Ryushin bowing
May 07 Newsletter » Being Shuso
Charles Ryoshin Kalmanek

The Shuso’s typical duties include organizing and running the Sesshin and all of the Zazenkai during Ango, in addition to serving as practice leader for the Sangha. Since I’m a lay practitioner with a busy life, Roshi told me several times that she didn’t expect me to fulfill all of these obligations and duties. I was to attend and offer my presence at the Zendo — that would be enough. Roshi’s words were an invitation to me to discover what “right effort” meant to me in the role of Shuso.

Of course, we sometimes hear things without really understanding them. During my first few times at the Zendo while I was Shuso, I found myself confronting my idea that I was supposed to be “leading” practice, without knowing exactly how to go about it. We are very fortunate that the Zendo has a core of volunteers who open in the morning, who devote their time to organizing and running retreats, and who know all of the service positions by heart. Though I would like to be a part of that core, I am not able to right now. During the first part of my time as Shuso, the word that came up for me most often was “unworthy.” Confronting my problem-solving tendencies and finding others who were more capable of solving the problems, what was I doing there?

I discovered the joy of simply doing what I was asked to do, or of talking with someone new to the Zendo. Our Sangha is an amazingly generous teacher: being present, being Shuso was enough. In fact, it was more than enough — it was everything. Much of the time, we practice and we come to the Zendo for ourselves — how can I make myself feel a little more at peace in my life? The other side of it is that we practice and we come to the Zendo to support everyone else. It doesn’t mean doing anything special — just offering your presence is enough. Yet as Roshi recently spoke about in a Dharma Talk, it takes commitment to do this. “Oh, I’ll sleep late today instead of going to the Zendo.” “Oh, I’ll never get it, so why try.” When our desire for comfort or our doubts intrude on our practice, we need to remember that we practice for all Beings, not just for ourselves.

Our last winter snowstorm came during Urban Sesshin, making it more difficult than usual for me to get to and from the city. I gave up all pretence of trying to arrive on time, but I committed myself to coming each day. As I was working on my koan, “The Rhinoceros Fan,” and not seeing into it, Roshi, who can be very strict when she wants to be, told me “you can do this” in a tone that left no room for doubt. Through the mysterious working of face-to-face transmission, my doubts disappeared. This Dharma “incomparably profound and infinitely subtle” — all it requires of us is that we “show up” with a sincere and open heart. Each day we renew our vows.

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