So… interesting weekend. I had a blast at sushi party with old and new friends on Friday. And equally big blast with new friends at a skating/chili cook off party on Saturday and a most unusual Sunday.
Our little town (~5000 people) has a Zen Centre as of yesterday. Well, people were doing some retreats there earlier this month but it’s dedication and official (I suppose) opening occurred yesterday afternoon. Let me say I was really excited and wanted to go to this dedication ceremony. I should say also that the Rioshi’s partner is connected to me through work in a good way and as such I was expecting good things.
And therein lies the trouble. Damn me and my expectations.
So, there were a lot of people there (very cool) and I joined a couple of friendly acquaintances in the altar room near the altar and cozied up all ready. So… we’re there and the Rioshi starts talking about how she’s feeling ready and even pressured to get started with things, even though the appointed time is still a few minutes away. Few respond to this and one man finally suggests humbly that we wait until the appointed time. The odd feeling in my stomach is a bit relaxed when she speaks about how grateful she is to see some many people and how unexpected this is. I smile.
I’m listening to her speak and the first thing – literally about a second after greeting us – is that she came to Buddhism because it is the only truly non-violent religion. There’s never been a war in the name of Buddhism… um… excuse me but did you miss how Buddhism came into Tibet and China? Displacing the indigenous Bon practictioners. That was in the 7th and 8th centuries. Yep, that’s long way back however, there are many more modern examples. I have to admit to irritation such that I have to just let it go… but it’s hard.
So, the appointed time comes and we begin a variation on the Heart Sutra that I’m not familiar with (which means nothing, I’m not nearly as familiar with the Heart Sutra as I ought to be) but we had a hand out so it was easy enough to follow.
From my own traditions and paths I found the noise made during the chanting insane. I am someone who has moved from a chaotic life to preferring quiet or at least coherent sound. This sound was crazy – drum, prayer bowl/gong, chanting out of sync, keys ringing. There were points in it that I could have that “ah!” moment of understanding the purpose of this. There is a cultural context but it was lost on me and so while it was uncomfortable for me, I can’t say that it was bad, inappropriate etc. because I don’t enough about Zen to make that statement. Anyway, I’m coming from traditions of stilling and peace -taiji and yoga (and even tiger is quiet)
so… I have to take that from my own perspective and with a grain of salt.
So, we did the chanting and it was cool and then we were going to do two minutes of meditation. This woman I have a hard time having compassion for – and I am trying, believe me I’m trying – gets up to speak. This is the kind of woman who has to speak in every venue, opportunity etc. If there is any chance to draw attention to herself my goodness she’ll take it. So, she gets up and starts to help all of us understand about Zen meditation. What keeps on resonating for me is that she kept saying “bring it back to the self” but that’s not what you’re doing in any mediation. The more I think about this the more it grates on me (I know, I know… let it go…!)
At no point in meditation do you bring it back to the self. At first I was saying “well… in some kinds that would be appropriate” but the more I’ve thought on it (which has been every time I’ve seen her at work – yep, another coworker) the more it’s bugged me. Unless you are doing a personal exploration sort of meditation-ish thing, the whole point is letting go of the attachment to the self. I think I know what she was trying to say but what she said actually isn’t what she meant to say. I’m not very yoga about her I’m afraid… sighs… I have to learn.
So, we did that and then the dedication of the statue… it was a classic Avalokitesvara or Quan Yin or Chenrezig or Kannon… but could she call her any of those better known names? Nope -ok, now I am not being compassionate. Anyway, she picked the most obscure name she could. I have been academically interested in this stuff for many years – ie 11 years ago I did an AH course specifically on Religion, Philosophy and the Arts of Buddhist Asia and loved it – and I can’t recall any mention of this obscure name – maybe it was in passing but it’s not “the accepted” name. I’d remember too, my final project was an examination of this Bodhisattva in all of the various cultures we were studying. At that time, likely influenced by my interest in Japanese martial arts, I was extremely interested in the Japanese experience of these figures and in the Japanese portion in general. I was really into animism but that’s another post .
Now, let’s be honest – does it matter if she uses the most obscure version of the Bodhisattva’s name? Not really. Did it feel like it was representative of everything else that didn’t fit for me about the place? Yep.
So, we do that and it’s still ok. I’m still ok, could see myself spending some more time there, checking it out – making sure I am really giving it a fair shake… and then the intro to the Rioshi and the centre. There were some really interesting things in it regarding the Rioshi’s lineage and training. Some things that were really cool and made me smile, some thing’s that made me wince. Most of it I won’t get into because it is just my own stuff and my own bias but it did indicate to me that there is likely not a fit with this particular centre.
Now, there is a part of me that thinks any Zen Centre here is a good thing. That is tempered by something similar that I suspect my Sifu finds about TaiJi being taught – it’s good to have it out there but when people don’t get the real deal sometimes they aren’t able to understand the real deal and sometimes it can really adversely colour their experience. But – that being said – so can the real deal. I struggle with the expression of this sentiment because I don’t want to state explicitly that this Centre isn’t the Real Deal as though I am some sort of Zen authority. So let me state only that it’s not the Real Deal for me.
The other thing my favorite Warrior Monk -Warrior Monk #3 – reminded me of is that we have not exactly had the average Western experience of Buddhism or Eastern Philosophy in general. Thanks in large part to his family and their connections as well as our own studies. And so our measuring stick is perhaps smaller, more demarcated, maybe more precise. Shrugs. I know I went through this with Martial Arts and Yoga as well. I also know based on those two examples – that you can find the right fit but it takes time (many, many years, I’m seeing!).
Was there anything I liked? Of course. I loved that it drew so many people together. It wasn’t a diverse crowd but it was plentiful and that was very cool. I really have a lot of respect for the Rioshi only charging for things she has or has had to pay for. So if it’s a teaching that was free and she’s not supplying a meal with it, she doesn’t charge. That’s very very cool and I have deep respect for that. It would be easy to capitalize on the attendees and the enthusiasm and she hasn’t. Even her online courses are very reasonably priced. Although I can’t relate to where she is coming from or where she is going, I can see that she is doing it with the intent of sharing the teachings and giving something out to the world.
And I just don’t find myself – curmudgeony as I am – able to fault that. I hope that she finds what she needs through this part of the journey – all of her students as well (even the Chicken Lady). It can’t hurt the world if we’re all (yes, even/especially me) a bit more compassionate.
Interesting and relevant links… (because I don’t know how to embed them – again)
Oh yes – the revisionist history part… well… it’s my assertion that rather than suppressing an unflattering history, embrace it as a learning experience. Like the Soto Zen Statement of Repentance (1992): “Since the Meiji period, our (Soto Zen) sect has cooperated in waging war.”
I can really, really respect that. It was interesting that the Rioshi didn’t chose to reference that as evidence of Soto Zen’s movement to the truly pacifist path… hmmm… maybe I will go there to sit and have tea and ask her about this. Perhaps the answer she gives may educate me further. Or perhaps -as WM #3 suggests – there will be more of the “no, the bad people in Cambodia/Sri Lanka/where ever don’t count – they weren’t really Buddhist”. But either way it would be interesting.