We sat zazen every morning, except for days ending in 4 and 9 when we got up at five instead of four and sat only a perfunctory 10 minutes. Many days this is all the zazen we sat. The rest of the day was taken up with rehearsing the morning, noon, and evening services; practicing how to eat formal meals; practicing tea ceremony; sewing robes; cleaning the temple and temple grounds; and attending lectures about how to sit zazen. The main focus of the ango seemed almost entirely on form – how to dress, how to sit, how to stand, how to enter and exit rooms, how to talk, how to eat, how to use the toilet, how to take a bath, how to sleep, how to clean, how to ring the bells and strike the drums. All of which is very interesting and especially useful for those planning to become - or thinking about becoming - monks. After a few weeks, though, it left me feeling empty.
I was completely compliant in the process. I took up every request gratefully. I never complained or pulled a disappointed face, even after poor management of the scheduling left me with kitchen duty for seven of the 22 days I was at Shogoji. (In fact I was told after announcing my intention to leave that I had been a positive influence on the ango.) It wasn't so much what we were doing or what I was asked to do that made me want to leave. It was the absence of context that left me feeling hollow, that left me feeling I was doing things only because that's the way they're done, not because doing them leads to anything more than doing things differently. There were no inspiring lectures about Bodhi-mind, compassion, or awakening the heart of a Bodhisattva. While there were hours of practice moving around the temple, ringing bells and banging drums, there was no explicit instruction in cultivating mindfulness. Perhaps that was intentional. Perhaps we were supposed to be able to come such understanding on our own. If so, then maybe I'm the fool for not having gotten it.
Shogoji 2008 International Ango: Pt 2
Shogoji 2008 International Ango: Pt 1
Shogoji 2008 International Ango: Pt 0