photos by Joel Sansho Benton, MRO
On Sunday, November 20th, at the conclusion of a full and steady Shuso Hossen Sesshin, Chief Disciple Prabu Gikon Vasan offered his first talk and met the sangha in dharma encounter. After several sunny days that barely felt like autumn, Sunday dawned cold and snowy. Shoan, as head liturgist, declared it a most auspicious forecast for the Shuso Hossen Ceremony.
After a tender and spacious open sozan that concluded the formal week of sesshin, the sangha gathered for breakfast and then moved into caretaking to prepare for the outside sangha, Temple students and sangha, and friends and relatives of the shuso to join us for the special Sunday program. After a short period of zazen, the ceremony began with the han relay from the Monastery through the forest to the abbacy. When the jisha signaled “all-ready” with three final thwocks! on the han, the main bell began and the ryoban entered and exited before processing in hats, coats and gloves over slushy ground to the abbacy.
At the abbacy, the shuso led the procession in three full bows, and then he and Benji Kamei McCarthy received their fans from Jisha Kien Martin. After bows to the Monastery, the mountain, and to Shugen Sensei, the procession made its way through the pine forest back to the Monastery.
At the Jizo House, the attendants signaled that we were approaching, and Sankai Lemmens began three runs on the zendo drum. As the procession kicked off boots and peeled out of vests and gloves in the main building entrance, the drum reached its crescendo, culminating in Shugen Sensei’s grand entrance: ching-chong! ching-chong! CLAP! BOOM!
Sensei’s attendants met him at the altar for a food offering of sweet water, cake and tea before everyone sat down to recite the Heart Sutra. Halfway through the chant, the Jisha shuffled over to Sensei to pick up Gikon’s talk, and then shuffled over to the Shuso, with Shoki Ryoha Dunworth seated behind him. Kien set the talk down in front of the shuso, opening it for him before heading back to his seat.
Gikon delivered his talk on case koan #247 from the True Dharma Eye, “Ruiyan Calls Master,” speaking extemporaneously from notes written on a few sheets of paper. At points, appearing simultaneously confident and vulnerable, Gikon spoke of his experience working with the teacher in Zen training and also invoked the tense and divisive post-election mood of the country.
The shuso then returned his talk, offered bows to Shugen Sensei and the monastic and lay sides of the ryoban, and received the sheppei—a symbol of empowerment—from Sensei. He then took on the sangha in dharma encounter. Twenty questioners asked about the case koan, although most asked about what to do in the face of deception—especially self-deception. “How do I know if I’m deceiving myself?”
At the conclusion of the dharma encounter, Gikon returned the sheppei to Sensei: “Well done, Shuso. Well done.” After making another series of bows, Gikon sat down again to receive congratulatory poems from the sangha.
Before exiting the zendo, Shugen Sensei offered some words in response to the outpouring of questions and emotions that he’d received since the election, about stepping forward at this time as practitioners. You can listen to his comments in the audio connected to Gikon’s talk; Sensei’s comments begin at 01:03.2). In short: