by Jeffrey Gyokudo Roberts
Even though the Catskills are frozen and quiet right now, if I close my
eyes, I can already hear the returning song of the Hermit Thrush and
smell the tulips blooming. Slowly the Esopus Creek, covered in ice,
will loosen its grip on Winter and Spring will come.
As our Order continues to explore the interface between the individual
and the collective, it’s a wonderful time to return to the “Mountains
and Rivers Sutra,” the non-dual teaching which gave our community its
name. Let’s use Ango to embody the mountains and rivers wherever we
are, whether commuting to work or doing prostrations to the altar. Our
practice offers us a great challenge: can we let the teachings guide us
so we are at home everywhere? We follow the instructions to bring our
concentration to the simple tasks at hand: brushing teeth; cleaning
toilets; or comforting a sick friend.
I am deeply grateful to each of you. I gain some invisible treasure
when you are sitting next to me, chanting all around me, and bowing to
the Buddha. It brings tears to my eyes; it brings my hands together in
gassho; and it brings me back to my seat for zazen once again.
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—“peaceful 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 spring we’ll be studying Dogen’s teaching, the Mountains and Rivers Sutra as a way to focus our training and deepen our practice. Together, we’ll develop our appreciation of the theme and the different translations of these rich teachings through an art practice assignment, teishos, dharma encounter, liturgy, 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 them 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 Spring Ango and the various activities both at the Monastery and the Temple, please check out our website at zmm.org.