The Language of Ritual

As the season of the winter training periods draws to a close across all three of Zen Center’s practice places (I am hoping to attend all three shuso ceremonies, which are spread across ten days), one ceremony will be discontinued.
Nenju has a mixed reputation, it might be fair to say. At Tassajara, on the afternoon before the personal day, the main feature always seemed to be a long wait outside the zendo for all the monks, sometimes in freezing temperatures, while the Abbot or practice period leader did a tour of various altars around the monastery. At City Center, it is usually shoe-horned in between the Saturday lecture and lunch, the start of the weekend, but much less formal, with attendees rustled up by the ino.
The intention for the ceremony is for everyone to express their gratitude for the week of practising together by circumambulating while bowing. This part is usually lovely, but for me the most fun part was always the dedication, which the kokyo pronounced after approaching and bowing to the Abbot. At Tassajara there were two versions, and this is the longer one, which I always enjoyed chanting or hearing:

Carefully listen everyone.
25 hundred years ago the Great Tathagata entered nirvana.
When this day is gone, your life also decreases.
Like a fish in a puddle, what pleasure is there here?
We are to practice constantly, as if to save our head from fire.
Mindful of transiency, pursue the path with diligence and care.
Throughout Zenshinji the Dharma safely resides,
Bringing all peace. (this line is at a lower pitch)
Everyone in ten directions knows an increase in joy and growth in wisdom.
Thankfully we recite the names of Buddha.

After the assembly has chanted the ten names of Buddha – something done on various occasions – the kokyo returns to the Abbot and asks in a whisper for hosan – a time of no practice discussions. The Abbot whispers a reply, and the kokyo announces hosan in a long booming tone, while doing a special bow called a great circle bow. The quality of the hosan announcement can give rise to much discussion and sometimes gentle ribbing afterwards….

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