I was in the market place in the town of Coimbatore in South India when my cell phone rang. It was a young woman from the Travel Agents office from Chennai. ‘Madam, your visa has come through. Your visa has been stamped for 10 years. We shall collect it tomorrow. Kindly make arrangements to collect it from our office as early as possible. For your information, our office will be closed for the next three days due to Pongal Holidays’. That was a pleasant surprise! But I had no time to wait to get my ticket collected as the office would be closed for the next three days for a festival holiday. When I sent my teacher Ryushin Paul Haller a paper that I was going to present at a seminar in Kerala, to go over and give his suggestions, comments and thoughts, he replied back changing the subject from Gassho to Gassho – Shuso. He said – ‘On a related matter – I have been thinking of you as Shuso for the winter Practice Period at City Center. Would you like to do that?’ Out of the blue came this invitation in Nov 2015. Everything had to start from scratch. All the paper work to apply for a fresh visit visa to the United States had to be put together. By then due to unprecedented rains Chennai was hit by floods. From November 8th – December 14th, the north east monsoons resulted in heavy rainfall that affected Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh and Pondicherry. The city of Chennai was hit hard. More than 500 people were killed and over 1.8 million people were displaced. Estimated damage and loses 7 to 15 billion dollars. In this scenario, it is most unlikely that I will ever get to go to SFZC for the Practice Period. Cars and Airplanes etc were all under water. It took several weeks for Chennai to recover from the aftermath of the floods. It was all last minute. I went to the US consulate in Chennai for the visa interview and biometrics. I had to see the main teacher of the Temple that I was living in, and so had to take a long train journey to Varkala Kerala and then drive 8 hours to Chennai to take the flight at 3:30am on the 19th. Arrived in San Francisco 1:30pm on the same day after 21 hours of flying. Travelling back in time. When I rang the door bell at 300 Page Street, I had to pinch myself to make sure it wasn’t just a dream and that I was really here. It all happened in a continuous sequence. The Practice period began on the 20th of January. ‘You are just a shuso candidate’ said the Abbot. A ‘maybe’ shuso I pondered. Again it felt like another dream. Is this all real or are we making it all up as we go. At this point, everything seemed unreal to me. Even ‘Time’ kept ticking away playing tricks on me. I felt like a zombie. A feeling of being thrown from one time zone to another, from one date, back to the same date, going back in time. So much for ‘Time’ which we feel is so ‘Real’.
I soon found myself back in robes, bowing, vowing and chanting away with the sangha. The Dharma does it to you even if you feel like a zombie. Thanks to Lucy Xiao, who brought me her spare robes. Things are slowly falling in place. The Tanto David Zimmerman walked me through the relearning process of ringing the wake up bell. Never a dull moment! The support of the sangha is immensely supportive beyond words. Shosan Victoria Austin a very dear Teacher to me, warmly welcomed with words of kindness, care and concern extending support in practice. Lien Shutt came with her spare Tabe’s (ceremonial socks) which fit me perfectly. The Abbot added in good humor – “We like our priests to look good!”
Yesterday, today, tomorrow, day after day as we together wake up with the wake up bell, chant, vow, bow and sit together, work together we will soon find the ‘otherness’ in the ‘other’ slowly begins to dissolve into ‘our-ness’ or oneness. May the spirit of the Practice Period bring forth our aliveness as we awaken and engage in the world allowing a traditional practice to guide our Contemporary Life.
Ringing the wakeup bell at 5:55am, waking up Manjushri in the Zendo altar with three cascades of the ringing bell after three full prostrations, waking up the four corners of the zendo, cascading at the kitchen altar, running down the hallway, up the stairs and down the stairs, waking everyone in the building, greeting out loud- ‘Goooood Morning Hojo Saaan’, the Abbot crisply and clearly responds an awakened Good Morning…..May we all awaken into our own clarity and balance. Gassho ~ And stay tuned for more. With you in the practice….