Tag: Ango

A Shossan

Last night at the Dharma center, as part of our Ango, our teacher held a Shossan. A shossan is a like sanzen (private interview with the teacher), except that it is it conducted in front of the entire sangha. Those who wanted to participate, lined up and each asked our teacher a question.

Some questions produced simple answers, and some questions became a brief dialog between teacher and student. For example, some asked “How can I become more generous?” and our teacher answered simply, “Give.” The sangha chuckled at this. Our teacher followed up his answer by reminding us that we have many things to give. Our clear presence, for example. Not every gift has to be matarial in nature. And, in fact, the best gifts often aren’t.

Another person, who is the teen-aged son of one of our members asked what is meant by the idea in Buddhism that there is no self. Teacher proceeded to ask the young man who he was. The young man hesitated, clearly not knowing how to answer. The teacher asked him a prompting question: “what is your name?” The young man responded, and then offered a few additional biographical details. The teacher then pointed out that all those facts: name, age, grade-level, are all impermanent. That all the ideas we have about what makes the self are changeable, fluid. He liked it to a wave in the ocean. The wave isn’t a thing all by itself, it’s what we call the effect of energy upon water to create motion.

I found the shossan tremendously moving. I was honored that my fellow practitioners were willing to share their practice so openly. And I was moved by the words of my teacher.

I have not been practicing Zen for very long. I first sat with my sangha in April when my beloved took the Five Precepts and then started sitting regularly around mid-June.  But I didn’t get it then. Only now, I think, am I just starting to understand the depth of what it is to practice in a community. The supportive energy is amazing. I can feel its benefit in nearly every aspect of my life and it only encourages me to further my practice.

My Ango Commitment

About a week ago my sangha entered what’s known as Ango. Ango translates to “peaceful dwelling” and is a period of intensified practice. It is an old tradition that was practiced during the time of Shakyamuni Buddha. Monks would come together during the monsoon season to deepen and intensive their practice. Our Ango is six weeks long and begins during the start of Portland’s rainy season (or, I should say, Portland’s more-rainy season).

Members who wanted to participate in Ango each completed an Ango commitment form. Basically this was a sheet of paper on which had different ideas of how one could intensify her practice and space to elucidate how you would intensify your practice. Participants turned in these forms for review by the teacher. During the Ango opening ceremony our shusso (head of zendo) read the names of all those participating in Ango.

My Ango commitment is the following:

  • start a daily sitting practice
  • attend a sanzen
  • maintain mindfulness practice, specifically when exercising and with regard to the cleanliness of my apartment
  • read The Heart of Being, John Daido Loori’s book about the precepts.
  • start a daily writing practice

So far I’ve been doing fairly well. I’ve sat nearly daily. I attended my first sanzen. I’ve been working on being mindful when exercising (not listening to music, watching tv), and have been keeping the apartment fairly tidy. I’ve had the most trouble, however, with establishing a daily writing practice. For the most part I have things to write about, but I’ll feel tired or worn out or simply want to do something else.