Ango at Green Dragon Temple
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.
These posts are based on the teachings of Norman Fischer.
(Continuing with talks on the Mountain and Rivers Sutra) (based on talks by Norman Fischer)
Within all Light is Darkness; In Darkness There is Light.
This talk is based on talks that Eihei Dogen, the 13th century founder of the type of Zen that we practice here at Sakuraji gave between 1240 and 1248 in his temple in Northern Japan. When I read Dogen’s recorded dharma talks I often imagine living in that unheated stone temple without electricity or any form of central heating. In the case of these talks, Dogen and his monks had been doing so in the dead of winter. Imagine how, under these conditions, he and his students would welcome the return of the long days of light.
Before getting into the heart of this talk, I want to briefly review the Asian understanding of darkness and light, of yin and yang. It is most important to know that in the Asian view, darkness is not equated with evil; and light is not equated with good, like it is in our western cultures. All too often I’ve read and heard that yin, darkness, is the negative energy and yang, light, is the positive energy. This is a very westernized interpretation. To the Asian mind, darkness is a time when we can know the oneness of all things because we can’t visually distinguish one object from another. It’s all one. It is only when light arises that we make the distinctions that we have to make in order to physically sustain our lives. In a way, darkness gives us an opportunity to know the oneness of all reality; and the light gives us an opportunity to know that each of us is just a unique expression of that oneness.
Dogen begins his winter solstice talk in 1240, by quoting the Tao Te Ching, a text that was written about 1500 years earlier by Lao Tzu in China. “Attaining oneness, heaven is clear; attaining oneness earth is at rest.” Dogen interprets these words for his students. He says, “Attaining oneness a person is at peace, attaining oneness the time becomes bright. “ This idea of attaining oneness is best explained by a classic Zen metaphor. I won’t go on and on about it, but I do want to give you this image.
Imagine that all of reality is as big as a prairie sky. Now imagine looking at that sky through a plastic straw. This is the usual way we view our lives, but if we truly realize that we are, in fact, the whole sky, we realize oneness. Realization of our oneness with all phenomena grows and sustains our best intentions as the days grow longer. And within this growth of light we have an opportunity to arouse awakening mind, to invigorate our spiritual practice, to engage the way with wholehearted effort, and to attain realization of our profound interconnectedness. With clear realization that we are all one body, with and within each other; with and within the earth; and with and within the whole universe, we have no need to express greed (which creates poverty and ravages our planet for wealth), hatred, (wages wars), or delusion (that we won’t get enough, and that happiness is something to seek outside ourselves.)
Dogen teaches that we have already attained the power and vitality that is within this growth towards full realization of our oneness with all being. He says we are all born with original enlightenment. We need only polish this jewel through practice to make it shine. At 9:49 pm tonight, we begin our journey back into the light. This arising of yang (that is the slow increase of daylight) is an auspicious occasion. This is our opportunity to begin our lives anew. Of course every moment brings us that opportunity, but winter solstice is a special time for renewal.
2600 years ago, an ordinary man named Siddharta Gautama sat under a bodhi tree for eight days and abruptly changed his brain through the simple practice of meditation. Like a butterfly, he underwent a complete metamorphosis. His transformation was so complete, enduring and repeatable by all humans that he is still remembered as the Awakened One. He awoke to a complete understanding of how to reduce suffering and increase happiness, and then spent the rest of his life teaching what he had learned. Winter solstice is an awakening of the entire planet.
All year we have been sustaining our lives as best we can. The number of ways in which we can do harm, no matter how small, to ourselves and others in our endeavor to survive is inexhaustible. We can’t survive without diminishing the life of some other sentient being, be it plant or animal. These harmful acts of body speech and mind leave traces – and on one side of your piece of art, you have depicted those traces. Solstice is the time to reach a new maturity.
Today the long length of night departs. In just three hours, we will be at the darkest moment of the year. We will be immersed in oneness. Yin will have reached its fullness. And then, with one tilt of the earth’s axis yang arises. At this moment our state of body and mind changes and we will already be moving toward the growing length of days. As we release our karma by burning our pieces of art in the fire and empower our best intentions for the coming year, we can celebrate with a boisterous clamor. We can feel happy and know that this planet sustains us. We can dance with joy.
On this auspicious occasion of the first arising of yang I respectfully wish you all ten thousand blessings in every area of your life. This is, indeed, an auspicious day and we now enter an auspicious season with ten million changes that begin with the warming of the earth and end at Equinox with the sprouting of greens in our gardens. After we have burned our pieces of art, we can eat the solstice feast and, later enjoy a deep renewing sleep.
Happy Enlightenment Day. Happy Solstice!nter Solstice Dharma Talk 2015
In his essay, “Mountains and Rivers Sutra,” Dogen, a thirteenth century Zen master says, “Because mountains and waters have been active since before the empty eon they are alive at this moment.”
Kuya Minogue is resident Priest at the Creston Zen Centre. She has been training in Zen since 1986.