Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A year later

One thing to note is that the anniversary of my ordination was January 7, so I've survived my first year of training. In fact, I have thrived. I'm loving what I'm doing.

The holidays have seen a fair amount of socializing with old friends (one I hadn't seen in well over a decade -- how does this happen?). Haven't done a lot of socializing in the last couple of years, and in any case have never been a party person, but it's nice to touch base with people I've known for a long time.

January has been, as I predicted, full of meetings with everyone gearing back up. I find I'm much happier now that we are back with a full schedule. I seem to prefer activity to inactivity. Sitting meditation is another matter -- that sort of stillness is almost always welcome. And I suppose my mind is often still active, even though it's not technically supposed to be. Still, there's an intention, a focus to meditation that isn't there with just veging out. My tolerance for the latter is limited, while I enjoy the former quite a bit, at least most of the time.

One thing I was hoping to do when I started keeping a record of what I'm doing was to document my training process. I feel like I have failed in that, though I've certainly tried. People still ask me what kind of training I'm doing, and I still find it difficult to answer exactly. However, I haven't talked about New Year's Eve, and maybe that will illustrate at least one aspect of it.

I love how we do New Year's Eve here. We do a vegetarian potluck, sacred dancing (which I haven't been able to join much in the last few years because I'm involved in dinner cleanup during that time), then a repentance and renewal of vows ceremony, then meditation, and finally right around midnight the priests serve sparkling cider in a formal tea ceremony style.

This year, 3 of the 4 teachers (abbots) who ordinarily do the serving were pretty sick. Our abbots, Kyogen and Gyokuko, took turns attending various parts of the evening so they could rest. I got called on to "direct traffic" during the Fusatsu ceremony, where we each burn slips of paper with things we've written that we are ready to let go of for the new year. That was fine. Right at the beginning of that ceremony, I got tapped on the shoulder and went downstairs to lead the processional in, striking the inkin at regular intervals. Fortunately, I do know how to do this (having done it before), so that was fine too.

Finally, I was one of the 4 novice priests who stepped up to serve sparking cider in lieu of the teachers. I was honored to be able to do this, as I've always found this the sweetest part of the evening. The first year I attended this event, back in 1999, I was really struck by how wonderful it was to have this silent, formal ceremony going on while there was all the noise outside. The way it works is that a priest goes to each person in turn, bows, kneels in front of them, and there is a series of bows, pouring tea, handing the cup, bowing, taking it back, standing up, bowing again, and moving to the next person. There's something really wonderful about the monks serving the community in this way. After everyone else was served, we 4 novices (two from Dharma Rain and two from Great Vow Zen Monastery) served the 4 teachers sitting up front, and then they served us.

Even though I've never filled this particular role before, I found it fine to do it, and enjoyed it (only slightly nervous that I would mess it up). And I guess that's what I'm getting at -- there are increasingly times when I'm participating in services and am not terrified that I'll mess up. More times when I do know what to do, and can just go forward and fill whatever role I'm called on for, even at the last minute with no warning. And so, one aspect of this training is what is often called "priestcraft," which to me has to do with filling ceremonial functions of various sorts. I haven't been trained in all of it yet, but gradually over the next four years, I will probably learn most of it. And part of it is also that willingness simply to fill whatever role is assigned and move gracefully in and out of them. I do that more or less well these days, and it is getting a little easier all the time.

There is a document that may be adopted this week by the Soto Zen Buddhist Association at their board meeting that attempts to set forth what priest training should include. We had a copy of it to look over at Jikoji on the training Ango I went on in October. It was interesting. I found myself going down the checklist and thinking, okay, got that one down. Ooh, that one needs work. So in that sense, it is a way to show at least some of what the training is about. Of course, it won't be adopted as a blueprint by all the Soto Zen centers in the US, and each individual teacher will still have their own ways of teaching. But it gives at least an idea of the kinds of things that need to be covered.

Some of them are pretty straightforward, like the priestcraft stuff I've been talking about. Then there's some knowledge of Buddhist history and literature. There's Sangha relationships, how well you get along with others in the community. And there's self-knowledge, an interesting one that has to do with working through some of your own karma so you don't keep dumping it all over others. Well, this is my best recollection, and probably is leaving out major components (likely the ones I still have to work on). At some point, this should be available on a website somewhere. When I find the link, I'll post it here.


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