While I am happy to be living away from Zen Center these days, I enjoy returning, because I always run into people I want to talk to. On Monday I walked up to City Center at lunchtime to get a ride to the shuso ceremony at Green Gulch, and had half-a-dozen conversations in the fifteen minutes or so before getting in the car. At the other end it was the same.
It turned out there were a handful of English people present: Simon, my long-time YUZ colleague, Myoyu who lives at Green Gulch, Rebecca from Hebden Bridge, who had been there for several weeks attending practice period and sesshin, Lucy who I know from teaching in England and who had come for sesshin, Cath who had been at Tassajara over the summer, and Chand who I hadn’t met before.
Thiemo, the shuso, is originally from Germany; there were also some other German speakers in the assembly, though everyone stuck to English. No-one mentioned – as I had intended to include in my congratulations – that it is hard enough to expound the dharma in your native language, let alone a second one (it was said that Suzuki Roshi was not as compelling to listen to when he spoke in Japanese, and it was the effort he had to make to say things in English that caused his teaching to be so vital).
The quiet inside the zendo was striking to me as we waited for the ceremony to begin, and there were other moments of intense quiet during the questions and answers. My own shuso ceremony, four years ago now, took place a few weeks after the Sandy Hook shootings, and I had expected to get a question or two about it, as I did, though not phrased as I had anticipated. Since Thiemo had chosen case four of the Book of Serenity, about creating a sanctuary, many of the questions revolved around the notion of a sanctuary in these times, and how to respond to the particular suffering that is arising post-election. He handled affairs with a grounded humility that I did refer to in my congratulations, and skillfully invoked not knowing as a response. Perhaps this is how the zen community, even if it seems isolated, and privileged (which was called out during the ceremony as well), can meet this current reality, for ourselves and for those we vow to help: not knowing, together.
The light in Cloud Hall is very low, and not many of my photos turned out. This is the gaggle of the English after the ceremony; I am the blurry one in the middle, which is just fine.