Yokoji, Shuso Hosen and Ango

Yokoji, Shuso Hosen and Ango

Myself, Suigen and Eido recently attended the last two weeks of the Spring Ango training period at Yokoji Zen Mountain Centre in California. The ango culminated in the Shuso Hosen ceremony for Jishin who had been the head monk for the duration of the ango. During the ceremony Jishin gave a dharma talk on a koan (Case 41 from the Book of Equanimity, Rakuho’s Last Moments) and then answered questions (Dharma combat) on the meaning of the koan. At the end of the ceremony senior monks and teachers presented a verse expressing their appreciation of the head monk. Below I talk about the meaning of an ango which may also be applied to our own sesshins, and also give my own verse for Jishin to give a flavour of the occasion. My hope is that Suigen and or Eido may write a more personal account of their time there.

Ango (meaning peaceful dwelling e.g. the intrinsic peace we have within)

Ango, a three month retreat, is part of the traditional annual training cycle of a Zen temple. They are held twice a year, Spring and Autumn or Summer and Winter. They follow a rigorous schedule with the entire day in practice – sitting, working, bowing, eating, service etc. from wake up to lights out bell (sweetly, traditionally called “the pillow bell”).

On this intensive schedule the plan is to stop thinking of the hours of the day as your time and instead to surrender to the demanding timetable. It is said that the schedule is your first teacher. You need as much energy to survive it as you do to normally maintain all your inner thoughts, ideas, concepts (delusions!) etc. The process is finally simple, instead of focussing on your small self you decide to focus on practice. Instead of listening to the ongoing record of your inner thoughts you let go of the grip you have on yourself to discover that just as you are with your original nature you are complete and fully equipped. You already have all you need. There is a depth of wisdom and compassion already inherent in your nature. An ango helps you realise and manifest that original face.

Keizan Sensei’s Shuso Hosen verse for Jishin, head monk

Jishin fed both us and the Mountain Dragon.
Are they one or are they two. Tears flowed from her tender heart.
Moment after moment, each one the first until our last.
And yet and yet separated by 10,000 miles and many lives Rakuho and we are joined at the hip.
Grasses are green, blossom falls, unseasonal
Mist settles on the mountain
Coco and Honey press up against the warm
Glass of the study room door.
The Dragon roared, winds howled
She leaped off the 100′ pole. Ahgg!!!
It’s ungraspable.
This morning the face of a bodhisattva.

Notes: The high mountain valley in which Yokoji sits is overlooked by a rocky ridge from where a guardian dragon is said to look down. Coco and Honey are two golden Labradors belonging to Tenshin Roshi. They freely roam the forested and steep, rocky grounds of Yokoji.

Another verse For Jishin

Silently a flower blooms
In silence it falls away
Yet here now at this moment
At this place the whole of the
Flower, the whole of the world
Is blooming.
Your going and returning takes place
Nowhere but where you are
Your singing and playing is none
Other than the voice of the Dharma.



Sometimes out of loyalty one drives oneself to unspeakable hardship. Sometimes when disaster befalls, other men fail to get the point. Humbly stooping down at the time of departure, his last moments are utterly kind. Tears flowing forth from his tender heart are still more difficult to hide. However, is there someone here with kind eyes?


Attention! Rakuho, on his deathbed, addressed the assembly, saying, “Now I have one matter to ask you about. If you approve this, you’re putting another head on top of your own head. If you disapprove this, you’re seeking life by cutting off your head.” Thereupon, the head monk said, “The green mountain always raises its leg. In bright daylight, you don’t raise a torch.” Rakuho scolded, “What occasion is this that you should say such a thing?” The monk Genju stepped forward and said, “Leaving aside these two roads, please Master, don’t question.” Rakuho replied, “Partly, but say some more.” Genju admitted, “I can’t say it all.” Rakuho said, “I don’t care if you say it all or not.” Genju said, “Being your attendant, Osho, it’s hard for me to reply.”

When evening came, Rakuho summoned the monk Genju and said, “Your response today makes very good sense. You should experience what my late master said, ‘Before the eyes no Dharma. Mind is before the eyes. This: It’s not Dharma before the eyes. It’s something that ear and eye cannot reach.’ Which phrase is guest? Which phrase is host? If you can make the distinction, I’ll hand over the bowl.” Genju said, “I don’t know.” Rakuho said, “You should know.” Genju said, “I really don’t know.” Rakuho said, cuttingly, “Tough, isn’t it? Tough isn’t it?” The monk said, “Osho, how about you?” Rakuho answered, “The boat of compassion is not poled over the waves of purity. In the rapids of the steep ravine one toils in vain to release the wooden goose.”


With clouds as bait and moon as hook, he fishes in pure water.
Burdened with years solitary and hard, and no fish yet.
After the tune “Riso” dies away,
on the river Bakira, a lone man awakens.