On Being Shuso (Head Student)
Once a year the Guiding Teacher of the sangha invites a student to serve as our Shuso, or Head Student, for the Winter Practice Period. Shuso training is an opportunity to serve the sangha as the central hub of the sangha wheel during our time of more intensive practice each year (typically 8 weeks from mid-January to early March). Being Shuso is both an honor and a privilege: it marks a rite of passage and opportunity for further development for the student serving in that role and it also provides the new shuso with many opportunities to show up and be present (and be seen!) by the sangha. It's a chance to develop and a chance to serve and support the whole sangha. For those moving towards teaching roles in Zen, serving as shuso also qualifies you to serve a teacher under supervision of the fully qualified Dharma Teachers in the sangha.
The Shuso candidate would have already received the precepts in Jukai and usually has practiced for at least 5 year. For information about how to begin with Jukai please see our Going Further: Study and Practice Options at Red Cedar Zen Community page.
The Shuso is responsible to complete the following practices and offerings during the Winter Practice Period.
- Opening Ceremony - The Shuso participates with the Guiding Teacher in an important Shuso's Entry Ceremony on the first evening of the Practice Period. The ritual refusal to be Shuso because one doesn't feel ready usually ends up feeling very personal and real, as does the acceptance of the Guiding Teacher's invitation.
- Full Zendo Attendance - The Shuso attends every scheduled zazen meeting and community event during practice period. There can be some exceptions made on the basis of health or distance from the zendo which must be arranged with the Guiding Teacher in advance.
- Shuso's Class - The shuso teaches a class of approximately 6 meetings on a topic that's relevant to the sangha, to the Shuso's own interests and background, and is in harmony with any study theme for the year selected by the Practice Committee.
The class is usually scheduled as 6 brief meetings on Wednesday evening (typically 6pm - 6:50pm) plus a longer session on a Saturday mid-way through the Practice Period (typically the 3rd Saturday in February 9:30am - 11:30am).
The class should be interactive and participatory and provide students with activities, exercises, and readings to consider in between meetings to help them digest the material and explore it in the context of their lives. While there is often a traditional Buddhist text as the touchstone of the class this need not be the case.
- Shuso's Teas - The Shuso invites every Practice Period participant to tea. They can meet with the Shuso individually or in small groups. The teas can be at the Dharma Hall, the Shuso's home, or other locations. It's important to start inviting people early in the Practice Period to make sure everyone can attend.
- Shuso's Wayseeking Mind Talk - The Shuso shares their first formal Dharma Talk on the topic of their own life in practice at the opening sesshin of the Practice Period.
- Shuso's Sesshin Dharma Talk - During the final 3-day sesshin of Practice Period, the Shuso gives a formal talk on a Dharma topic. Usually this is connected to the learnings from the Shuso's Class - it need be a whole new topic of study.
- Shuso's Dharma Inquiry Ceremony - At the close of the final 3-day sesshin of Practice Period, the Shuso responds to the Dharma questions from all Practice Period participants in this keynote ceremony of the Shuso's training.