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Ango ~ Guy Mokuhô
“Abiding in peace” is the translation of the word ango, describing the retreat which would bring the monks together around the Buddha or a senior person, during the rainy season. By extension, it has become the training period that monks and nuns must follow after ordination (Tokudo) to learn the rules, ceremonies and rituals belonging to the Soto school. It is a period of time totally dedicated to practice and in the Japanese tradition it forms part of the curriculum by means of which a monk takes charge of a temple, a function, or role as educator amongst Zen practitioners.
Completing one or many angos isn’t obligatory for us, as European zen practitioners. But it has the benefit of allowing our multiple European sanghas to co exist better together, by harmonising the exterior aspect of practice and rituals. Some believe that these angos are useless and even that they are opposed to the teachings transmitted by Master Deshimaru.
But can we really know what an experience will produce in us before we have actually done it? Beyond for and against and also beyond all forms, in an inevitable geographical, cultural and even religious distancing, habitual landmarks, ideas, our own importance are all shoved aside without recourse in our crowding together with others, the inexorable daily grind and even from time to time, the absurdity of the way a monastery is run in Japan.
And yet, for all of those men and women who have lived through such a period, a profound inner questioning of themselves seems to happen of its own accord. In the repetitious nature of daily life, beyond the context and even the religious tradition, each one is led to overtake their own personality and to unconditionally accept everyday reality. The famous reply of Nansen Hejoshin Koredo, ‘ordinary (daily) consciousness is the way’ becomes deeply meaningful.
Here are some thoughts and recollections by members of the Tenbôrin sangha who practised these ango in 2018 at the temple of Toshoji in Okayama prefecture.