We've just completed the first of the monthly zazenkai we're running at Korinji this year. The word simply means "gathering for meditation"; we use it to refer to a kind of short overnight retreat - a mini-retreat, really - that stresses a greater amount of practice than most folks might do in their daily lives. Zazenkai also introduces many of the practice forms used during sesshin, the more intensive retreat periods which are so important in Zen training.
For many of the 11 participants this past weekend it was a first taste of silent retreat in a rural, monastic environment. Spring weather supported us; it was in the 70's during the day and nicely cool at night with a clear, moon- and starlit sky. Spring birdsong, including the drumbeat of woodpeckers, filled the forest in the morning. Coyotes and owls announced themselves at dusk. Because the weather was so nice, we could do both evening and morning dokusan - individual meetings between myself and each student - outdoors on the back engawa (porch).
The trainees did well. Since most are beginners, there were not many who could take on the various roles needed to run this kind of retreat. So myself and Myoan (Kristen) Radtke, who served as jikijitsu (the meditation hall monitor), took on multiple roles. I served as tenzo (cook) and server (handaikan) for tea. Myoan took on a general care taking role usually reserved for an officer called the shika. Next time, however, some of the students will be ready to start learning these jobs.
This was our first formal training in the zendo since its completion this past autumn, and I was pleased at how the building feels. Everything about it - from the design of the space, to its directional orientation in regards to the setting and rising of the sun, to the placement of windows and doors - feels "right". And the energy of the place is changing now that it is finally being used for practice. One of the students, who had never visited Korinji before, commented to me, "After I parked I starting walking down into the forest on the trail. I started to feel like I was in a different world. By the time I got to the gate, I felt so nervous I was almost shaking."
I was very pleased to hear exactly those words!
You can see some more photos from zazenkai on Korinji's Facebook page here.