mad in pursuit journal


Zazen on Sunday

I went back to the Zen Center for their Sunday morning ceremonies, invited as a follow-up from Saturday's workshop. I can't help comparing it to Church. Even though the zendo not a house of worship, it was definitely sacred space.

I got there early, got a few seconds of "here's where the extra cushions are" and was quickly ushered to my seat on the raised platform. You face a wall or partition to help blank out your thoughts, but you are sitting elbow to elbow, knee to knee with other people. The zendo was quiet and darkened. People in brown robes were already engaged in their postures, deep in zazen. This meant that it wouldn't be like a church service where you can fidget and watch who else is coming in till Mass starts. No. I had to start my zazen immediately.

There is a hint of incense in the air. A large Buddha statue occupies a prominent space. We are told that this is not because the Buddha is a supernatural being to worship. The Buddha reminds us of our Buddha-selves. We are all Buddha, if only we can get rid of our distractions and our anxieties and our focus on negative things. Sit like the Buddha: gracefully, with an erect back.

I sink into my breathing and counting. Easier than it was the day before. About 20 minutes pass. At the gong, we shift positions and the official "sitting" begins. Stillness. 25 minutes. Gong. Shift positions. 25 minutes. Gong. Stand, grasp your hands over your heart and walk in a single line with the group around the temple for about 5 minutes. Oh, that feels good! We return to our seats. The partitions come down and we face the center. The group starts chanting. Oh! It zings through me. How amazing. A drum somewhere is being bonged. The abbot begins his teaching — about 40 minutes of wandering thoughts on anti-religion people (specifically Christopher Hitchens) who are seeming to turn atheism itself into a religion, and not a very uplifting one at that.

About 10:40 I floated out and back home. Maybe I want one of those cool brown robes. Maybe I always wanted to be a mystic. Whatever... the morning left me energized all day.