On Saturday (Feb 3), I sat tangaryo to became a formal student of Myotai Sensei and enter Hermitage Heart. Tangaryo is an old tradition in Zen practice. Back in Japan, if you wanted to join the monastery and become a monk you sat for a period of time, anywhere from one to five days, to show your earnest desire to study the Dharma. There was no schedule of sitting periods or walking meditation, just sitting for the day or days.
I set my alarm for 4:15 am—tangaryo began at 5. No one comes to get you, there’s no push to practice. Tangaryo is when it’s all “on you”. Of course, I was nervous. Okay, I was scared. My practice has been far from rigorous and the prospect of all day sitting was daunting.
I went into the lounge to get a cup of coffee before beginning the day. Moonlight streamed through the window from the full moon, dancing off of the newly fallen snow. I sat in the darkness sipping my coffee letting the moonlight wash over me. Hoan, the monitor for the day, came into the lounge for her morning tea. She flicked the lights on and got her tea then off they went again and together we silently drank in the glorious moonlight.
By 5, Hoan, Chuck and I began sitting. Here is where words fail. How to describe the particular letting go that tangaryo requires? The fear and anxiety disappeared like snow on water, the image from Rengetsu’s poem that Sensei had asked us to look at that sesshin. There was breath, and the ache of legs not used to sitting for long periods. When needed, there was movement: a change of position, a slow kinhin walk down the hall and back again, a bathroom break when necessary.
No bells mark the time. It is the raw experience of a day free from the constraints of schedule. Truly, there is nothing to do but sit, nowhere to go but in.
It wasn’t over before I knew it. It was a long day with moments joyous and deeply painful. And through it all ran a current of amazing peace drawn from a deep well. I realized things about myself. I forgave myself. I breathed. I felt the floor rise up to meet my feet as I walked. I felt the sunlight through the window hot on my body. I felt the quiet deep practice of the other people in the room. I was.
I sat for eight hours in a room with two other people. I breathed and cried and, in the end, felt profoundly grateful for the priviledge. Something changed in me that day. Somewhere in that time I met myself without judgement.
Afterwards, we all went and shared a cup of tea with Myotai Sensei. We received certificates saying that we were now students. We received bowls so that we could practice our home hermitages. We talked and laughed.
To experience tangaryo is a gift beyond measure. It is an invitation to find the place of practice that is outside of forms and schedules. It is a call to put one’s heart on the line and one’s ass on the cushion. It is the gift of time.
Later that evening, I bowed to the sangha, I bowed to my seat in the zendo, and I bowed nine times to my new teacher. And then I sat down and did zazen. And it was right and good and it wasn’t the struggle that zazen usually is for me. I sat late in the zendo that night, not because I felt that subtle pressure to push myself, to be a “Zen hero”, but because zazen and joy were not two separate things.
Thank you Myotai Sensei, for making Hermitage Heart happen, for taking on the irritating absurdity of teaching zen, for giving me the opportunity to have a perfect day. I cannot express the profound gratitude that pulses in my chest, even now.