Opening Spring 2016 Ango: Born as the Earth

· Earth Initiative, Retreats, Sangha News, Zen Training

by Karen Spicher, MRO

On Sunday, February 28, we began Spring Ango, a period of intensified practice during the months of March, April, and May. An Ango Opening Sesshin extended from Friday evening through Sunday morning, when sangha members and visitors filled the zendo for the Sunday program. Hojin Osho officiated service, followed by a period of zazen and the Ango Entering Ceremony. Shoan served as liturgist, voicing formal ango participants’ commitment to practice for this training period and request for guidance in our training. As Kyosho sounded the densho, Shoan read the name of each Ango participant, while those present offered incense and entered the zendo with clear intention.

In a letter introducing Spring Ango, Shugen Sensei had invited the sangha “to devote our collective and individual practice, study, and concern to our one home, this great Earth.” In his Ango opening talk, Sensei expanded on the theme of “Born as the Earth,” invoking the Buddha’s teaching on the moral and spiritual imperative of human birth, Dogen’s intimate relationship with nature, and Ango itself as an expression of harmony among all beings.

Recalling Daido Roshi’s teachings on the Earth and recent work of the Earth Initiative programs at the Monastery and Temple, Sensei spoke of embracing the Earth in all aspects of practice during Ango. He stressed our moral obligation to give up unsustainable stories of greed and consumption, and to be guided by reality; and to learn how to hold what is difficult in a time of environmental crisis, without indulging fear and anxiety. Sensei introduced an art practice assignment for bringing forth and expressing love for the Earth, and he offered encouragement to explore the list of recommended readings, and find ways to transform study into action and advocacy.

After chanting the four bodhisattva vows, we concluded the morning by assembling in the meadow behind the main Monastery building. An altar consisting of materials representing the four elements rested directly on the Earth: a container of soil serving as an incense bowl, a candle, a bowl of water, and tall grasses and branches of pine and rhododendron gathered from the monastery grounds, with daffodils and carnations foretelling spring. Shugen Sensei noted that no Buddha image was present, as the mountain and the whole Earth are the Buddha.

Attended by Yukon, Sensei offered incense, and under a bright blue sky, we faced Tremper Mountain in silence, fully present with each other and all of life. Then Shoan led us in chanting the Buddha’s Words on Loving-Kindness: “This is what should be done by one who is skilled in goodness and who knows the path of peace…”. As bees from the Monastery’s hives busily discovered the flowers on the outdoor altar, the sangha moved toward lunch, a board meeting, and the practice of Ango.

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