of all Buddhas.” I share that prayer with him.
Below are two photos: the first is of Tenshin Roshi and myself and the second is the big bell outside the zendo.