post by Alison Mills
photographs by Nicholas Lue, MRO
On Sunday, March 29th, Shugen Sensei opened the first Dharma Encounter of the ango by asking the sangha, “What is Buddha?” and “What does it mean to take refuge in the Buddha?”
This was my first sesshin and I wasn’t sure what to expect from dharma encounter, which Shugen Sensei described as kind of like a “public dokusan.” When the first student answered Shugen Sensei’s question by screaming into the microphone, the whole zendo was awake. I sat up a little straighter as I realized this was not going to be just a conversation that I would sit back and take in, but a full-on experience.
There was lots of laughter as Shugen Sensei chided a student not to call his life a bag of rubbish, and again when he encouraged another to dig deeper with, “No, that’s not going to work this time.” There were moments that brought tears to my eyes; I saw people opening up their lives and their practice, and felt the way they were each held by the teacher and the sangha. I felt the power of the dharma at work in people’s lives as they shared about family and work and what it meant to them to take refuge.
Shugen Sensei brought incredible presence to each student, meeting them all exactly where they were. I was struck by how each response was skillfully crafted to teach and prod the individual while somehow teaching the whole sangha at the same time; each question and response felt as relevant to me as it was to the person facing the teacher. I was reminded of the universality of our human experience at the same time that I could see the maturity of practice in those wearing white or black robes.