Sunday, 10 January 2010

This morning's zazenkai.

It's cold here and the Sunday morning zazenkais are becoming a test of physical endurance again. When we arrive at dawn at the temple everyone removes their socks, so everything is done barefooted. Thankfully this year there hasn't been snow, but it has been bitterly cold at 5:30am.

I had a good sitting this morning. For fourty minutes I drifted in and out of imagined senarios, egoic dreams and old resentments, watching my mind chewing on the old bones in the corner of the cage. After about thirty minutes the cold began to penetrate my layers of clothes and touch my skin. I sat through it, intermittently aware aware of the biting cold and my rambling mind. When the monk rose to end the sitting he woke me up from a replay of an old argument I was having (again) with an old next door neighbour from a place I used to live.

While the others continued sitting, I followed him to the temple where I struck the umpan (cloud gong) and he struck the mopan (wooden plate) to end the sitting. As I crossed the courtyard my feet were freezing as they sank into the fine gravel. Outside we can wear temple slippers, flat soles with two fine leather straps crisscrossing the tops of our feet. As I walked over the gravel small stones slipped into the slippers digging into the soles of my feet and in between my toes. Still, I trotted behind the monk as he hurried through the brisk morning air.

Three of us signal the end of the sitting. I strike the umpan, the monk strikes a mopan in the main temple and other practitioner strikes a second mopan in the zendo. I hit the umpan in a prescribed series of strikes and then to finish, I hit it once, the monk follows with a strike and then the third person follow him with one strike. We repeat this with decreasing intervals between strikes which diminish in force so as to peter out into a reverberating gong, echoing through the temple.

Then we gather in the temple to chant the sutras. This morning it was Hannya Shingyo (The Heart Sutra). It is the sutra I know most of so I must resist the temptation to recite loudly in an attempt to impress the others. I fight to keep my mind on the sutra, following the Japanese script and trying to keep up with the rest.

After the sutra is finished, we clean the temple. Usually I clean the front with most of the others, but this morning, the monk and I, with one other, cleaned out the back of the main temple. There is a small hall, only around five by five meters, where statues of Dogen and the temple monk's ancestors are kept. It is the oldest part of the temple, out behind the main altar and the room behind the altar where the memorial plaques are kept. I suppose it could be called the inner sanctum, but to see it you wouldn't think so. It backs out of the main building, one floor up and is supported on wooden stilts. Right beneath it is the back wall and the road that runs past the temple grounds. When cleaning the balcony at the side of this building, people passing on the road can look up and see us.

It is strange to leave the serenity of the main temple building to remain inside the temple grounds, in one of the most important parts of the temple, yet to be also in the outside world. I like to clean this place, but I need to be aware at all times when I am there that I don't fall into the trap of seeing all eyes on me and feeling revered. People here revere monks and hold practitioners in high regard, but when they see foreigners practicing, it is a big thing. On a bad day I would happily climb onto the pedestal they would build for me.

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