This past weekend, I had the honor of being the monitor for a person who was sitting Tangaryo. In our tradition, this means sitting in zazen for almost 12 hours (dawn 'til dusk) as the final step before becoming a formal student in the Order. It is based on the traditional practice at Zen monasteries of making the person requesting the teachings to bang on the door and be turned away three times over the course of three days - they sit outside the gate for three days, no doubt stewing about exactly why they want the teachings so badly that they are willing to sit outside for three days while rudely being turned away by some joker behind the door. In the Mountains and Rivers Order, the process isn't quite so harsh. But it isn't quite so easy either. There are several steps that take months of discernment and effort to complete. As I mentioned, the last step is sitting Tangaryo.
The process is pretty simple - get up early and begin sitting. Stay that way until lunchtime. After lunch, sit again until evening. It amounts to about 12 hours. One is encouraged not to move very much so there is no walking meditation and no set periods or bells or anything. It is just yourself with yourself. I remember clearly when I did it thinking that I was glad it was something I would only have to do once. It's not so easy!
But, things change. Being asked to be the monitor, who is the person who sits with the potential student(s) to make sure everything is ok, is an honor. It is a chance to serve and be a part of this very special process. It also means that I am setting an example of strong sitting and generally creating a certain tone, which actually does happen even when you are in silence and just sitting still in a room together. Energy is created. A life-long bond is created. Funny, but true.
The next morning, as part of the Sunday service, there is an "entering ceremony" for the new student and I got to be part of that as well. Remembering back to when I did that ceremony, it was all blur and it seemed impossible to remember my cues. Somehow, the simple instructions felt hopelessly complex and beyond my abilities. This time, I realized much of the protocol already exists in my body - when to bow, how to approach the altar - it felt clear and natural, not quite the stormy, grey waters of four years ago.
Is this progress? Maybe, I suppose. But then again, it is possible to learn new things. I am not sure it makes them special, if you know what I mean. As I reflected on my own Tangaryo experiences and how the whole thing felt so different now, I realized that I honestly had no idea what I was getting into when I asked to be a student. Because that is the very last step of all - actually sitting in front of the teacher, just the two of you, and saying the words, "Please teach me."
Yes, I had no idea at all. And may it always be so!