My first time in a zendo

My first time in a zendo

Postby Luke » Mon Apr 21, 2014 12:31 am

So finally, after lots of obstacles, delays, irrational fears, and just plain laziness, I finally attended a lecture and a period of zazen at a Soto Zen center. Before this, I had only ever been to Buddhist events at Tibetan Buddhist centers, so it was very interesting for me to see the rituals and practices of a different Buddhist tradition up close.

This Zen center and the Tibetan Buddhist centers I had been to were similar on one level because all of them have westerners who are sincerely trying to practice a meditation-based form of Buddhism. The demographics are basically the same, except maybe that these Zen Buddhists seem to be less-inclined to believe in supernatural things than many Tibetan Buddhists are.

The first thing I learned at the zendo was how to perform a gassho when I entered and left. And gasshos are needed at other times as well, such as before one meditates when one has to first perform a gassho to one's meditation cushion and then turn around and do a gassho to the entire universe. Also, if one has to readjust one's position while doing zazen, one has perform a gassho while seated, readjust one's position as necessary, and then perform another gassho afterwards. This made me intensely aware of my flaws as a meditator, since I couldn't hide them anymore, but I had to obviously acknowledge them with a gassho when I had to shift position. I guess for a long time, I had tried to ignore my weaknesses, but now with these Zen Buddhists, I am starting to face them and correct them.

All of these gasshos might sound silly on the internet, but I found that doing them evoked a deep feeling of gratitude within me. In books, the main characteristics of Zen seem to be toughness and mysticism, but when I was actually in this zendo in person, I found that the main emotions present were gratitude and compassion.

None of the Zen Buddhists there had any angry, "samurai-wannabe" attitudes. They were kind people just like one would find at other types of Buddhist centers. Of course, these Zen Buddhists were quite serious about meditating, but this wasn't in any unkind way.

I didn't see any of the Zen-style prostrations there (perhaps they only do them at retreats?), and I didn't get to try kinhin because they didn't do it that night because it was one of their shorter meditation periods (but I look forward to trying it in the future!).

The Zen teacher had a certain "weight" and power to his presence like some Tibetan lamas have, but what impressed me most about him was how aware he was of people's present state of mind and how people think. His comments and advice were perfectly attuned both to me and to the rest of his audience. He could bridge the gap between Buddhist tradition and modern life.

Sitting doing shikantaza with about 15 other Soto Buddhists and the teacher was quite an experience! Although I could still hear some noises from the city outside, there was an intense feeling of silence like I had never felt before. Sometimes during Tibetan Buddhist meditations, there is a silent pause when one dissolves the visualization into emptiness, but the Tibetan Buddhists I had practiced with generally felt uncomfortable at those parts and felt better once the chanting and drums started up again, but these Soto Buddhists dwell in formless silence like fish in the water! It's simply their home territory.

Before the meditation began, I received shikantaza instructions from an experienced student, but I was given more advice by the Zen teacher himself during the meditation.

So we all sat facing towards the walls, about three rows deep, but the Zen teacher was sitting perpendicular to us so he could see us. It turned out that I was sitting right in front of the Zen teacher, so again I couldn't hide at all! lol

During the beginning of the meditation period, he got up and came over to fix my posture like the way a yoga teacher would adjust a student's asana. He pressed on my lower back and then upper back so I could feel what it was like to have them in exactly the right position and then he tried to move my head into the right position, but wasn't satisfied, so he rolled my neck around to loosen it up and then was able to put it into the right position. I don't think my spine had ever been so straight in my life! lol But it was very useful to feel what position my body should be in while meditating. Soto Zen teachers are like yoga teachers of the cross-legged position. It might sound silly, but they can give small pieces of advice about one's meditation posture which are very helpful.

As I tried to meditate in this back-straighter-than-ever-before position, I found that deep muscles in my upper back were getting tired which I hadn't used much before. This is a type of strength I need to develop.

Another interesting point this teacher made was that the correct breathing and the correct posture are interdependent: The correct deep breathing gives support to the spine and makes maintaining the correct position easier and the correct position of the spine helps create room for the breath.

The teacher's advice was to keep bringing our attention back to both our posture and our breathing (so it's not simply following the breath, but is meditation with two objects). My guess is that advanced students who already have perfect breathing and posture can let go of focusing on them and go into more formless meditation (i.e. one has to walk before one can run).

I hadn't meditated with a Buddhist group like this in so long that I wanted to laugh with joy! It was very hard to keep myself from laughing, actually. But then the Zen teacher told a funny story near the end, which gave me and everyone else an excuse to laugh anyway.

After the zazen, some of the monks hit these huge drums which were extremely loud and startled me quite a bit after so much silent meditation (perhaps this is their purpose?). Then there were some chants in Japanese which were quite beautiful and the way the men chanted them sounded quite deep, almost like Tibetan chanting.

I felt good while at the Zen center, but the most significant difference I only noticed the following day: I felt much more positive both about myself and about others, my perceptions of the world around me were all somehow different, and I felt grateful to have been able to participate in these Zen Buddhists' meditations and rituals.

**I don't remember everything perfectly, so any mistakes in my descriptions are my own fault and not my teacher's.**
User avatar
Luke
 
Posts: 1669
Joined: Mon Apr 06, 2009 9:04 pm

Re: My first time in a zendo

Postby Wayfarer » Mon Apr 21, 2014 9:11 am

:good:

Thank you for that very good account. It is a very interesting post and I appreciate your perspective. Inspires me to try and attend such a retreat.
Learn to do good, refrain from evil, purify the mind ~ this is the teaching of the Buddhas
User avatar
Wayfarer
 
Posts: 1931
Joined: Sun May 27, 2012 8:31 am
Location: Sydney AU

Re: My first time in a zendo

Postby DiamondSutra » Mon Apr 21, 2014 9:19 am

Great post!
DiamondSutra
 
Posts: 62
Joined: Mon Dec 16, 2013 6:50 pm

Re: My first time in a zendo

Postby Dan74 » Mon Apr 21, 2014 12:18 pm

Thank you for sharing. Perhaps the most salient point is that it was not at all what the books had prepared you for.
User avatar
Dan74
Global Moderator
 
Posts: 330
Joined: Mon Oct 08, 2012 3:59 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: My first time in a zendo

Postby seeker242 » Mon Apr 21, 2014 12:25 pm

Sounds like you found a very nice center! You're lucky to have such a place nearby! :twothumbsup:
One should not kill any living being, nor cause it to be killed, nor should one incite any other to kill. Do never injure any being, whether strong or weak, in this entire universe!
User avatar
seeker242
 
Posts: 691
Joined: Sat Mar 17, 2012 2:50 pm
Location: South Florida, USA

Re: My first time in a zendo

Postby Luke » Thu May 08, 2014 9:40 pm

I tried one of their morning zazen periods for the first time. It was longer than their evening zazen periods, so it was much tougher for me. I had some pain in my legs and switched my position twice and I guess the teacher didn't like that, so he told me to sit in seiza with the cushion upright instead (which was good advice, although I was a bit embarrassed).

I also got to try kinhin (walking meditation) for the first time. This group told me that they do 2 types of kinhin: slow and fast. I am assuming that the one I did with them on this morning was the slow one because I can't imagine anyone doing it more slowly than this! lol They said to take a step with each breath, but they were all moving so slowly that I have a hard time believing that they were only breathing once with each step. I adjusted my pace to match theirs by making my own formula in my mind that I would take a step after every 3 of my breaths and this seemed to work on this occasion. But I am sure that I will get more used to this practice with time.

The mood was much more depressing at this morning zazen because everybody (myself included) seemed to be in a worse mood in the early morning. Zen seems ridiculously simple when described in text, but in reality, it is not easy at all! I hope that I will improve with practice.
User avatar
Luke
 
Posts: 1669
Joined: Mon Apr 06, 2009 9:04 pm

Re: My first time in a zendo

Postby Wayfarer » Thu May 08, 2014 10:45 pm

How long are you expected to sit for if you don't mind me asking?
Learn to do good, refrain from evil, purify the mind ~ this is the teaching of the Buddhas
User avatar
Wayfarer
 
Posts: 1931
Joined: Sun May 27, 2012 8:31 am
Location: Sydney AU

Re: My first time in a zendo

Postby Luke » Fri May 09, 2014 12:14 am

Wayfarer wrote:How long are you expected to sit for if you don't mind me asking?

I wasn't looking at my watch, so I don't know exactly, but I think the first sitting period was about 50 minutes, followed by a few minutes of slow kinhin and then maybe another 40 minutes of sitting followed by some chanting.

I also got to try Zen-style prostrations for the first time. The feeling is very similar to Tibetan Buddhist half prostrations. And after so much motionless sitting, I was very grateful to do the prostrations so I could put some weight on my upper body instead of my legs for a few moments! lol
User avatar
Luke
 
Posts: 1669
Joined: Mon Apr 06, 2009 9:04 pm

Re: My first time in a zendo

Postby Wayfarer » Fri May 09, 2014 12:23 am

Sitting still for long periods of time is pretty arduous, I agree. I guess that is part of the point. One of the few times I have attended a formal Zendo, after the sessions my legs had gone to sleep and I had great difficulty getting myself to a standing position to join the Kinhin - nearly fell over more than once. (Felt like a clueless outsider, I must admit.)
Learn to do good, refrain from evil, purify the mind ~ this is the teaching of the Buddhas
User avatar
Wayfarer
 
Posts: 1931
Joined: Sun May 27, 2012 8:31 am
Location: Sydney AU


Return to Zen

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Astus, zenman and 9 guests

>