An ango at Toshoji – Sebastian Volz
An Ango at Toshoji
Sebastian Volz’s Experience
Three months of monastic life can be summed up in a single day. Waking up to the drum, the day gets started with a long zazen, followed by a ceremony, Oryoki, housekeeping, tea, Samu, lunch, siesta, another Samu, another tea, a rest, dinner, bath and zazen before bed.
Of course the tasks and the responsibilities vary, the seasons and the sangha change, new events and ceremonies punctuate the months. But every day, by the rhythm and the actions performed together, our attention is held from rising to bedtime, the thoughts calmed by the fluidity of the day, where no choices need to be made. From day to day the invisible purity of our daliy life silently transforms our body and mind.
Our ‘person’ rebels, negative thoughts spring up – boredom, complaints, tiredness, criticism of others, and of the ‘system’, the body sometimes finds it hard to adapt to practice, voices are raised from time to time, conflicts can arise. But more often than not, these negativities are carried away by the continual and powerful flow of the rhythm of the days.
I arrived in the last part of the spring Ango and I stayed through the summer to complete the official period of three months. The Ango period is intense, with the presence of 20 participants in the Ango as well as occasional visitors. At the end of the Ango, the rhythm relaxes, although the activities remain the same.
The months of July and August are hot and humid, as well as being the season of typhoons. This year, the typhoon was exceptional, the river burst its banks, and there we were with our shovels and wheel barrows, off to dig out an affiliated temple.
The month of August also holds the big event of Obon, ceremonies for the dead. Jean Marc Genzo(Kukan) and myself were able to help in the organisation and attend many ceremonies in the temples.We also went round from house to house, in the middle of rice fields and mountains, or in the deepest valleys, to chant Daishu (Daihi Shin Dharani) and Kanromon before the ancestral altars.
Three months – I had never spent such a time cut off from my everyday life. Once I got back, the welcome varied between curiosity and surprise at my slimmed down body, with its clear, smiling face. By repetition, these three months can finally be summed up in a single day, and that day has evaporated in the course of continued attention.
All that remain are a few dreams, with the bright colours of reality, and life in Tokyo continues as if virtually nothing has changed.