Just returned from Green Dragon Temple, my spiritual home at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center in California.
My teacher Furyu Doshin Nancy Schroeder asked me to do the 21-day Transmission Ceremony in the Soto Zen tradition with her. I had a faint idea of what was involved, but the physical and mental challenge was more than I could have imagined. At one time I said to her: “This is torture.” and she replied: “Yes, and when you are used to it, we’ll have more for you.”
I realized this is Zen practice: You receive small increments of stress, starting with zazen instruction, and gradually more is added. Eventually you learn to be quite comfortable with whatever the teacher demands, develop patience and let go of anxiety. The reward is amazing, and finally you are free!
On the last day at GGF I asked my Dharma grandfather Reb Anderson what his advice would be for me. He thought for a moment and then told me: “When I had finished this process that you just underwent, I thought I could fly. Three weeks later, the apocalypse happened at Zen Center, and I was thoroughly grounded. My advice to you is: Be careful!”
The beauty of the Japanese rituals is stunning, and I was sorry that nobody but my teacher, her attendant, the instructor and I myself could witness it. Transmission is a very private and secret process, the jundo (offering incense and making prostrations at the various altars in the temple) was done before the wake-up bell (starting at 3:45 am) and after dinner. The disciple stays in a remote place and has little contact with the rest of the community, works on the assignments, which are getting harder, and finally has intimate meetings with the teacher in a specially outfitted red room in the middle of the night.
An added bonus was the full moon on the last day, May 18th. Just as I was making the final grand bow on the zendo deck, overlooking the pond, invoking the vow to benefit all beings along with the frog chorus, the full moon rose over the Eastern hills. Later on, when the ceremonies were finished, we walked in silence back to our quarters in bright moonlight. Most of the days had been overcast and it had rained a lot, but that day was clear. From living many years at GGF, I remembered that wild animals are very tame at GGF. Quail and other birds abounded, the heron made daily visits, I saw deer, heard the coyotes howl, and found a mouse family in a drawer in my studio.
I feel grateful that I had this opportunity to be close to my teacher and experience the wisdom that has been handed down through the generations (I am supposedly the 93rd since Mahakashyapa). Somehow the difficulties added depth, and I felt Fu’s love when she commented on a mistake I had made: “It would not be you…” It’s nice to be known so well.
Now I am home again in Milwaukee; Michael Newhall will return to Jikoji, and life at MZC goes on. Work day on Saturday, planning the next board meeting, a new class and the Branching Streams Conference in September. Hope to see you all soon!