post by Polly Horne, MRO
photos by David McNamara, MRO
On the last morning of this Summer Solstice Sesshin, as thoughts of the world trickled back into the container—my mind and body waning, the Sangha gathered our strength and concentration to send Moshin and Onjin on the next phase of their discernment as Novice Monastics.
It’s getting warm now on the mountain, and my relatively new robe encased a couple days worth of sweat, garden dirt, and general grime within a well sealed and decidedly uncomfortable package. Along with the heat, we made ourselves present as the two men took their Novice Monastic vows with Shugen Sensei, and Gokan silently assisted them out of their simple black novice robes into the full sleeved multi-layered monastic robes. Giggles ran through the Zendo as they awkwardly found their way into their new more elaborate skin. “It just got a lot hotter…but lighter,” Shugen pointed playfully. The two made their rounds about the Zendo and the Sangha welcomed them with a big open heart.
I imagined how hot it must be in those robes, and later found myself wondering about the practicality of it all. Why is there no summer robe and winter robe? Why does tradition win over function? Are those polyester? This is only the beginning of summer, too… think of August!
Whatever my commentary may be, this simple exchange of robes on a hot day was a viscerally tangible transition into a life lived beyond the self via the self. This is renunciation. Through our presence, I feel we shed our skin with them.
I’m sure most of us have wondered what it is like in those monastic robes—not in regards to the heat, but the incredible faith, commitment, and renunciation it requires to live a monastic life. It’s easy for me to categorize the monastic path as a higher form of practice. Our monastics are dedicating their lives to caring the for Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. But I remember that my path as a lay practitioner is equally valuable, and that in my own way I am doing the same. In his talk from the day before the ordination ceremony, Shugen Sensei described the fourfold Sangha of the Buddha’s time: monastic male and female, lay male and female—and what he sees now as the many fold Sangha of our time. Each of us is completely invaluable in our own right. If we really trust this, how can we waste a moment?
The ordination of these two special people helps me remember to forget my pride, preferences and preconceived notions and see that to really experience our humanity we must be humble. We all encounter that bittersweet push and pull between the desire for liberation and the desires of the self, and the indescribable energy of a life of practice, no matter what color robe we are wearing.