Back Porch Zendo


On Sunday July 24th the Back Porch Zendo in Occidental California held a Shuso ceremony. The Shuso ceremony is put on to formally recognize a head monk who has presided over a training period. This training period began last summer having a duration of approximately one year. The Shuso ceremony takes place as an inquiry into the understanding of the participants and the Shuso candidate.

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Prajana Paramita / Buddhamama

In American Zen there are not so many official and beautiful temples as there are in Japan. Use is made of whatever facilities are available that can lend themselves to accommodate practitioners of Zen. In this case the assembly took place out in the forest in a beautiful grove of Redwood trees. The afternoon sun was peeking through the deep shade and a cool breeze kept things wonderfully temperate. DSCN1069

Zendo in the Redwood Grove

This ceremony was held to inaugurate Ken Sawyer who has been practicing Zen sitting since the early 1970’s. Steve Winetraub is the Dharma teacher from Zen Center, Green Gulch Farm who has been working with Ken. Many people were present who have been part of the Northern California Soto Zen community for years.


Ken Sawyer and Steve Winetraub

The ceremony features the candidate for Shuso and the Dharma teacher who has prepared the candidate for this position. They have spent up to a year working together honing the skills and discipline necessary to ready the Shuso for this responsibility. The ceremony is a way to formally establish that preparedness. After opening comments that feature an ancient Zen story, the traditional walking staff is presented to the Shuso. After he accepts the staff, all attendees are called upon, one by one, to ask a question of the candidate. Each time a question is answered the Shuso strikes the staff down against the floor signaling readiness for the next question. This formal period of questions and answers is called “Mondo” and is sometimes thought to be the transmission of Zen directly from spirit to spirit. When the question and answer period is complete then. one by one, formal statements, usually of congratulations, are bestowed by all attendees upon the new Shuso.


Storinzan Darumaji visit

Syorinzan Darumaji is a Zen Buddhist temple located just outside of the city of Takasaki in Gunma prefecture. The temple derives it’s name after the Zen Partriarch, Daruma. Daruma is the Japanese pronunciation of Bhodidharma who is a renowned cultural and religious figure well known for bringing the teachings of Zen (pronounced Chan in Chinese) to China from India during the 5th or 6th century.


Syorinzan temple is of the Obaku denomination of Rinzai Zen. Obaku is a version of Rinzai that came several hundreds years later to Japan after Rinzai had already been established. It is the 3rd largest sect of Zen in Japan though often it is considered part of the Rinzai school. Obaku has retained more of it’s Chinese heritage and customs than it’s sister school the Japanese Rinsai sect. The largest sect of Zen in Japan is the Soto shu.


Fuku-Daruma, better known as the daruma doll. is considered a good luck charm. During new years season it is often purchased to bring good luck during the upcoming year. The Fuku-Daruma originated at the Syorinzan temple. The founder of this temple, Shinetsu began the custom of giving the local farmers pictures of Bodhidharma that he would paint with a single brushstroke. Several centuries later the tradition of crafting wooden images based on the brush paintings evolved. Eventually the local craftsmen started making these dolls for sale.


Cho zu or Water purification is an essential part of any Buddhist temple or Shinto Shrine visit. There will be a stone reservoir  of cold clear water usually near the entry way.




The custom is to take one of the ladles and dip it into the water first washing the left hand and then the right.


Last take another ladle of water and drink from it. Now one has been cleansed of worldly impurities and you are ready to enter the temple.