It’s the end of the first week of Ango. Ango is a special 90-day practice period for Zen monks and laypeople. Below is an excerpt of my Zen teacher’s explanation of Ango as practiced in Treeleaf, my sangha. I might as well take some time to explain a little about Treeleaf to help you understand his writing better:
Treeleaf is a sangha whose members are spread out all over the world. Most are located in North America, our teacher Jundo (along with his Dharma brother Taigu, who heads our newly-formed brother Sangha Blue Mountain Hermitage) is based in Japan. I, along with one other member, am based in the Philippines. So how do we practice together? Online. Google Hangouts, Insight Timer, forums, Skype. So Ango, just like all our interactions and community practices, is held online.
“Ango, literally “peaceful dwelling”, is a period of concentrated and committed Zen practice, usually lasting three-months in the Soto Zen tradition. The roots of Ango arise from the earliest days of the Buddhist monastic community in India, when monks and nuns would cease their wandering and settle together in one place for the rainy season. Even today in Zen monasteries of Japan, Ango is a time of intense and rigorous training, typically including long hours of Zazen, short hours for sleep, formal meals taken in the Zendo (meditation hall), and a structured schedule for the rest of the day comprising periods for work, liturgy, study, rest, and personal needs. In the West, most Zen groups have adapted the form of the three-month practice period to the needs and demands of life in their communities.
In keeping with the philosophy and path of practice here at Treeleaf (“all of life is our temple”), we will seek to obtain many of the same … (and, I believe, quite a few additional and very special) … fruits and lessons of a traditional Ango while sitting within the “monastery” of our day-to-day lives, jobs, problems, unending distractions and family responsibilities.
In doing so, I believe, we will have the opportunity to taste the sweetness (and sometime bitterness … no one without the other) of concentrated Zen practice … and learn lessons … in many ways more poignant, practical, immediate and powerful than what might be known to monks locked away in a sheltered mountain monastery. As always, we will be tasting the power of this practice in the world, in daily life … and not hidden away from it all.” (From the Treeleaf forums)
So that’s what I’ve been up to since last week. I’ve been sitting longer periods of zazen – and what perfect timing too! Since last Sunday I haven’t been feeling well. I’ve had to ease up on my workouts. After a few days I figured out that it was likely my remaining wisdom tooth pushing up against the rest of my teeth and causing pain. Of course I want to make sure it’s actually that and not something else (there’s not a lot of things I can think of that would cause a week-long headache) so I have an appointment with the dentist tomorrow afternoon. At any rate I’ll be doing much less physical stuff for a few days, maybe a week or so. Which gives me more time to devote to Ango participation – although my teacher would probably admonish me that yes, sitting Zen is Ango participation, but so is doing the daily household chores, going to work, taking care of the family, and even just plain taking it easy while nursing a toothache-headache combo. They are all Ango, because they are all life – and all life is our Temple, as the Treeleaf tagline says.