Ango 2017: Intending the Heart toward our Awakening

The Dharma offers us release, the Dharma offers us something larger then pleasure and tragedy. The Dharma offers us a vision, a meaning and a source of confidence. The Dharma offers a path that is not based in dogma not stagnated in mere philosophy, not simply a belief system to place our hopes in and hope that we or they were right after all. The Dharma offers us, the Dharma is a path that says look, listen, pay attention, pay respect, your life is not a cosmic error or a mere survival run. Your life is an expression, a demonstration of universal truth, universal goodness; and you simply need to clear away the internal obstacles to that truth and goodness. And you can, and you should, and to do this is to bless your fellow sisters and brothers and all living things. – Jogen Sensei

Water poured from the heavens – purifying our intentions, as the Great Vow Ango Opening Ceremony leapt up carrying us into our 10-Day sesshin.

Thirty residents gathered together for Ango this year. As we met to clarify the purpose of setting aside 60-days to intensive practice, images and intentions emerged. A container of harmony and support, togetherness, continuously wringing out a rag, flames coming together to burn away and illuminate, letting go, purifying, opening.

We were asked to make concrete commitments, given the following questions as a guide for the investigation of intention:

What is the spirit or inner attitude you would like to bring into this Ango?
What practice edges are alive for you right now? How can you work skillfully with them?
Is there any activity or thought-pattern from which you would like to refrain?
What habits or practices would you like to bring alive or cultivate during this time?

We talk so much about vow, or aspiration at Great Vow. And its meaning and function in a life is something that is continuously opening and unfolding for me. How is it to align the heart is some direction? And to stay committed to seeing it through? What arises internally when you set the heart on a vow? And what about the collective power of vow?

Speaking our vows out loud at the Shrine of Vows, each person’s intention grounded in the Bodhisattva spirit of Awakening, reflecting all the qualities of an awakened heart – in the myriad forms, bodies and voices of the Sangha.

To give ones life over to Vow. This can be scary. But is there any other option? As one resident put it after sesshin. I kept setting the intention, every period speaking the intention. And then the intention started rising up, on its own. This Vow is bigger then my life, it was always, and will continue.

Another person voiced it. The intention of Awareness – it is not a thought – what is it? The 49th Ancestor Xuedou says, “Even the Buddhas don’t know what to make of it, even the ancestors don’t understand it.”

So intimately our own life, yet in a sense – having nothing to do with us in particular. Having faith in this vow, we awaken – and all beings awaken.

Jogen Sensei ended his final Dharma talk during the 10-day sesshin with this koan:

Seng-mi of Shenshan was crossing a river with his Dharma brother Dongshan. Dongshan said, “Don’t make a mistake with your steps and slip into the current.
Shenshan said, “If I make a mistake with my steps, then I won’t live to cross the river.”
Dongshan said, “What is the state without mistakes?”
Shenshan saod, “Crossing the river with brother Dongshan.”

It is an honor to cross the river together, may there be many more miles to traverse.

Ancient Way Sesshin Dedication

For 10 days together we’ve walked this Ancient Way,
even the Buddhas do not understand it.
Simply be still & breath
Do not make any conclusions,
And moment by moment, step by step, the path miraculously opens!
We pray that we may be able to keep living this Awakening, to manifest true beauty in the world, a selfless heart & deep present mind.
We dedicate the merit of this week of continued practice to all people of the Way. May the light of our own true nature shine clear for endless generations to come, as we practice, realize & manifest the Buddha Way together!