No Place Like Home – Reflections of a Zen Home Practitioner

Going Back to the Sangha
I recall the reason why I went back to sitting with a brick and mortar sangha – the upcoming birth of my daughter about 15 months ago. During my wife’s pregnancy I got an urge to get back into my practice in a very “real” way; to find people around my area that I could connect with on the level that I felt that my practice was at. This is not to say that I thought my practice was any stellar event. However, when my father refers to my practice as my daily yoga and my wife occasionally rolls her eyes when I talk about it, one comes to the conclusion that a different atmosphere and perhaps, venue, is needed. Either way, I was feeling the need to substantiate it in some way.
I did my research and looked into some area sanghas – one Tibetan, one Theravada and one Zen. I made the phone calls and asked about how each group approached their practice. Was it on a regular schedule? Lay or monastic? Was it completely independent or associated with a larger institution? Mostly meditation or devotional? Large or small group? Cost and Fees?
More importantly, how did the people feel to me when I spoke to them on the phone or in person? Lucky for me, each group was what I was looking for. Small, personal with only loose affiliations to larger centers or organizations and no or minimal costs and fees. I was taking my time, enjoying this new search and exploration. I still can not believe my luck in finding so many small, independant sanghas in my area.
My search somewhat changed when I heard on the news about a father that threw his 18 month years old baby across a room and into a wall. I knew the foster family (I worked with the foster mother) that was taking care of the child previously and they just recently had to give up the child to the actual parents who were just out of rehab. It wasn’t two months later that this happened. The foster family cared deeply about the children under there care and repeatedly made mention of the fact that they believed the children to be in danger.
I don’t think too many people realized how much this affected me when it occurred. I couldn’t stop thinking that it could easily be me as that father. Not really that father since, he was a drug addict and just out of jail. Rather, a father that loses control, gets frustrated and in a moment of stupidity – does something horrible. I was never a violent person. Never got into fights or started altercations with people but I was always angry and intense. Would it really be that small of a leap?
The next day I walked into that little zendo and started to accelerate my practice. I never really expressed how much it would have taken me to get through those doors again otherwise. It was difficult to approach strangers about something as personal as my home-practice. But the idea that I would soon be walking into fatherhood – a situation that was completely unknown to me and with which I had no previous experience – pushed me through those doors. I started to sit again with a group and chant and engage other Buddhists. I started this blog.
When I walked into the zendo for the first time, a long-time member walked up to me and we started to talk about why I was interested in starting my practice there. I told her that I would be having a daughter soon and I wanted to prepare myself for it by engaging in public Buddhist practice again. To myself, however, I told the truth. The truth that I wanted to start out of compassion for my daughter – out of the fear that I would be as horrible as that man who threw his child.
Before we walked into the meditation room to start the first sitting the lady I was talking to mentioned that she heard that the little boy in the news that got thrown had just died from his injuries. I sat that day harder than I ever sat before or since. In between my sore ankles and burning thighs, I sat for the benefit of one sentient being that morning and have been striving ever since.
When I walked out the lady came up to me and said “I wish more fathers would sit”. I agreed. The whole concept of “sitting for the benefit of all sentient beings” became slightly less esoteric that morning.

7 thoughts on “No Place Like Home – Reflections of a Zen Home Practitioner

  1. What a sad situation with the child… I can't even imagine…

    As I've been reading your entries over the past couple of months, I keep getting the sense we're in a similar boat (though I suspect I'm much "newer" to the practice than you). I started practice shortly before my daughter was born three years ago and it picked up about six months after her birth. As a parent who tends to get stressed easily and take it out on the wrong people, zen practice has proved invaluable in positively affecting the way I deal with a cranky toddler. That's not the purpose of practice, of course, but it's certainly a nice by-product.

    I've had an itch to start sitting with a group in a similar setting to the one you describe above but have, unfortunately, had a more difficult time finding a local sangha that fits the bill.

  2. I'm a dad of a two year old daughter… And a cop, so I can totally relate. This subject definitely hits home. I'm not so much worried about throwing her into a wall, but I find practice helping me be more compassionate toward her, my wife, and especially the people I work with… The very ones who are throwing their kids into walls. Thank you for this post.

  3. @ Ryan – To be honest it took me quite a bit of searching to find those sanghas. They moved from house to house over the years and many were listed online with outdated information.

    I think it important to note that the impetus for re-engaging our practice isn't necessarily the "right" goal, from a Buddhist prespective, but it does get us through the door and into the zendo for a "right" reason. From there we build ourselves up. Or try to.

    Thanks for the commments.

    @ Jamie G. – I don't think I could do something so horrible but just one moment's poor reaction to a stressor could lead to equally horrible results. For me, the compassion has spread as well as my reaction to stress. I still get stressed-out but can put it into a proper perspective before it overwhelms me. I'd like to think that it was from my Zen practice that I improved but…who knows.

    @ Marcus – Thanks. Always room for gassho! Or hapchang!

    @ Just Dave – Thank you for enjoying and for the compliment.

  4. Thanks for sharing this! Your experience shows others how you put one of the Four Right Efforts into active practice, and that is identify a negative quality that does not exist right now, and take steps to ensure that it does not arise. This also shows that clinging to nonbecoming can be a good thing when it motivates us to take preventive action.

    In my heart I know you would never be like that man who assaulted that toddler, and I believe that in time you also will recognize this about yourself, if you haven't already. The practice eventually imbues us all with peace and self-knowledge.

    Thanks again.

  5. Working with anger has been a large practice over the years for me. I actually had a few moments in the past where I felt on the edge of doing something really damaging. We all have that capacity, just as we all can develop into Bodhisattvas. I, too, feel fortunate to have a practice and fellow practitioners to work through this kind of stuff – and to recognize that it's all part of being human – we share it all, even if most of us never go to the extremes that father did.

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