post by Suzanne Taikyo Gilman, MRO; photos by David McNamara, MRO
The zendo at the monastery was overflowing on Sunday, November 22nd, when the sangha celebrated the Shuso Hossen ceremony with chief disciple Richard Ryoha Dunworth, MRO, marking the culmination of three months of intensive ango study and training.
Shugen Sensei led the sangha in what is one of the most engaging and energizing liturgies we offer, starting with a procession through the woods and grounds to and from the abbacy, complete with bells, clappers, and a great drum crescendo upon arrival in the zendo.
The Shuso Hossen ceremony empowers the new senior student as he presents his first talk and engages in Dharma Encounter with twenty sesshin participants. Centered on a koan which was shared with the sangha the evening before, neither Ryoha’s talk nor the questions coming from participants are known beforehand, and the encounters which followed were lively, very personal, and illuminating.
The liturgy, held within the Heart Sutra, includes many references to Zen lore and sacred items, including the shuso’s fan, and the shippei—a broken bow—symbols of empowerment given by the teacher. After the dharma encounter, the ceremony closes with congratulatory poems offered by several members of the sangha, sharing appreciation for the warmth and leadership the Shuso provided for everyone during the ango.
Many fellow sangha members from Vermont where Ryoha lives and practices offered a strong presence during the ceremony, many arriving that morning from the northeast region. The Vermont sangha has affiliate groups in Burlington and Montpelier and sitting groups in other locations, and for over thirty years has been gathering for a regular schedule of zazen and an annual sesshin.
Ryoha will now more actively support the practice of fellow Vermonters near his home, and continue to participate as a lay senior when he visits the monastery.