Ceremonies and Rituals

I have been in my robes more often this past week or so than is often the case, and with the full ceremonial white kimono and bessu arrangement each time. After the City Center shuso ceremony, I was back there on Friday for Jana’s funeral. It was a stately occasion, with a mix of Zen Center people from years gone by, sangha members from Jikoji where she spent her last years, friends, students and colleagues, invoking her big-hearted practice and compassionate action, and not neglecting her spiky side.

The following day I presided over a memorial ceremony for someone I knew through Zen Center who had died far too young, which was a deeply emotional event for everyone. I read the passage from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind where Suzuki Roshi talked about visiting Yosemite, and used the waterfall and the river as a metaphor for life and death, which seemed the most appropriate passage from a book that person had loved.

For both of those events, I ended up walking through the city in my robes, which is an illuminating thing to do. People seem confused about how to respond to the sight (though as I approach the Castro other reactions sometimes come to the fore), and I notice how my self-consciousness blends into awareness of how I carry myself when I am wearing them (which is partly dictated by having to manage the sleeves).

On Monday, Jamie, Tim, Nancy and I journeyed down to Tassajara together for their shuso ceremony. Jamie was kind enough to rent a vehicle for the occasion, and I had gone along to collect it with him, as he wanted me to drive over the road, and some of the way back. Having our own vehicle certainly made the day a little shorter and smoother (the fact that the ceremony was a snappy one, clocking in at less than two hours also helped). But still, we left at six and got back at eight, with more than half of that time spent in the car; I ended up driving over the road both ways, and most of the way home as well, which my body felt afterwards.

The weather was bright and clear, and since we were running early, we were able to stop on the road and breathe some fresh mountain air. Once we got down into the valley, there were many friends to talk to, and lovely things to eat.

Yuki was on the platform; we could hear her repeating the questions back to herself to make sure she had understood them, in her second language, and giving firm clear answers. When she turned to the former shuso side of the zendo, it was clear how focused and open she was; she sailed through without meeting any firm opposition. In one of her answers Yuki had noted that she was an introvert, so in my congratulations I mentioned that, while I had rarely managed to get a picture of her, I was going to be making up for it after the ceremony, as indeed I did.

There was time for a bathe, and to jump in the creek at least for a moment, before lunch and more conversations and the goodbyes which always come all too quickly, as we have to hit the road again.

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The view south from the ridge is always breathtaking.

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We also stopped at Lime Point, a couple of thousand feet lower. The lack of rain this winter meant that the road was in pretty good shape overall.

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Looking up to Flag Rock from Tassajara – the weather has not been severe enough to strip the leaves from the trees.

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It is hard to convince people who only come to Tassajara in the summer that the sun never reaches the buildings along the creek in the middle of winter- it was still significantly colder in the shade when we arrived.

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The zendo set up for the ceremony, from the west side, where the senior staff and former shusos sit. The shuso’s platform is in the middle, facing the senior dharma teacher’s seat.

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Yuki and her teacher, Tenshin Roshi.

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Not the first picture I have where Yuki is trying to hide.

Yuki's botany lesson
I referenced this moment in my congratulations: Yuki, in her first practice period in 2008, offering a botany lesson to Linda Ruth down by Cabarga Creek. I referred to her as explaining about moss; after the ceremony, she corrected me to say it was liverwort.

I notice from the backstage pages that this is the 800th post on this blog (and if I was more of a perfectionist, I could edit it a little to make it exactly 800 words!). I know that readership is not huge, but I am still very happy to write and to share things that feel valuable for me, and I know that these things are read all over the world. Thank you for taking the time to visit.

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