Archive for the ‘Zazen’ Category

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Get woke

January 31, 2017

Last night as I was sitting, a sentence passed in front of me, seemingly out of nowhere:

“If you’ve let yourself sleep for that long, of course you’re afraid to wake up.”

It struck me as pretty right on, both in the general sense of challenging one’s lifelong beliefs as well as the more specific case of samadhi.

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Have a seat

July 21, 2011

Last week, I read this great post over on John’s blog about a black female Buddhist’s (grumpyzen) search for diversity at local sanghas. It’s a wonderful post, you should read it, and yes, most sanghas are pretty homogeneous. I think that will continue to change with time.

In any event, it inspired me to shake the dust off around here and write a post of my own about my experiences with different sanghas. Not necessarily from a diversity perspective, but just from a “searching” perspective.

I don’t have a local sangha. Despite living in one of the continually fastest growing counties in the country, there are no zen groups less than 45 minutes or an hour away. There is a Thai temple only a few minutes from where I work, but it kind of intimidates me.

So, while the zazen part of my practice is limited to my house, when I travel, I like to seek out nearby sanghas to sit with. Here are a few that I’ve visited over the past few years:

Jizo-An/Pine Wind Zen Community, Medford, NJ

This one is in the town that I grew up in, so when I visited family there a few years ago, I stopped in for a visit. I wrote about it afterward:

While most of the ten people there sat facing the center of the room, one woman faced the wall for two of the three sessions in a more traditional Soto style. I decided to face the center of the room even though it’s not how I usually sit. It didn’t bother me in the least. While I didn’t really talk with anyone other than Ninshin, who was the one I spoke with over e-mail before attending, everyone was seemed very friendly. I didn’t feel that awkwardness I remember feeling when visiting friends’ churches (or—ack—youth groups) as a kid.

I haven’t been back to this unique, unaffiliated zen center, but I plan to stop by there again soon.

Zen Center on Main, Northampton, MA

This center is affiliated with the Village Zendo in NY.

On my visit here, I had trouble finding the entrance to the building and just barely made it upstairs before the first bell. It kind of sucks walking in for zazen, winded and stressed, but the nice folks there quickly put me at ease. They were happy I stopped in on my vacation to sit with them and the gentleman who led the session commented about how impressed he was that someone could carry on a practice on their own without the support of a sangha. That surprised me.

I remember that session of zazen quite well because next door, someone was playing the guitar loudly and singing very badly.

This was also the first time I took a few minutes to sit with a teacher and talk about challenges in my practice.

A very nice group of folks. As a result, I’d really like to sit at the Village Zendo in NYC sometime in the future.

Zen Center of Las Vegas, Las Vegas, NV

A zen center in Las Vegas of all places! It’s a nice spot in a residential neighborhood. They were still building their new center (which looks to be complete), so we sat in the living room of the residence.

I didn’t quite know what to expect coming here, as they’re part of the Korean Chogye order (Zen Master Seung Sahn). From what I can tell, it’s very similar to Soto zen, though the emphasis is very much on what Master Seung Sahn called “don’t know mind.” Conceptually, it seems pretty close to “beginner’s mind.”

Again, everyone here was very nice. I even got one very odd compliment from the gentleman leading the session. “You sit very well!”, he told me, apparently impressed that I didn’t fidget for the two 20-minute periods. I did get gently prodded, though, to walk faster during kinhin. Kinhin at Pine Wind moved almost literally at a snail’s pace, whereas here it was just short of a light jog!

There was more chanting here than at the other two spots, which was OK. I, personally, don’t chant in my own practice, but I can see some benefit in it.

I took a few minutes to sit and speak with a teacher. It was kind of an uncomfortable give-and-take, actually, as it felt very student-teacher-ish, rather than the more casual conversation I had in Northampton. At one point, he even struck me with a stick on my thigh! But, these discussions aren’t always supposed to be comfortable.

I left, pondering a simple question from the teacher that I couldn’t provide a satisfactory answer to: “Where do you go when you die?”

The next day while I was still in Vegas, my dog passed away.

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Big Sitting

March 10, 2009

It’s been about 1 1/4 years since I started my zen practice in earnest.  The first half of last year, I was very consistent with my zazen.  But, the second half of the year, I started getting a lot more lackadaisical.  By the end of the year, I was occasionally missing two or three days a week.  That’s just silly.

And that’s why I decided to take part in this year’s “Big Sit” sponsored by Tricycle.  I’ve become a fan of Tricycle over the other Buddhist print magazines thanks to some really good issues in the last year.  This 90-day practice session struck me because a.) it’s following zen practice (the last session was a 30-day Vipassana session), b.) it encouraged at least 20 minutes of daily zazen, c.) over the course of the 90 days, participants read the Genjokoan and podcasts with well-respected western zen teachers discuss it, and d.) there’s an online community built specifically for the event.  It started a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been steady with my practice, increasing from 15 minutes at night to 20.  I did miss two days, but that was a conscious decision.  I’m behind on my podcasts and participation in the community, but I have been reading the Genjokoan and a few different interpretations that I’ve dug up.

So, anyway, that’s going well.

In the “Big Sit” issue of Tricycle (Spring 2009), there’s an article by Shozan Jack Haubner titled “Son of a Gun” where he discusses his life as the son of a man who creates the guns that are used in Iraq.  It’s a wonderful article and this paragraph in particular stuck (emphasis mine):

In the Buddhist view, I depend on you for my existence.  All things depend on each other, equally.  Welcome to the doctrine of dependent origination.  It’s teeter-totter metaphysics—I arise, you arise; you arise, I arise.  Forget about our presumed Maker, the diving machinist in the sky.  You are you because you are not something else; therefore, what you are not—the chair beneath you, the air in your lungs, these words—births you through an infinity of opposites.  It’s like the ultimate Dr. Seuss riddle: Without all the things that are not you, who would you be you to?  There’s no Higher Power in this system to grab onto for support; we are all already supporting each other.  Pull a person or people the wrong way, and you immediately redefine yourself in light of what you’ve done to your neighbor.

It’s becoming more and more clear to me how this idea of “self” that we learn isn’t really quite right.  We’re inextricably tied to everything and everyone else here and our actions and attitudes spread throughout the web.

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Giving up one’s posture

December 4, 2008

Last night, I was sitting and my 2-year-old daughter, who’s been uncharacteristically under the weather for the last couple of days, walked into the room after having used the bathroom. She walked up to me and gave me a giant hug, then sat in my lap to snuggle. A few minutes later, she got up for a second to get her favorite stuffed animal and bring it back to sit with us.

I was more than happy to give up my straight spine for a few minutes with my daughter.

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Day 189

July 7, 2008

Re-upped the domain for another year.

In other news, my practice has been going strong for a little over a half-year now. Since January 1st, I’ve missed only three days. One because I plum forgot, one because it was 2am, I’d just driven 4 hours, and the next day I’d be sitting for 90 minutes, and one because I was knocked out with the stomach flu. Not a bad run for the first 188 days.

Yesterday, a neighbor tried to recruit me to come to her newly Lutheran church. I smiled politely, but was thinking about how uncomfortable I still get when people try to bring up religion in conversation.

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My visit to Pine Wind

June 30, 2008

I’ve been sitting regularly for the last six months and decided it was time to try a slightly more intensive session with a group of people.  It’s difficult where I live, because the closest group of zen practitioners that I can find is over an hour away (odd considering how populated my area is).  But, when visiting my parents in the town I grew up in, I decided to stop by the Pine Wind Zen Society for a 90-minute zazen session.  Considering I’m only sitting 15-20 minutes once a day, I was worried this was going to feel like a marathon!

The time was split up into three 25 minute sessions with 5 minutes of kinhin in between.  I was surprised by a few things.  First, it was easier than I expected.  At home when I sit, I find myself battling fidgetiness a lot, which I think comes from the fact I’m at home and have these nagging thoughts about other things I should be doing ("I should be doing the dishes" or "I should get to bed").  When you actually drive somewhere and your only intention is to just sit, it’s a lot easier to… just sit.  The other surprise I had was at the level of calm I felt afterwards.  While I was there, I felt relatively focused and relaxed, but when I left, it became really clear to me exactly how much tension and stress I’ve been carrying with me.  I hadn’t felt this calm in years.  It was pretty amazing really.  (Sadly, the next day I was pretty much back to normal.  But hey, realizing this is part of the process, right?)

Pine Wind’s a neat place.  If you didn’t know it was there, you’d pass right by while driving through the residential neighborhood that a few friends of mine from elementary school had grown up in.  They don’t follow any specific zen lineage:

Practicing the "Dharma Beyond Buddhism", at no time does The Zen Society exist to promote any peculiar religious doctrine, dogma, or teachings, and shares no formal affiliation with other Zen groups, denominations, or any hierarchy of Dharma Successors.

While most of the ten people there sat facing the center of the room, one woman faced the wall for two of the three sessions in a more traditional Soto style.  I decided to face the center of the room even though it’s not how I usually sit.  It didn’t bother me in the least.  While I didn’t really talk with anyone other than Ninshin, who was the one I spoke with over e-mail before attending, everyone was seemed very friendly.  I didn’t feel that awkwardness I remember feeling when visiting friends’ churches (or—ack—youth groups) as a kid.

I look forward to stopping in again sometime and while I still consider my practice a very personal thing, the experience definitely makes me want to hunt down a group closer to me that I can practice with periodically.

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Joined in sitting

April 29, 2008

Last night, I was a few minutes into my zazen when my 19-month-old daughter walked up to me. She doesn’t usually see me when I’m meditating (I usually save it for when she’s asleep), but she didn’t find it particularly strange that I was sitting and staring at a wall. She looked at me for a moment and then sat down in my lap.

She got up after a few seconds, grabbed one of her toy cars and tried handing it to me. When I didn’t immediately take it from her, she leaned down and placed it in my hands. Apparently my mudra was sufficient for toy car storage.

Best zazen session ever.