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