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Thread: Local sangha issues

  1. #1

    Local sangha issues

    Hi Folks,

    I realize that some of you cannot get to a local sangha because of location/distance, and have made Treeleaf your sangha. But, I am wondering if some of you can actually sit with a local group but choose not to for whatever reason. Are any of you in that "boat"? If so what are your reasons for not practicing with a local group?

    I ask because, while there are a few local groups in my area, I have particular issues with their approaches. Some are not zen groups, but the ones that are emphasize koans or bows or chanting, etc, which are secondary to my primary practice of "just sitting." I am happy to go into more details, however I need to go back to work now and wanted to get this out there.

    I am curious to learn about your experiences. Thanks!

  2. #2
    Keith,

    I have a semi-local Sangha that I have sat with in the past and done some work with. They are close to where I work but a bit far from my house so at one time I would cut out to go there during lunch.

    I do have some minor issues with their approach to practice but they are the closest fit I could find and had been very helpful for me when I needed it.

    However they do put allot of emphasis on the esoteric ceremonies end of so-called Soto Zen that I am not a big fan of. At the same time If I need to talk to someone face to face I do feel comfortable doing that as well.

    So maybe not in the same "boat" but maybe on the same wave.

    Gassho,
    Jordan

  3. #3
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    I'm about a three-hour drive from any sangha, so the question is moot for me.

    That's one reason I'm so happy that Jundo is doing this!

    Kirk

  4. #4

    local sangha issues

    Hello Keith:
    I have been/am in your same boat in that I have sat with different groups which had aspects I could not 100% get behind.
    However, my undergraduate majors (I doubled) were anthropology and sociology, and as a kid my family had spent years in Italy and France, so I don't feel 'foreign' in different settings. Perhaps for these reasons I didn't mind chants or different rituals. I've never practiced with a group that does the 108 bows daily, but I have heard of them and it sounds like I wouldn't need to get a gym membership!!
    Use the situation you find yourself in as your practice--I mean, our life, after all, is our practice--pick one of the groups and just be with it for a while and observe your likes and dislikes and explore those observations. If your only objection is chanting or bowing, explore that. Just chant when chanting happens. Same for bowing--if that is your only objection, then just bow when bowing happens. Kind of like a 'when in Rome' situation.
    In my sitting with different groups, a couple of times it was the group that ended, and not of my choosing to find another group...
    Sometimes I kind of felt like a visiting relative/foster child in sitting with different groups--these weren't my parents/siblings, but they shared with me what they had to give--and in turn, I helped out where I could--(in the same way you don't have to be in agreement with your roommates when you clean the kitchen/the bathroom etc--you live there, you pull your share).
    Having an opportunity to sit with different lineages is not such a bad experience to have in the long run--it gives you an intimate perspective and understanding of 'cousin' groups.
    There is no question there is great benefit to sitting with a sangha, but not if affiliation with that sangha is counterproductive to your practice. I found at one point leaving one group that it wasn't that "I" couldn't continue--it was that my practice couldn't continue--it wasn't a choice 'I' made, practice decided for me. This is a poor way to describe it--but it wasn't personal: I hadn't failed, nor had anyone/anything failed me.
    To stay just wouldn't have been appropriate anymore.
    It is very interesting this stuff. Staying and leaving have nothing to do with whether you like or dislike the state of things--you can be going through a real ornery rough patch and you just know you need to stay and work through it and you can be where everything is just peachy and all smiles and pleasantries and you know you need to go.
    (who is it who 'knows'?)
    If you are working with Jundo one on one as your teacher, you might tell whomever it may concern, that you would like to be affiliated with them, but be clear you already have a teacher--that way, when you/if you go in for one-on-one, face to face, sanzen, dokusan, etc--the two of you will be sticking to general and immediate topics and not the marrow of the bone issues.
    At any rate, I certainly wish you luck. I hope you enjoy your adventures. It does not cease to impress me and deeply touch me: these zen seeds and the human 'Johnny Appleseeeds' or better, 'Bodhidharma Zenseeds' who make them available to anyone seeking them...
    gotta love these teachers!
    in gratitude to all of them,
    past, present and future

    gassho
    keishin

  5. #5
    Well said Keishin.

    I live in China so, hehe... there is definitely no Soto Zen going on near where I live. I would have to take a plane or train to Hanzhou or Hong Kong.

    I don't go in for Rinzai or Ch'an.

    I practiced with the white wind zen community in Ottawa before leaving for China 5 years ago. Then did their long distance training program for a while. As you know ego or "self image" can have you travelling to all kinds of places and doing all kinds of things that in the end don't matter. So here I am in China. Practicing Soto Zen. Teaching English and etc..

    I still read Ven. Anzan Hoshin Roshi's book "the Straight Path" His teaching is both practical, insightful, informative and humorous. Without a doubt a great teacher.

    I also am happy to have this Treeleaf Sangha to share the experience of practice together with others. Gassho Jundo

    I think the one benefit of practicing with an actual Sangha would be the intimacy that you get from practicing beside another sharing this practice of Zen and Zazen day to day week to week.

    Gassho

  6. #6
    Hello,

    I live in Vermont so the Zen pickings are pretty slim. There is is a Tibetan group (Shambala International ), about half an hour from my home, and I have gone to their talks and done some sitting with them. Ultimately, I found that their practice was not for me and I have some issues with other aspects of that group so it did not turn out to be a good fit.

    Additionally I have had some interaction with a teacher from the insight/Theravada school, but that group is several hours away, and truthfully once I tried Zazen, I knew which practice and tradition was right for me. Most of my exposure and "knowledge" of the Dharma has been through the Theravada/Insight perspective and its a background I really value. . .but when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of my life experience it's Shikantaza that speaks to me, and Jundo's approach to the teachings really cut through the haze for me.

    So I guess I sit/study here for a mix of reasons, one is lack of a good alternative, the other being no need for an alternative I've found something that works. As far as I'm concerned it's a Soto Zen practice that I'm after, and I am very pleased to call Jundo my teacher.

    Zen Mountain Monastery in Mount Tremper, NY is just a few hours from me and I have been planning to do a retreat there later on this month. But, I just found out today that my Grandmother is ill and will be having surgery so my I might be canceling those plans to travel out and spend time with her.

  7. #7
    Thanks to everyone who replied! I haven't figured out this quoting thing yet, but I would like to address your responses. Forgive my primitive ways…

    Jordan wrote:
    "I do have some minor issues with their approach to practice but they are the closest fit I could find and had been very helpful for me when I needed it."

    Yeah, that's pretty much my experience with the local Zen group. If I'm really honest, the issues I have aren't major, and actually they are wonderful, warm, and very helpful people.

    Keishin, I second will's sentiment: "Well said..." Actually, your advice is very similar to what Jundo has advised! With that group: When sitting, sit...when doing 108 menacing bows, just do 108 menacing bows, etc. And the local group is actually very cool about me saying that Jundo is my teacher. They still warmly welcome me. I see clearer now that a lot of the "head noise" I bring to this situation is my tendency to go hog wild when newly involved in something - “Oh, I gotta join this group and get their robes, and go through their ceremonies, etc., etc., etc..“ Jundo and I have had this conversation ad nauseum! So, thank you, Keishin, for reminding me that I can find a healthy balance with this all!

    Gregor wrote:
    "As far as I'm concerned it's a Soto Zen practice that I'm after, and I am very pleased to call Jundo my teacher."

    I heartily concur!

    Gregor also wrote:
    "...my Grandmother is ill and will be having surgery so my I might be canceling those plans to travel out and spend time with her."

    All the best to your Grandmother, you, and your family. My thoughts are with you.

  8. #8
    The closest "Zen/cha'n" group to me is a Chinese temple which insists that the Buddha is a god which Buddhists have to pray to. They also sell amulets and talismans for protection which are "blessed" by the head monk. They have all sorts of ranks and special rules for each level of practitioner.

    Not too different from some Jõdo-shu temples I visited in Japan.

    Non-Chinese are required to sit separately because non-Chinese are not able to "connect" with the Dharma of the Buddha as well as Chinese are! - seriously, that's how they operate which I found rather racist.

    There is a Diamond sangha also a little further away. They are nice people, but I got the feeling that it was more of a socialising group/singles hang-out than a serious Buddhist practice group.

  9. #9
    Hi everyone,

    interesting topic! Where I live, there are indeed several local Sanghas, but none are authentic Soto Zen, which is the only tradition in which I feel at home without any 'ifs', 'ands' or 'buts'. I think the level of interaction here is much better than in many traditional Sanghas and I also cherish the fact that Treeleaf is always 'open' and just a few keystrokes away. In short, I'm infinitely grateful to Jundo and everyone else here for being able to practice together in this unique way.

    Gassho
    Kenneth

  10. #10

    local sangha issues

    Hellos to all
    I posted these comments in the book club section--but thought I'd copy them here, as I believe they equally apply to the theme of 'local sangha issues':

    Hello fellow readers:
    You know, there's nothing like a zendo and it's sangha to really get the ire stirring and watch anger both from below and beyond 'flash point' among all the devout buddhists practicing there! We kind of have it easy, here at Treeleaf, and are not up under each other's armpits and such.
    Let me cite a few zendo examples: people who always pick the prime sitting spots: ie when it's hot, near the fan or window, when it's cold, near the heater or where there aren't drafts. People who make a practice to generously serve themselves the prime tidbits from the salad, from the vegetable medley, more than their 'fair share', with many others behind them in line. People who always park in the best space (in the shade or nearest the zendo). People who do not do a very thorough job when it is their time to be or help the tenzo (cook). People who take the prime spots to place their shoes. People who don't take the extra step to get a new roll of toilet paper so others won't be 'caught short.'
    You get it, right? Monastery/schmonastery--it's just like 'real' life!!
    There's just no getting away from humans and our human-ness.
    In many ways sitting with other folks, increasing one's awareness, openly observing this mind, without blinking--it's like a mental paper cut--man does it sting! Everyone walking in silence and these thoughts just keep bubbliing and bubbling (like: "oh, look who's got the seat under the fan again") and then there's all the trying NOT to dwell on the observations awareness brings up--trying to impassively
    observe without judgement, without pejorative personalizations--all the while a string of expletives sears across the space between the ears. It's great fun, really! Everyone bowing to each other and all--while all this other stuff and nonsense is roiling away.
    Well, even buddhists can only take so much. At one monastery, when someone behaved in particularly bad fashion, their shoes would disappear! The roshi would have to appeal to the assembly to restore the shoes to their owner.
    How interesting we can be so oblivious to some things and so acutely aware of others.
    So please be aware--even as to the subleties--even here, at Treeleaf.
    Logging on and that quick little thought (oh, God, not her posting another long winded comment again!!--or gracious me, just how many topics is this fool going to post on today!!). Subtle ways we raise ourselves up and put another down.
    We are all nice and polite here, and Treeleaf is moderated as well--so civility is preserved, maybe even enforced!
    This is not a bad thing.
    At the same time, if we are unblinking in our vigilance we will see our very being is no stranger to a violent and brutal place.
    What could be a better place to start from--to really put our practice into practice!
    Every time a person, an incident can take us to this place within ourselves, we really need to thank them. It's like testing the cake with a toothpick--no, still raw, not fully cooked yet--still needs more time!

    gassho
    keishin--who still and will always need more time

    (I plan to lay off posting for a spell...just sos yous knows)

    ah, there's nothing like a sangha! (Zen Master Seung Sahn (Soen Sa Nim) had an analogy I really like--you could wash potatoes one by one, but you could also put a whole lot of potatoes in a pot and stir them all together: they all rub up against each other, each getting clean in the process.
    He likened the interaction in a sangha to that of stirring a pot full of potatoes!

    gassho
    keishin

  11. #11
    Great post keishin! Don't stop.
    Gassho,
    Bruce

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by will
    I practiced with the white wind zen community in Ottawa before leaving for China 5 years ago. Then did their long distance training program for a while. As you know ego or "self image" can have you travelling to all kinds of places and doing all kinds of things that in the end don't matter. So here I am in China. Practicing Soto Zen. Teaching English and etc..
    You're from Ottawa too? Cool. WWZC are good people... though I've heard that recently they've started using some elements of Dzogchen :?: I've been away from Ottawa for quite a while.

    I guess I'm not too picky - I like the Ch'an temple here just fine. I find the meditation practice more similar than different from the shikantaza I practised before. Of course, it's likely that I'm doing one or the other (both?) wrong.

    I'm sorry that you had such a horrible experience with that Chinese temple, Junpei. I can't guess how hard Fashi would come down on someone who acted like that. Then again (welcome to Canada!) I recently attended a Dharma talk where the speaker listed the first languages of the assembly (both sangha and laity) in order of popularity: Cantonese, Mandarin, English, Vietnamese, and a couple of French (or rather, québécois :wink and Korean speakers. I think that this contributes to the easy-going attitude of the temple, which I like a lot.

    I haven't been able to go so much anymore, because my epilepsy's been a real problem these past few months.

    I think that we're very lucky here at Treeleaf because of the trustworthy advice from Jundo. Practising alone (or from books) can be kind of dangerous - I've met people who've mis-understood meditation experiences as enlightenment, demonic possession, and everything in between. And a lot of other Buddhist bulletin boards have self-styled experts who may encourage these delusions.

    The most useful (and most frequent) advice I've ever received from my teachers has been "Don't worry about it, no big deal, happens all the time." The 2nd best advice was: "Don't sit like that if you still want ankles 10 years from now!"

  13. #13
    Hi Guys,

    Yes, I think that being in a Sangha is not all that different from being with other people anywhere: working together in an office, studying together in a school, living together in a family ... some folks will be nice to you, some will bother you or you will bother them, some you will have a crush on (yes, even in a Zen group ... I confess to have sometimes lusted after the girl on the next Zafu), some will beat you up in the back of the schoolbus (oh, sudden flashback to 6th grade! :shock: )

    Hopefully, our Zen practice smooths out some of the rough edges of being human, and we can learn to be gentler, more considerate, more caring and peaceful.

    But, yes, Zazen is not a cure for all things. It will not fix your flat tire, your facial acne, nor cure cancer. (It will just let you embrace each of those things, perhaps.)

    Furthermore, I am convinced that Zazen can aggravate certain human conditions. One way is for the short term, as Keishin so aptly describes. The pressure cooker of a Sesshin, for example, can bring up all kinds of psychological conditions and resentments. I have, for example, experienced moments of deep paranoia, undirected anger, sadness and nervousness (fortunately, all quickly passing). I have also become very resentful of the guy on the next Zafu encroaching on my "space", the fellow who slacked off during Samu work practice, etc. A monastery or Zen retreat is supposed to be like that, however ... as we learn to look our human weaknesses and strengths right in the eye.

    Zazen, I am convinced, can aggravate certain human psychological conditions over the long term too, and is not for everyone. It is, perhaps, not for people who are truly egg shells or suicidal (I think the main character in "Zen and Motorcycle Maintenance" eventually ended up in a mental hospital), schizophrenic, it can take people with certain paranoid or anger related or narcissistic disorders and feed into them and actually enlarge them (even when those folks don't realize what is happening). Sometimes these things will come up only after years of practice. The ritual and intensity of Zen practice can play right into certain obsessive-compulsive traits. As opposed to the "Self" getting smaller, for example, it become even more convinced that it has a personal telephone line to god. We all have to be cautious about these tendencies in us, as we all have a bit.

    So, be gentle with your practice. Sometimes it is like playing with dynamite.

    Gassho, Jundo


    PS - Keishin, I hope your rest from posting is just for a time. and I look forward to your being back. We all need to take a "cyber-silent retreat" from time to time, as we can get caught in all the words.

  14. #14
    Jundo definitely hit the nail on the head. Zazen can make things worse if it is done wrong and is done from a certain perspective. That's why having a good teacher is necessary. I have found out through my practice how many reaction I have to things. Just hearing a sound of a voice could cause me to tense and focus. Having all these fantasies, and just being tense and angry. I've been sitting for 5 years and throughout those 5 years have caused lots of trouble through my misunderstandings. However if you have the faculties and just keep sitting you'll probably realize the things that make you that way, but first you really have to understand what you are doing when you are sitting. Yeah, teachers are very important and people who have a level of understanding.

    Gassho

  15. #15
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    The first time I ever went to a dharma center was about 17 years ago in France. It was a Tibetan center, and it was not a retreat, but a week in August when there were a couple dozen people. It was very uncomfortable. When I got there, no one was there to welcome me; I sat, with my bag, for about an hour in the foyer of the old chateau, people walked by, some nodding hello, but no one asked if I needed help. I waited. (While reciting the six-syllable mantra: What am I doing here?).

    Then, the first day, at dinner, I overheard three people disputing who was the greatest Dzogchen master. I realized that I had not stepped into a parallel universe, but simply a place where celebrities and athletes were replaced by spiritual masters.

    When chatting with the lama, I mentioned this, and he shrugged it off, saying it was enough to get them to be present when sitting. I found this disdainful.

    Kirk

  16. #16
    Greetings from the South!
    This is my first post, so bear with me if I screw something up.
    I found this thread particularly pertinent to my situation. I live about 2.5 hours from the closest Zen center. There are some sitting groups in the area, but none have a regular teacher. So, I've participated in some of them and found it useful to be with others who are practicing, but there is always something missing when it comes to teachings. This is why I am so intrigued by Jundo's efforts here. I think it really is new territory (not that newness is particularly important). I have already checked out some of the teachings and feel that I may have found a virtual zendo to come to daily.
    I have been practicing sitting for 12 years without a teacher. I hope that at the very least I may have found an online Sangha to belong to. I have been impressed by the quality of the postings, in terms of both civility and helpfulness.
    Respect to all of you . . .
    Bill

  17. #17
    Paige
    I think that we're very lucky here at Treeleaf because of the trustworthy advice from Jundo. Practising alone (or from books) can be kind of dangerous - I've met people who've mis-understood meditation experiences as enlightenment, demonic possession, and everything in between. And a lot of other Buddhist bulletin boards have self-styled experts who may encourage these delusions.
    Absolutely. Man I misunderstood a lot from reading and not practicing with a teacher.

    Paige
    You're from Ottawa too? Cool. WWZC are good people... though I've heard that recently they've started using some elements of Dzogchen I've been away from Ottawa for quite a while.
    Their website doesn't seemed to have changed. Still the same.

    http://www.wwzc.org

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