Happy New Year!
January 03, 2011 by Yugen
First and foremost, a happy new year to everyone in the sangha! It has been real hectic up on the mountain for the past few weeks. Last Wednesday we had a morning of snow, which then suddenly turned in to rain, resulting in a thick layer of slush on the ground. The temperature then dropped overnight to the low 20s, and didn't pick up all that much over the next few days. Consequently, the mountain was covered in a thick layer of ice, resulting in, amongst other things, a burst water pipe in the laundry room. We still have no hot water in the practice house or Jisha cabin as we're still waiting for the plumber to get back to us. Last night the snow started falling again and we ended up with about 6-8 inches on the ground - the most we've had this season. Thankfully, everyone who wanted to come up for the the New Year's Sesshin was able to make it up to the Center and get back down again safely.
The New Year's Sesshin is often one of the most popular of the year, as it provides a window for introspection and reflection at the cusp of a new year, and a place to let go of hindrances, make new vows and celebrate the new year in the company of a large chunk of the community. This year was no exception and we struggled to fit everyone in to the Buddha Hall for zazen and the evening services on the 31st. Everyone was pleased to see Rakusan, a veteran of the New Year's Sesshin, who has not been able to make it up as much recently due to health concerns. He gave a rousing rendition of 'Auld Lang Syne' during the toast at 12:30 am (see photos below), another Rakusan tradition!
The usual sesshin schedule ends at 8:20pm on the 31st and we finish sesshin with a closing circle, where everyone offers up a brief comment on their experience, and provides an opportunity to audibly give thanks after a few days of silence. At 10:50pm we performed a fire ceremony, with each person writing down hindrances from the past year on a scrap of year, and one by one, offering it to the fire, with powdered incense folded inside the paper while everyone chanted the Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo. After this, we went back in to the Buddha Hall for Fusatsu, the ceremony of renewal and atonement. Zazen then took us up to midnight when we perform the New Year's service as the officiant, Wayu in this case, read extracts from the sutras while ringing a hand bell. Wayu then offered a water purification, while everyone in the hall chanted the Heart Sutra three times, the Sho Sai Myo Kichijo Dharani a number of times and then the Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo nine times to finish up. Finally, we went downstairs for a snack and a toast to the new year. In the morning, we repeated the fire ceremony, this time burning resolutions for the new year, before going up to the memorial and well sites for services, giving thanks to the founders and the continuous water supply. It is a fantastic start to the new year and I'd thoroughly recommend it to anyone who has not participated in the sesshin before.