Photo credits: left – Renshin Bunce; right – Shundo David Haye
In a Mountain Seat Ceremony on March 11, Doshin Mako Voelkel and Jiryu Rutschman-Byler were formally installed as abiding abbots of, respectively, City Center and Green Gulch Farm. The ceremony was held in person at Beginner’s Mind Temple and included the second portion of the ceremony for Mako. On March 12, the second part of the ceremony for Jiryu Rutschman-Byler took place at Green Gulch Farm/Green Dragon Temple.
Furyu Schroeder and Rinso Ed Sattizahn “stepped down” during a ceremony on Friday evening, March 10, after nine years of service — Fu as Abiding Abbess at Green Gulch Farm, and Ed as Central Abbot. Tenzen David Zimmerman, who had been the City Center Abiding Abbot, “stepped across” to become the new Central Abbot.
Participants in the ceremonies included Hoitsu Suzuki Roshi, the son of San Francisco Zen Center’s founder Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, and Hoitsu’s son Shungo; Gengo Akiba Roshi, the Sokan of North America Sotoshu; San Francisco Zen Center’s former abbots, senior leadership, and residents; as well as friends and family members of the new abbots.
Many volunteers from the wider sangha assisted residents with preparing food, cleaning the temples, and arranging flowers. Abbot David Zimmerman coordinated the details, with assistance from City Center resident Brent Haas, and led the many rehearsals that preceded the ceremonies.
David Zimmernan noted, “Literally, the ceremony of installing a new abbot is called Shin San Shiki in Japanese, ‘ascending’ (shin 晉), the ‘mountain’ (san 山), ceremony (shiki 式) (ascending mountain ceremony). The ‘mountain’ referred to is the monastery or temple in question. In ancient China and Japan, the main abbot or teacher of a particular temple would take on the name of the mountain where they lived and practiced. The ‘mountain’ was their ‘seat.’”
The following is a compilation of words from teachers and students who attended the ceremonies at City Center and Green Gulch Farm:
“During the weekend of March 10 – 12, the turning of the Dharma wheel and the turning of generations was joyfully celebrated in four ceremonies, two in the Buddha Hall and one in the zendo at City Center and, for the first time, an abbot ‘Ascended the Mountain’ in the Green Gulch zendo. With smiles and tears of gratitude and love, the sangha supported this historic moment with time-honored Soto Zen rituals: statements from the new abbots of their understanding and dedication to the Zen Way; questions from members of the sangha inviting the new abbots to meet them, and statements of love and respect from friends, senior teachers and family. The ceremonies were an auspicious and profound expression of our practice together.” – Emila Heller, Green Gulch Farm
“The weeks leading up to the ceremonies were packed with scrutinizing details of scripts, roles, and seating charts, and finally one rehearsal after the next. I enjoyed the busyness of preparations on the days immediately before the ceremonies when so many volunteers showed up and helped with food and flowers and altar set-up — like a beehive of activity. The organization of the whole event was amazing. Things ran smoothly, which allowed me to fully participate in the ceremonies and see more clearly what they enact. I saw the structure of the ceremony, the architecture, and how it includes endless layers of ceremonies throughout history that became part of the moment. Everyone in the room, from elders to new students, held the new abbots in their courageous climbing of the mountain.” – Anna Thorn, City Center
“It rained throughout Sunday, a constant reminder that these particular grass, trees, walls, tiles, pebbles, and farm itself were hosting the first Mountain Seat Ceremony to happen at Green Gulch. The zendo, whose occupancy rates have ebbed and flowed throughout these past COVID years, was full and voices resonated throughout the space — both from the great assembly and from the mountain ascender Jiryu, who shared his understanding of ‘everything is included’ with vulnerability and strength.” – Zuzu Myers, Green Gulch Farm
“I thought Jiryu’s answers to the Mondo questions were grounded in practice and zazen. The way Mako responded to the Mondo questions was strong, confident, assertive. The way she responded to some difficult questions about race was thoughtful and inclusive. I found it inspiring how long Mako had lived at Tassajara, the depth and length of her practice. Both Mako and Jiryu will make an impact, be good leaders. It may be a bumpy time when the older generation leaves and they take over, though the older generation will be around if they need help. They know their limitations.” – Kogetsu Mok, City Center
Being the Jisha (attendant) for Hoitsu Roshi and his son Shungo-san “was a wonderful opportunity to be close to them. Although Hoitsu Roshi was a man of few words, throughout the week I felt his strong determination to support SFZC at this important time of transition in leadership, a generational change. His demeanor was heart-warming, his smile infectious. Hoitsu Roshi and Shungo-san move together in perfect synchronicity in silence as if they can read each other’s mind. They know exactly when to stand up and what to do in the ceremonies without rehearsing. They are a great example of the master-disciple relationship. Although Hoitsu is Shungo-san’s father, Shungo calls Hoitsu ‘hojo’ (abbot).” – Hiro Ikushima, City Center Work Leader
Please enjoy this slideshow of images taken at the ceremonies from photographers Renshin Bunce, Shundo David Haye, and Judith Keenan.