mad in pursuit journal


Sunday at the Zen Parlor

It's Sunday morning and I've decided to head out to the "sitting" at the Zen Center in a little while.

Occasionally I need to push myself to participate in communal functions -- it's too easy to go through life these days on my own little track assuring myself that whatever I feel like doing is "right for me."

There's also something to be said for being the dumbest kid in a group. I trip on the borrowed brown robe. I can't find the right page in the chant book. Someone reaches over and helps me. Smart kids don't have to ask for help; they can be smugly self-contained. Looking helpless lets people help you, give you a chance to smile in gratitude.

The actual Zen practice is good too. On Sundays (I only went once before), there is an hour of zazen -- a combo of sitting cross-legged and walking in slow procession -- then 15 minutes of chanting, considered to be another form of emptying and calming the mind. Then there is a teisho -- a talk by the head guy -- a Buddhist priest referred to as roshi.

It's easy to think of this all as analogous to going to church on Sundays. Zazen = prayer. Chants = hymns. Teisho = sermon. A touch of incense in the air reminds me of High Mass. But the differences are deep. There's a large statue of the Buddha where an altar would be, but for zazen we turn away and face a blank wall. We aren't worshipping, just delving to find our own compassionate and attentive Buddha-selves. Believing in and praying to God is a separate deal, not part of what the Zen Center is about and up to the individual.


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Zazen: How to meditate

Photos of zendo meditation area at the Rochester Zen Center

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
[from Auguries of Innocence by William Blake]