I have been practicing at a small sangha in Rapid City for close to a year now and just recently have I been able to attend their basic Zazen class that they offer through community education. Mostly this class serves as a primer to the practice of Zen ritual and meditation with a little Q&A wrapped in as well. It was largely informal and coversational. Here are a few highlights:
Looking for a larger picture of God:
We tend to attract a very diverse crowd at the zendo. Especially as it relates to religious backgrounds (Christian, Tibetan Buddhist, Theravadan, agnostic, etc). One particular participant was from a local church and as her reason for attending she stated to “find a larger picture of God”. I rarely get into the God-discussion since I am largely agnostic but I found this answer to be refreshing. The fact that someone can admit that maybe the view that they grew up with is limiting to their spiritual growth is a refreshing sign of growth.
I doubt that she is ever going to be self-identifying herself as a Buddhist but if she is willing to search for something to make her own beliefs more meaningful to her then more power to her.
Mental Health and Relief from Suffering:
Majority of the attendees (myself included) listed their reasons for being interested in zen and zazen in terms related to “cleasing the mind”, “being able to focus”, to “clear the mind” or as a “spiritual preventive medicine”. Many mock these reasons as being too secular or mundane. Rarely does one go into these classes with the goal of enlightenment, transcendence or becoming a Buddha (or at least feel silly saying it. Maybe next time I will say it).
We need to work with the small first and move the rest of the way up as time and ability permits. If addiction, anger, confusion or lack of clarity is limiting your life then these are the things to be approached through zazen or practice. One should never say that a reason for practice is too mundane or too self-centered to start with.
Me, my self and our constant battle
My own stated reason for restarting my Buddhist practice (devotional, zazen and sutra study) was a need for “spiritual preventive medicine”. I did not want to be the person that came in with an addiction that was destroying my life or anger that was bubbling over. I view it like mental floss. I may or may not see the results of my work but if I were to not continue with the flossing routine, I would definately see the negative (by the way, I suck at flossing).
My own description of zen – “Universe is large, I am small but connected. Tend your garden.” I like this description and am sort of proud of it.
Two things resulted from this class. First, I learned that I have improved some small amount over the year when 5 minutes into the zazen portion of the class, the lady next to me sighed and pulled out the book that was provided to us for reading (John Daido Loori’s Invoking Reality: Moral and Ethical Teachings of Zen) and proceeded to read during the meditation session. Now, to my surprise, I wasn’t annoyed or bothered by this. I understood how difficult it is for any of us to stay still (physically or mentally) and the urge to be doing something is common in our culture. She was probably somewhat surprised that this class would actually be us staring at a wall for the entire time.
So, just like those thoughts and my Monkey-Mind, I let her drift in to my mind. She stayed for a bit. I waved and she was gone. Back to my breath and my mantra. I now chant the work gatha (because it is work) when I find myself wandering during zazen. Gate Gate Paragate Parasumgate Bodhi Svaha. Afterwards she asked me some questions about the book she was reading and the proper way of leaving the zendo. I think that, in the past, I would have made up some ellaborate illusion about her being an ass and disrespectful rather than focussing on the reality of the situation. This is new to her and she is taking what she can out of it. Cheers to her.
Second. While we focus on the zazen portion of this practice mostly, we also chanted. The only limitation I could think of is a better description of the Heart Sutra. But then again, we were pushing 2 hours.
There has to be one of these. The nice Christian lady who was exploring her own spirituality had a bad case of “dead legs” after zazen. We should really warn people ahead of time about this…and when she stood up (all six feet of her) she quickly toppled back down and took down one chair and another participant. I laughed. It was funny. I do almost the same thing everytime I practice.