Friday, April 22, 2016

Back in the USA, and my trip to 円覚寺

I'm happy to be back here.  

I'm also glad I finally got to visit Engakuji (円覚寺) - "circle awakening temple,"  which is one of the head temples of Rinzai shu.  I have photographs on my phone, and will try to update this based on those photos.

I sat in a Sunday morning zazenkai (座禅会) ("zazen meeting").  It was fascinating, in that the zafus are the smallest zafus I have ever seen in a temple. They're about 12"x8"x1" and rectangular.  In their instructions in zazen they did not mention the possibility of sitting seiza, which was kind of strange.  I was a bit concerned about whether or not it was OK to do that, especially since because of my knee surgery a couple of years ago there are certain positions my legs just don't do anymore, and among them was sitting in full or half lotus positions on a 1" high zafu.

It was kind of a koan in and of itself.

I was not the only one either;  of the approximately 80 or so people there, perhaps only 15 or 20 of them could actually sit in the half or full lotus position.  The rest of the folk, like me, could not get both knees on the floor, even using the Burmese position.  Naturally there was quite a bit of movement, but no remonstrations against it.

That's the way it was for the first 40 minutes of the service, through the osho's teisho.  

Luckily after the teisho we re-arranged ourselves for sitting, and my thought was "The hell with it.  I'm going to sit in the seiza position. (I think the guy in front of me had the same idea.)  So that I did, with zafu between my legs and butt. During the sitting period the osho wielded the keisaku, which might have been off-putting to my Japanese colleague who  accompanied me.

But here's the thing about zen and sitting with other people.  Even though it's Engakuji, even though I'd never been to the temple before, I could tell the osho's use of the keisaku was skillful - it was done exactly the same way as in my home temple.   It's a bit of why I also take issue with some of the Soto boasts I see from time to time. (Sorry Brad Warner, I appreciate the dialogue, but your take on koan practice isn't as good as someone with deeper experience in the practice.)  You see, one thing I've learned over the years is that sanzen happens all the time at a zazenkai, not just formally in the sanzen room.  Sanzen happens during kinhin; it happens during sitting; it happens during chanting.  All those things are a kind a koan being worked on and being observed by the sangha, something is transmitted, and yeah, even with the chanting there isn't such a great reliance on words and letters.  Therefore you can go from one temple to another and "see" the transmission take place.  Even when the chanting isn't done like it's done in your temple, there's still the same transmission taking place.

Unfortunately Engakuji's cemetery was off limits to tourists and outsiders, so I wasn't able to see the graves of Shaku Soen and Ms. Alexander Russell. 

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