On November 11th (the day before the Indian festival of Divalii) we completed what may have been the first-ever sesshin in Tiruvannamalai. For three days we (mostly) followed a schedule of 4:50 wakeup, three periods of zazen and kinhin followed by service, soji, and breakfast in the zendo (served outside but eaten at our seats out of one clay bowl). More zazen and kinhin with an hour for lecture, then lunch and a break. Yoga, tea, more zazen and kinhin and supper, then another break and more zazen and kinhin, ending each evening with chanting the refuges together in Pali. In all we had about 25 people sitting sesshin, some from as close as the Ramana ashram in Tiruvannamalai and as far flung as the US, Sweden, Spain, Slovenia, and Germany. Our local friend Manikka Swami (see earlier post) also came, as well as Brother Martin from the nearby Shantivanam Benedictine Monastery, Heike Hildebrand, Michael Heiberger (a Camaldolese monk), and Sr. Beatrice from Ramana ashram, Deepak from Bangalore, Abhilash from Kerala, Shanmughasundaram and his wife Full Moon, Reza from Sweden, Naveen from Vellore, and many others. Ki Gillam arrived on day two and settled right in.
I got to be more or less the fukuten to Shindo’s tenzo, and was able to plan and prepare the opening evening dinner (spaghetti with red sauce, avocado, and parmesan, green beans, cucumber salad, and papaya with lime-honey syrup for dessert, and the final evening dinner of Indian Burritos (chapati, cumin rice, kidney bean chili, pico de gallo, grated cheddar and cilantro mint chutney). More people showed up that evening with fresh tomatoes filled with walnut and honey and chocolate cake. Tassajara did not feel so far away, and on day three we even had miso soup for breakfast (with noodles… and chutney).
It was a first for many of the people in attendance, and the longer kinhin periods and yoga sessions must have been a relief (although Paul had to eventually ask that people not wear saris or longyis to yoga). Some were well seasoned sitters (or “cushion freaks” as Michael H liked to say), and some (like myself) had to follow a modified schedule due to injuries. At the end of sesshin there was a closing circle, a big feast, and flurry of conversations, reminding me of the dining room on the day after sesshin at Tassajara.
When I asked Paul afterwards what he had to say about sesshin he said, “we sat and waited to arrive where we already were”. You can listen to his third Dharma Talk here.