Sunday, November 05, 2006

Segaki and Founders

I think the last update I did was before Segaki. It's been a busy time, no question about it.

Segaki was wonderful last weekend (Oct27-29). For me it was entirely successful as a retreat. What I mean by that was that I relaxed into it, and was able to take full advantage of it to do some significant work. The festival of Segaki is designed to invite us to look at old unsettled karma and also to honor those who have died, especially those in the last year. For me, in addition to having a couple of names on the list that were read out loud as we chanted, it gave me an opportunity to confront some of the old karma I've been working on in a particular way, within a particular structure. I don't know that I would say that I have resolved this karma yet, but I made what I consider to be important progress in the work I've been doing and will continue doing in that area. The metaphor of Segaki was very helpful in this stage of it.

What we do is to chant various dharanis to invite the "hungry ghosts" into the temple. These are beings who really want the truth but can't accept it. So we cover all of our statues, and set up a special altar in the back of the hall (near the front door), and cover it with junk food, so they will be interested in coming in. Basically, we give them something they can accept, and then try to teach them a little bit of dharma. The kids act this out after the adults have their service, and it's always a lot of fun. The photo shows a couple of gakis (hungry ghosts, played by high schoolers) at the altar trying to eat some of the junk food.

I find that sitting meditation is more and more rewarding. I really enjoyed all the sitting we did (typically about 8 hours total during a day on retreat). I led work practice (still as sewing master), and did a little bit "extra" in terms of jobs, but for the most part I was able to relax, taking naps during the afternoon rest periods, etc. Others took over some of what I usually pay attention to in terms of opening and closing the center, monitoring lights, the altar, etc. It was great. And I was also able to repeat my experience of last year of playing the taiko drum for the Sunday evening Segaki Toro ceremony. I just love that drum.

This past week since then has continued busy every day. I've mentioned to some that the transition to winter has seemed more abrupt than usual this year, and the time change has felt more difficult for me this year than I remember in years past. But by now I've adjusted. We're back into rain, and heading back to colder temperatures tomorrow, I understand, and I'm just glad to be here where I live where I work, and don't have to go out in my car unless I want to.

My primary task this week has been working on the Center's website (, putting the Dharma School Manual up on the site. It's largely done, though I want to add a bunch of photos. I got some good pix of the children's Segaki festival, and will try to get those up this week. Of course, there has been plenty of other work as well. One thing I enjoy about this place is that there's always something happening, always things to do, and lots of variety. We had a seminary class on Tuesday where we're studying the Avatamsaka Sutra, and it's pretty amazing. I'm finding that to read it requires that I take notes, and read a fair bit of it out loud, though that doesn't guarantee that I'm really understanding everything. It's one of those texts that will take years to really understand, but is still rewarding to study.

One other thing that happened this week was that Gyokuko asked me to be a "dharma friend" to another person here, which I was of course happy to do. The same afternoon, I had a talk with someone else, and it seems that I am an unofficial dharma friend to her as well. Last year I was almost entirely focused on my own process, and needed to be there. I'm beginning to come out of that as an exclusive focus, and am beginning to be able to open up to other people who are going through their own process, and hopefully to be of some help and support to them. I find that rewarding, satisfying, and humbling.

This weekend (i.e., yesterday) we started Ango. This is a period of intensified practice that we do every fall and spring. For us, it means a little more sitting -- we get up a half-hour earlier 3 days a week to sit an extra half-hour, and do full morning service instead of a short service in the morning, and over at the temple building rather than here at the house. That's all it means in concrete terms, that is, what you see on the calendar. But I think for all of us it means some sort of ramping up of our practice. We started it off with our annual Founders Vigil last night, where we had someone sitting in the temple building all night long. I woke up at 3am today and went over there to sit from 3-5:30am, and there were always 2 or 3 of us in the hall during that time.

I found the weather delightful this morning. It felt warm to me, and it was a full moon. At 5:30 I got up and went outside to do my morning sweeping practice, and it was dry enough (though the leaves were still wet, of course) to make that a pleasure. I didn't have to wear a hat, and I wasn't even wearing socks with my sandals as I swept. After sweeping, I got to work on cooking breakfast for the 15 people we had this morning. Fortunately, several others showed up closer to the 7am breakfast time to help, so it all went just fine. The only problem is that I have a fair amount of oats and fruit leftover, and I'll have to eat that for breakfast tomorrow on my day off. I think I can handle that.

I enjoyed the sitting this morning a great deal. For whatever reason, I wasn't tired at all, and the 2-1/2 hours went by fast. I felt that I could easily sit for quite a bit longer, but needed to get up to do sweeping and breakfast prep. I did sit another hour later, of course, at our regular Sunday morning sitting and service. We did a special service this morning honoring our founders -- the woman who was our teachers' teacher, and also her teacher before that. Gyokuko gave a really nice dharma talk about them. She explained that Keido Chisan Koho Zenji was a Japanese master who saw that Zen in Japan had become encrusted with tradition and culture, and had a vision of exporting it to the West so it could become re-invigorated and then eventually re-imported to Japan with more life to it. Houn Jiyu Kennett was his student (one of the first westerners, let alone western women, who was able to study under a Zen master in Japan), and decided to bring Zen to America rather than her native England. She founded Shasta Abbey, where both of our teachers here trained. Koho Zenji died in the 60s; Roshi Kennett died in 1996. Both died in the first week of November, which is why we honor them at this time of year.
Gyokuko explained that each of those teachers had a vision, and that she and Kyogen, and all of us, are part of that vision. She expressed her hope and belief that all of us are part of that continuing thread of vision, and I think all of us felt that tie to the lineage (going back far beyond Koho Zenji, of course). It was inspiring.

Now it's almost time to go get some supper, and get ready to go sit with ZCO this evening. Tomorrow is day off, and I have plans to go do some errands, but other than that will just take it easy. I took a nap this afternoon, so don't feel shorted on sleep at all. Life is good.