Monday, May 9, 2011

Contemplating a full day of contemplation

I signed up for a full day meditation retreat at Green Gulch Farm, I'll be staying overnight in consideration of the schedule starting at 4:35 AM. There are nine periods of sitting meditation with some walking, service, dharma talks and eating in between. Each sitting period is at least 40 minutes, which makes for a pretty full day of staring at a wall.

In preparation I've been reading specific sections from D.T. Suzuki'sAn Introduction to Zen Buddhism, which includes a detailed description of the most anxiety inducing part of the day: BREAKFAST. It's right there in the schedule, in ALL CAPS. For good reason, breakfast in the zendo is no idle affair. First, you'll need the special bowls:

The bowls which each brings are made of wood or paper and are well lacquered, the are usually four of five in number and fit into on another like a nest.

There's an entire hand gesture protocol for getting more rice once you've finished your first helping, apparently you need to be able to negotiate this in order to get a reasonable meal in the zendo:

When another bowl of rice is wanted, the monk holds out his folded hands, the waiter notices it and sits with the rice receptacle before the hungry one; the latter take up his bowl, lightly passes his hand around the bottom to wipe off whatever dirt may have attached itself and be likely to soil the hand of the waiter.

Once you've gone through this process three of four times, it's time to do the dishes. No getting up and going to the kitchen from the zendo though, you'll be washing up right where you are:

…the waiters bring hot water; each monk fills his larges bowl with it and in it all the other bowls are neatly washed and wiped with the tiny napkin which is carried by him. Then a wooden pail goes around to receive the slop

I'll apparently need a tiny napkin, really should be keeping a list. This description completely explains the hesitation in the voice of the guy taking my reservation "it's your first time? You should really consider the tray, it's much simpler…"