From outside

February 23rd, 2011 § 0 comments

There’s always a regular stream of new members at the zen centre. I love seeing new people there, even though a lot of them don’t stick around following their trial membership. (I remember Sensei saying that 10% of workshop attendees come to a sitting after the workshop, and 10% of those go on to become centre members.)

I get a lot of energy from new people at the centre. There’s a couple of ways that that works. First, people new to sitting try hard, and that energy inspires me to work hard. And having someone new sitting near you encourages you to set a good example.

There’s one new member in particular who’s on my mind lately. She’s young and punk (both unusual) and quiet and I’m not sure some of the older* zen centre members really know how to respond. I can definitely sense a bit of discomfort, at least: a couple of members were commenting on her hand-painted leather jacket in the coatroom the other day and I found myself cringing, since she might’ve come through the door any moment.

There’s a lot of little weirdnesses when you start coming to the zen centre: chanting, prostrations, all the forms of coming and going from the zendo and taking private instruction and so on. But it’s harder still when you don’t see yourself in the faces of the people that seem to have this stuff down pat. The ego doesn’t want to let go right away and none of that helps!

I remember Brad Warner talking about the typical zen centre crowd vs. his punk background, and how Zen people “tend to be bookish intellectuals in pale-blue pullovers rather than ratty-haired guitarists in ripped-up jeans.” I don’t know if we’re quite all that, but the sentiment holds — Western Zen is a pretty middle-class thing, and it’s hard to imagine that she doesn’t feel surrounded by a bunch of squares.

I was plenty square when I first discovered Zen, but I still felt enough like an outsider — young and English-speaking — to take ten more years before I started a serious practice. I hope she sticks with it.

* I suppose I really mean “older-than-me” here — I think the middle-aged members would find it stranger than those in their golden years. Between Zen practice and life practice I think the oldest members have seen it all.

Entangling circumstances

February 16th, 2011 § 0 comments

Aitken roshi once again:

Muso Kokushi distinguished between three kinds of Zen students: those who shake off entangling circumstances and single-mindedly pursue their practice; those who scatter their attention and are fond of book learning; and those who just repeat the words of old teachers by rote.

There might be a touch of irony reading this in a book but I’m presently in that middle category, I think.

Shake off entangling circumstances

That’s a lot different than “wait for circumstances to improve,” isn’t it.

Retreat to the cushion

February 11th, 2011 § 0 comments

I sat a five-day retreat last week, my first as Taigen sensei’s student. I thought I didn’t have much to say about it but a bit of Aitken roshi’s Encouraging Words, quoted below, got me thinking.

I discovered Zen through the Beats, and while I quickly figured out that beat Zen wasn’t Zen, it was Zen and not Buddhism that I discovered. I spent a while reading about Zen and barely practicing zazen before getting frustrated and over the years my reading moved from Zen to Buddhism generally.

And while contemplating the Four Noble Truths and the precepts and the paramitas has been useful, at some point I forgot about Zen, about sitting zazen in faith and doubt, about the special transmission outside the scriptures.

So this retreat more than anything reminded me of the things that brought me to Zen in the first place at just the right time.

That Aitken passage:

Our basic practice is zazen. Avalokitesvara, practicing deep Prajñā Pāramitā, clearly saw that the way to transform anguish s to realize that forms and our perception of them are empty. This teaching reveals the fallacy of relying entirely upon personal thoughts and feelings for guidance. In messy circumstances, full of betrayals and malice, please remember the true self, the empty mind of the universe, so full of possibilities.

Deep gassho to Sensei, Roshi, Aitken roshi, and the Buddhas and bodhisattvas who have followed this path such that we might follow it too.