The blaze and burn of summer begins to cool, and we turn our attention to the Fall Ango. Shugen Sensei has asked me to be Chief Disciple for the training period, and I find myself feeling at once excited and scared and grateful—excited to offer myself up completely, scared that it won’t be enough, and grateful for a practice that can hold all of that.
For this ango we will take up Dogen’s Genjokoan, sometimes translated as “The Question of Everyday Life” or “Actualizing the Fundamental Point.” Dogen reminds us that regardless of clarity or attainment “flowers fall amidst our longing, and weeds spring up despite our aversion”. For me this means that what I love will leave no matter how much I love it, and what comes my way will come no matter how much I want to avoid it. How poignant to encounter this teaching at the onset of autumn, amid the falling leaves and darkening sky, as the geese and warblers fill the air with song—briefly—and depart.
Let’s enter ango with open hands, not grasping any part of this practice or rejecting any part of our lives. Let’s make our training commitments—assessing work and time and energy and obligations—in the faith that our fundamental questions and our everyday lives are not in conflict. Let’s look for the fundamental on the front page, and discover genjokoan in the daily grind.
Thank you for your practice, patience and guidance.
Prabu Gikon Vasan began Zen practice at ZCNYC in 1999, became a formal student in 2001, and received jukai in 2008. He has worked as a clinical social worker in New York City for fifteen years, and currently helps mental health clinics to implement best practices in areas like suicide prevention. He lives with his wife, Hosui, in Brooklyn and will be in residency at Fire Lotus Temple for the fall.
The Mountains and Rivers Order training schedule cycles through periods of intensification and relaxation, mirroring seasonal changes and giving us varied opportunities to study and practice. The spring and fall quarters are ango (“peaseful dwelling”), nintety-day intensives that continue an ancient tradition dating back to the time of the “Buddha, when the sangha gathered in forest groves during monsoon season to support each other in their practice and receive teachings from the Buddha and his senior disciples.
Each ango has a theme drawn from the Buddhist teachings. This Fall 2016 Ango, the sangha will be taking on the teachings of “Genjokoan,” a fascicle by Dogen from his Shobogenzo: Treasury of the True Dharma Eye. Dogen’s teachings in this fascile ask us to see every aspect of life as the raw material of practice and realization. We will engage this together during the ango’s Buddhist study sessions and the Ango Intensive retreat.
The training and practice of the chief disciple is another important facet of ango training. When a junior student is ready to make the transition to being a senior student, the teacher will ask him or her to serve as chief disciple for the training period, leading the ango and offering their sincere and wholehearted practice as a model for the sangha. The ango culminates with a special right of passage for the whole community: Shuso Hossen.
For more information about this Fall Ango and the various activities both at the Monastery and the Temple, please check out the Monastery’s website.