Lego Practice ~ Guest Post by Buddhasbrewing

If you see lego-Buddha on the road, take him apart and make a Tie-fighter.

This weekend I visited two different Buddhist Temples. While they are both considered to be a part of the Mahayana Tradition of Buddhism They have very little else in common. A little back story is necessary to really understand why I ended at the Houston Zen center last Saturday.

For some time I’ve been exploring Zen thought. I read Zen blogs and mostly talk to Zen practitioners on-line. I’m currently reading Phillip Kapleau’s seminal work Three Pillars of Zen. I was attracted to Zen because of its seeming lack of trappings. That turned out to be a misperception on my part.

Reaching back several months, our Dharma teacher, Hui Yong Shih, at our regular temple, Jade Buddha Temple, left last November for a variety of reasons. He left for a variety of reasons, all personal, but he was a Texas stone tossed in the Chinese pond that is Texas Buddhist Association sangha. We were assigned a new Dharma teacher who is from Asia like all of our other Monastics. He has a degree in English and several graduate degrees in various Buddhist studies. Until Sunday we had not met him as the last time we went to the Temple Hui Yong had just left and the new teacher had not been assigned.

So feeling adrift and chatting with my new friend Zenfant, I decided to carpool with him to the Houston Zen Center last Saturday. The chanting in English was refreshing. I’m used to Chinese, which means nothing to me. It was interspersed with Japanese, which, again, means nothing. The Soji practice was great. I enjoyed sweeping the dirt, and pushing the dust in silence. I always find work practice to be very beneficial. The zazen was good, everyone truing to face a wall tripped me out for a moment as my brain had to pull out the tidbit about the Soto Zen practice of wall facing. I chose a bit of wall and went at it.

I kept waiting for the formality to dissipate and it never did. The whole day was formal and structured. The Dharmatalk was by one of the Houston Dharmapunx facilitators and I expected some drop there but, nope. He came in and did prostrations and offered incense and bowed to his seat. The talk itself reflected his roots and his background but during the talk there were no comments or questions. After a short break there was a formal period of Q & A but it too was formal without any real conversation.

 During this period one of the Zen Center regular members asked the facilitator why the two groups, Dharmapunx and the Zen Sangha, existed separately. Immediately my mind supplied the answers: Legos.

Twenty-Five years ago the Houston Zen Center was new and it’s membership was in early middle age. As such their practice was informal and genuine. The rituals were minimal and they sought an authentic practice. Over the years, with the Legos of formal practice, they built barriers between each other until they ossified. Their practice was not as it was before. They don’t even realize that it has changed. The woman who asked the question really seemed to believe that the Punks and the “Dharmageezers,” as she put it, were the same.

If you find yourself relying on a practice for support, throw it away. There’s an old saying: If you meet Buddha on the Path, Kill him. This is, of course, advice to release attachment to the teacher.

This experience led me to return to my genuine, informal, multicultural Sangha at Jade Buddha Temple. The Dharma talk on Sunday was by a MIT trained molecular biologist-turned energy-healing specialist. While it wasn’t for me it, made me humbly thankful for finding the English Dharma Group where something so fringe, Buddhist-wise, is accepted and celebrated.

With Hands Folded,

Buddhasbrewing ~ Bayou Buddhists


12 thoughts on “Lego Practice ~ Guest Post by Buddhasbrewing

  1. i think the japanese bits were saying “indoctrinate andy, put ossified zen thougthts in his head, we will have you or at least we will have very clean porches free of leaves”

    i think anything that becomes institutionalized is going to ossify and have certain barriers up, otherwise it will have a difficult time surviving beyond a certain point. I don’t like that fact, i just think it is a fact or some reasonable facsimile of a fact.

    i find it sad that it keeps people, myself included, somewhat at bay. i can also see how some would like the structure. all i really know is what works for me and a lot of formality and too many secret handshakes to get in are a real turn off.

    this is probably why i’ll mostly be a dharma punk until something more flexible comes along. I must say that the Punk Monk may add more light to this situation.

  2. Ok now I see the repetitive words my wife told me about.


    I liked how you edited in the bit from Twitter, nice.

    Other than the weird repetitive repetitions. hehe, not a bad post.

    Thanks for asking me to write it, John. You always find such
    good pictures.

  3. It’s interesting. Even as a beginner, I found myself enjoying at least some of the ritualistic aspects of zen practice – bowing, chanting, incense offering, even long periods of structured silence. Still kind of surprising to me, since I never connected with any of the formal stuff in any church I have entered.

    I do wonder, though, why so many convert Buddhists seem to want to toss out nearly all the ritual and formal structures. There’s a difference, in my opinion, between the structures and the creation of “in groups” and “out groups,” for example. You can have the most informal community in world and still have very serious divides and walls based on privileged knowledge and whatnot.

    If you kill the Buddha before you get to know him, then where will your practice be? And what is genuine and authentic anyway? Can we really pin that tail on a single donkey?

    • Hey Nathan!

      My issue isn’t with ritual and formal structures (I actually enjoy the Japanese Zen structure and ritual as well as a more “free-thinking” atmosphere) but with the insistance on “right” ritual and structure. I like to meld my practice with other schools as it grows and changes.

      While Zen is a great framework, I like to be open to other schools and thoughts without having to worry about it being “zen”. I tend to get some eye-rolls when I mention to other Zennies that I am exploring other practices.

      I agree that informal or formal groups can fall victim to “walls” as I have seen some great small groups fall apart b/c of leadership and ego.

      Either way, I consider myself fortunate to be a part of an informal group that doesn’t concern itself too much with leadership but has (for me) the right amount of guidance and ritual.

      Were a group to become segmented and polarized, I would probably just leave as I think that sort of environment would be detrimental to my practice.



  4. @nathan, yes it’s a total paradox and isn’t that so very zen 🙂 I have no answer, I just see the cards on the table and i know how i feel about them.

    in my own personal ultimate analysis, i go back to the heart sutra…form is emptiness, emptiness is form…
    so as much as ritual and rules and such chafe my bottom, i’m done with throwing the baby out with the bath water. it’s just a journey and a process to figure out how it all fits together.

  5. Hi John,

    You and I are on a similar page really. I, too, explore practices from other places. And yet, that exploration, in my opinion, can co-exist with the formalism present in my zen center for example. I can surrender the need to explore in the short term (while at the center, working in a group), knowing that I can return to that exploration when I’m not in the group.


    • Yup, in complete agreement. I love the simplicity of Zen structure and allow myself to branch out to other traditions. I may end up moving away from Zen practice (although I don’t see myself doing that anytime soon).

      Its when that branching out gets judged though…



  6. @john i can teach you a secret ancient homo chant that you can use when you get judged…if you don’t understand the syllables, just chant them anyway…

    Fuck Off!…repeat as many times as necessary.

  7. @Nathan. Don’t get me wrong. I’m going back to the Zen Center. I do think there is much to be learned from the people there and the teachers. I enjoyed myself throughly. I’m not suggesting that all form is bad, it’s just important to understand why we do things and what benefit you are getting from the practice.

    @Shane I knew there was a reason I’ve always been drawn to gay men. I’m not gay, but I’ve found that that mantra works well for me too.

    @Kyle Thanks! All I can see is the repetition. My wife liked it but she has sex with ME so her opinion seems tainted.

  8. Buddhasbrew – I definitely agree that it’s helpful to have some understanding of what’s being done. Sometimes, leaders of communities don’t do enough to say a few words about the forms and rituals and what their importance is. Such comments could be slipped into dharma talks even, which I have seen happen before.

  9. Pingback: Buddhism from an Atheist POV ~ Guest Post via Brittany « Sweep the dust, Push the dirt

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