This week I received training for some Zen service positions. The services in Zen practice involve a lot of bowing, some chanting, some bells, and some drumming. At my current Zen center, it is one person who does the chanting and bells, and sometimes the drumming, for the service. We call it Doan training, but it really combines several service roles: Ino, the one who leads the chanting; Doan, the one who rings the bells; and Mokugyo, who uses the drums. Another role from my old Zen center is the Inkan, who rings a bell to cue everyone to bow.
Doing all these activities at once involves a high degree of focus, intention and coordination. There is a script, but at a number of points in the service you ring bells based on cues from the priest. So you have to watch and be aware of what he or she is doing. The role is important because the practitioners are listening for their cues to sit or stand or chant, or for when to put their hands in gassho. There are also numerous subtleties, like how hard or fast to ring the bell, how to stop the sound of the bell, or how to set the pace of drumming, which gets faster as the chant progresses.
Impeccability is something to strive for.
Impeccability in these activities ensures a smooth service in which everyone knows what they are doing and when. It also means that practitioners are free to focus on the chants, to derive meaning from them, rather than to think about the minutia of body form.
The last two days I went to the Zen center for morning zazen, and had the opportunity to practice leading the service. At 6:30 a.m. on a weekday, the priest and I are usually the only ones present, so there was less pressure and more training on form. I made some mistakes and was unskillful with certain aspects. There is improvement to be made, but since I have done these service positions before at my previous Zen center, it wasn’t a total train wreck! I’m excited, though, to become more skillful so that the practitioners without service positions may focus on their zazen, bowing, and chanting.