On Saturday evening, June 28, Head Monk or shuso, Jakuko “Mo” Ferrell, completed the Dharma Inquiry ceremony which is the culmination of a formal practice period in Soto Zen (ango). The ceremony includes all participants in the practice period, who each ask a question of the shuso in rapid succession and receive a direct answer, punctuated with a sharp strike of the shippei, a staff of bamboo. Thus the head monk directly meets everyone in the immediate moment. It is considered a kind of trial or test of a teacher in the making.

The ceremony began with a procession that includes clappers and a drum as well as the traditional hand-carried bells. After the usual three bows, we chanted the Heart Sutra very slowly to the beat of the wooden mokugyo while the Abbess incensed a copy of the Book of Serenity, which was carried in a slow circumambulation of the room by her attendant and given to the shuso. At the end of the chanting, the shuso read a case, the first one in the book, about Bodhidharma and Emperor Wu. She then returned the volume to the Abbess and after bowing to her and to the assembly on both sides, she received the shippei and returned to her seat. The benji, or shuso’s attendant, read a poem composed for the occasion, and after a formal statement, Jakuko called out, “bring me your questions!”.

The last question came from the former shuso, Kuden Paul Boyle (who returned from Canada for the occasion). Upon making a statement on the case she read earler and a ritual apology, Jakuko returned the staff and exchanged more bows with the Abbess and assembly, then resumed her seat for statements of congratulation. After the procession ending the ceremony and a round of photographs, we all enjoyed two kinds of cheesecake, the dessert requested by the shuso, and wonderful handmade chocolates provided by some of the participants.

Congratulations to Kengan Jakuko on this momentous occasion!

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