We had the session in the main temple. I wisely dressed warm, having heard there is no heater… ever! Also the doors stay open when there is a session. There were no lights other than the soft lighting from the altar. On this night there were only four of us, including Sensei. I was unsure what to expect other than perhaps getting hit with the stick once I saw he had that. It was not something I looked forward to, at all. I was expecting, having been told it was a 30 min sit then a break and discussion. The website said it was a three hour sit. I was going by what I was told. I have sat up to 1 hour in my Chan sessions back in the states. So 30 min was no biggie.
I watched and followed. First the clapper , then the bell, and we started. It was not uncomfortable. I am glad I wore my hoodie, so I stayed warm. I did have some concern about that having had chills and sneezes the night before. I did well. My style of Zazen is different, but more so on what goes on internally rather than externally, other than my eye are fully closed not partway closed. In the dark they look the same. After about 30 min, one joss stick the session was over. I still followed the group. There was a bit of movement, stretching but no one got up. So I did not as well. Another clapper, then bells again and another session started. Ok, I see how this goes I thought. Small sittings, then breaks. Hmm three hours of this. Hmm ok if I have to. Now I am thinking, this will not be enjoyable, but perhaps that is the point. Can I deal with this for three hours? I tried to settle in. About this time I hear a buzzing, there is a mosquito hunting for blood, my blood! Crimanny! This is just what I do not need. I thought they would all be gone by now with this weather change. However no, just like at home there is one tough female on the hunt. I heard that it is the females that bite. Now it takes some real effort to quiet my mind. I am thinking, this bug is like a demon that harassed, Buddha and Jesus, not as bad I am sure but regardless, it is a demon, my demon to over come! I tuck my hands in my sleeves and am thankful I have on my hood. I go inward.
About this time I hear motion on my left. Sensei is moving. He is up walking…shortly I hear four sharp whacking sounds. Oh great! Now this. I hear his steps towards me, past me, behind me, I remain still , expecting the pain, that does not come. More thoughts, do I need this distraction to my practice, what is the point, unless sleeping. I am not, I am sitting straight, an aware. Perhaps it is some part of this sects ritual, I do not like it. I did not want to join a fraternity because I did not want to be hit with sticks. Kung Fu is different I can protect myself, but just to sit and be hit, how is that going to enlighten me? The mind is a monkey going from branch to branch. The strike never comes, the Sensei sits. Once again I settle, breath and go inward.
Soon the bell rings, the clapper sounds. More movement. This time everyone is standing, but I get the sense it is not over. Soon they walking starts around the room. I follow. So far this is very like the Soto sessions in Berkeley, and Sonoma mtn Zen center…well other than the stick. We walk for a while. A man slips off to the toilet, he returns I go, the walk continues. I return, the walk continues. Then it is over, a bit refreshed I sit again. I make myself more comfortable. The clapper, then the bell another session begins. I am resigned now to whatever will be will be and thoughts turn to my practice.
It occurs to me, this is really a good chance to work on my Chan Ding ( meditation). I am unable to attend session with my Chan brethren, however this is a blessed place, I have the perfect chance to develop my Chan Ding ( inner zazen). I go inward and work on my Chakra focus, taking advantage on the perfectness of this time to do so. I recall the on-line lectures from my Chan Shifu and resolve to continue the monthly sessions here as an opportunity to improve my Chan while whilst in a holy spot. A blessed Holy spot is beyond the label of Chan, Zen, Christian, Buddhist, it is a positive place in the Tao. I am not required to change any part of my practice to fit in to the “wa” of this place. This is part of the beauty of the Chan practice, one can go to church and practice Chan, to a mosque, living and practicing Chan is not about the location, or external form. Some are just better than others for focus. As with doing Tai Chi it is stronger energy doing it with others, the same is for Chan/Zen. So this will be my Shangha here, away from home.
The bells rang, the clapper sounds. Everyone stretched. It was over. I really saw no difference from the Soto session in the states, other than no chanting and bowing like at Sonoma Mtn. We adjourned to another section of the temple. There we greeted the head monk and went into a room for tea, crackers and cake, were we chatted, for the most part about me since I was the new kid on the block.
As we were leaving I asked to take of picture of the Ikibana. I was told this was arranged just for us this evening.