Monday, October 11, 2010

Sangha Building

When Suzuki-roshi first came to Sokoji (San Francisco Zen Temple) people would be referred to him for direction. They would come with all kinds of questions, and wanted answers. He simply told them "I sit every morning at 5:45, you are welcome to join me." 
This is a response by David KoMyo Novotny, a disciple of Harvey Daiho Roshi, to one of Daiho's blog about "Sangha Building" that I am pasting below. This is my belief also--if we sit, then our sangha will grow. And so it seems our Tuesday night schedule seems to be working: 7pm, 4425 Byron at the Unitarian Community. We sit and more people come. We've been averaging six or seven. Sweet. Who knows if that will continue. Who knows if we'll need to buy more zabutons and zafus. But, one way or the other, we'll continue to sit. Ken McGuire Roshi has built us an altar which I need to pick up this week. The weather is changing from summer to winter. It's so nice. I hope you can make it some evening.
If I want to build a sangha, I do not look for Zen Buddhists or even Buddhists for that matter. That would be a big mistake as I would be likely to collect a motley crew of people with all sorts of ideas about Zen.

No. First, I wouldn’t look period. I would find a place and set a time, and then I would just sit. Second, I would welcome whoever came to sit with me.  The key is openness and keeping our eye on the ball: practice. I might post a flier or two.  I would ask my friends.  I would first and last, however, practice. People too often set out with ideas in mind. This is not the Zen way.  We do not chase ideas.  We practice zazen.
Training is important when we get past just sitting.  Instruction is important before and during our zazen.  We never get past just sitting.  Training in the forms is an issue for Zen Temples and Practice Centers.  Important, yes, but not essential. What is essential first is that we understand what we are doing and second, our limitations.  We are practicing zazen. Instruction on this practice is readily available and quite simple.  Its practice is difficult. We should be careful not to allow the fact that we do not have a sangha, room, or building to take us away from our practice. We always have a park or a tree or a sidewalk or some other public space we can just sit in. Kinhin can be practiced pretty much anywhere and at anytime.  And mindfulness practice becomes a deeply ingrained way of life.
Let the labels go.  Zen Buddhists?  Not necessarily.  People willing to sit down with us and take the backward step?  Yes! Compassionate hearts?  Yes!  Diligent hearts?  Yes!
It is the practice that is essential, nothing else.
NOTE ON THE PHOTOGRAPH: I was looking in my archives for a nice photograph for "sangha" and I found this one from a wonderful sesshin (August 2005) conducted at Daiho's Refuge a bit off the grid northeast of Cloudcroft, NM. Bonnie Hobbs and Reba Montera, the two ladies on the right, still practice with Clear Mind. Mike Gozen LaTorra, the man in the middle, is the Abbott and teacher at the Las Cruces Zen Center on Mesquite Avenue. The lady far left and the man on the right I don't remember their names. And, I am embarrassed to say, I don't remember the name of the lady, second from the left. She was a long time practitioner in Las Cruces--a yoga teacher and masseuse. That very weekend she massaged my back and the tension and pain slipped away like water. She's moved up to Santa Fe and we miss her. And if you can, help me out with her name. Egads. I am embarrassed.

But what this photograph also reminds me is that the Clear Mind Zen Temple in Las Cruces is planning the Rohatsu Sesshin for the weekend of December 10. Rohatsu is the celebration of the Buddha's Enlightenment and, thus, it's the most important sesshin of the calendar year. And the most rigorous. Please look at your calendars and, if you can, plan to attend. More about this soon.

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