My dharma brother and friend Bansho, working on a zabuton after the
ZCO Winter Zazenkai, December 5th, 2009.

The dharma, incomparably profound and
infinitely subtle, is rarely encountered, even in
hundreds of thousands of millions of ages.
As we see it, hear it, receive and maintain it,
may we completely realize the Thathagata's true

A good, cold morning. One of the first killing frosts here in SE Portland. People were in the PDC by the time I arrived at 7:05am. Everyone was greeted by Rinsan, Senryu and/or Bansho, all of whom were making final preparations for the days practice. By the time we were in place at 7:30, there were just about twenty of us.

Everyone settled in, and we began with the traditional morning service. At 8am, after chanting every name of our dharma linage, from the seven past Buddhas, up and through our Indian, Chinese, and Japanese ancestors, we settled into a quiet space, and began zazen.

This "quiet place" lasted approximately 3.72 minutes. The demolition project currently happening in (well, happening TO, I suppose) the parking-lot started promptly at 8am. Our ordained for the day, Ryushin, immediately reminded us to set aside any preconceptions of what this day should be, and mindfully practice experiencing what this day was becoming, moment by moment. I was interested and surprised that the sounds didn't seem to bother or distract me as much as I thought they would when I first heard the equipment start up. I attributed this indifference to being tired from lack of sleep.

The light in the zendo grew to make the windows glow, and warmed the space as we sat zazen. At 9am, I went downstairs to act as the assistant to the tenzo (cook) dharma-sister Shinju. She and I had worked together the previous days planning the menu and getting supplies and ingredients. It was the first time either of us had acted in this capacity (minus helping in the kitchen at Great Vow while doing work practice while on retreat) so we were both excited to begin our work. We lit the kitchen altar candles and presented incense, invoked the spirit of compassion and nurturing, bowed to each-other, and set to work in noble silence.

As noble as we'd intended to be, though, a very brief and blessedly minor comedy of "wherezit?" ensued. Where is the olive oil? Where is the can opener? Do we have X? This is less difficult to deal with when one can talk freely. We quickly understood that a bit of vocal communication was needed to get past this barrier. Shinju ran over to the Dharma Rain Dharma House to borrow oil and a can opener (a cache of which was found almost immediately upon her return), and I set to chopping root vegetables. Soon after, Shinju-san returned, and we started cooking in earnest. At one point, Shinju caught me staring very intently at a round orange-yellow disc I held in the sunlight. I smiled at her and very quietly whispered "I love the way a cut parsnip looks on the inside", bowed, and went back to making more lovely orange-yellow discs.

At 9:30, the first break period occurred, and people popped in and out of the kitchen to get tea cups and other items. Shinju-san and I continued on with the cooking, dancing about each-other in (mostly) silence as we each chopped, peeled, roasted, toasted and sautéed various root vegetables, beet tops, pecans, onions, turnips, rutabagas, and other ingredients.

At 10am, the day's work circle began. We began with a traditional chant and invocation while in circle, then each participant was assigned a work task. Many hands worked on the new (and lovely) zabutons in noble silence, while at the same time, the kitchen was assigned two assistants. Apparently, zen practice truly knows no rank, and dharma brother Fuho-san was gifted the chopping of the onions. My heart and eyes went out to him as I listened to him gasp and sniffle over his task. At 11am, zazen resumed, and Shinju-san and I were once again quietly orbiting around each-other in front of the stove. By 11:30, we were done, and headed back up into the zendo for a period of zazen ourselves before lunch.

Lunch was done buffet style due to the number of participants, but eaten communally and in silence at a long table set up in the lower zendo meeting area. After the meal-chant, we ate lunch: roasted winter vegetable stew, warm beet green salad with satsuma oranges, cranberry vinaigrette and toasted pecans and two kinds of bread. While we weren't eating oryoki, we did eat in noble silence. I just endeavored to experience this as oryoki-"lite", and appreciated the colors, flavors and textures as I slowly ate my food, trying to mindfully set down my spoon between each bite.

After we finished eating, Shinju and I were allowed to rest while the others cleared the dishes. Everyone was allowed a bit of a break between cleaning and more meditation. Some chose to walk outside in the cold-crispness of the late, sunny fall afternoon. At 1pm, we reconvened in the zendo, and began zazen again, sated, refreshed and grateful.

At 2pm, Ryushin gave a wonderful, heart-felt dharma talk and teaching, encouraging us all to truly value the precious nature of this practice and our participation in this zazenkai. Knowing that he would soon be leaving us for three months to participate in an ango intensive at a California monastery made his time with us seem a bit more precious and poignant. We have such a dharma champion in him! After the talk, more zazen, then we performed the Fusatsu ceremony, or the renewal of vows. In unison, we all chanted...
All evil karma ever committed by me since of old,
Because of my beginningless greed, anger, and ignorance,
Born of my body, mouth, and thought,
Now I atone for it all.

Then after the roughly 30min ceremony, we gathered for a semi-formal tea and closing circle. A number of nice cheeses were set out, along with cut apples and pears, and a lovely (and decadent) pan-style cookie topped with white-chocolate frosting. Now allowed to speak, we each had an opportunity to share experiences. We all generally agreed that while the demolition noises were nearly constant throughout the day, they didn't really seem to interfere with zazen all that much. A number of us mentioned just how grateful we were to have this truly strong and vast vessel to rest in.

And if I got anything out of this zazenkai (and I most certainly did) it was that. How limitless this wonderful sangha is, how universal this dharma is, and how truly vast this Buddha-practice, this container, this vessel is. It held us all, with ease and in joy as we shared this day, and after a cleaning of the temple, it saw us trickle out into the moonlit darkness of the cold night, one by one, taking this wonderful energy out into the world, waiting quietly for each of us to return once more and be held in the warmth and comfort of this hearth.

I highly encourage anyone reading this to consider participation in the next zazenkai, especially if life circumstances may keep you from currently participating in sesshin at Great Vow Zen Monastery. It is a wonderful opportunity to put down that which you normally carry, and give yourself a place to rest in the dharma and strengthen your practice. And even if you do participate in sesshin, please consider coming to the next Heart of Wisdom / Zen Community of Oregon zazenkai currently scheduled for April 17 at St. David of Wales church and supporting all who attend with your energy and presence.

Thank you to all who participated, and supported me in my own practice with your energy.

Yours in dharma,

-Andrew Montgomery


Laura said...

This is so precious. Thank you for sharing your experience, and for being a reflecting jewel.