Hearing a bell ring each morning, we got up, put on our zendo clothes, and walked in the chilly dawn to the zendo. Designed by Paul Discoe and built as a temporary zendo after a fire many years ago, this zendo couldn't be more of a sanctuary for the ceremony of zazen followed by service. We formed an instant sangha, six of us from the Houston Zen Center, six more from various California sanghas, one from Austin, and one from Puerto Vallarta. With the guidance of our Abbot Gaelyn Godwin Roshi, we coalesced into a loving and supportive sangha, sitting, working, hiking, and enjoying the pleasures of camaraderie.
Sangha Week is intended as a time to deepen practice, form connections, and enjoy the rejuvenation that comes with connection to nature. After breakfast each morning, we stood in a work circle with sixty or more other people, received tasks in the kitchen, the garden, the cabin crew, or other areas. In each of these work areas, we began with a short service and then mid-morning, we would stop, gather in a circle, and read and discuss Zen texts, in the kitchen reading from Dogen's Advice to the Cook, for example.
Work ended at lunch each day for those of us in Sangha Week. After a refreshing nap or a plunge in the hot springs, our little group would meet for a hike, zazen and dokusan, or we would join other groups to hear lectures on subjects such as the six realms and ritual in everyday life. On one evening, we heard a poetry reading from Jane Hirshfield. Afternoons always gave us plenty of leisure time for a swim in the pool, a hike along the creek, more napping, or another plunge in the hot springs.
For dinner, we ate exquisitely prepared dishes, marveling at the skill of the tenzo who could cook for so many without losing the sense of caring for each guest personally. On the last full day there, a group of us walked along the beautiful winding creek to the Narrows and plunged into the icy water before lying on warm rocks to soak in the afternoon sunlight. We ended our time together astonished at the quick bonds we had formed. Those of us from the Houston contingent urged our new friends to come and visit our temple. We stood in a circle and shared our gratitude to our teacher for her generosity and to one another for our warm kindness.