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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Continuing Need to Sit

As you can see, I just broke down and gave the Rufi their own cell phone. HR1 and Deuce can tell you all about it on their own blog (see link to the right) when they get around to it, so I won't give them any more space here.

Actually, I can't give them that cell phone until I get my new one, which is the real point of all this. I just reaffirmed last night the need for continuing zazen, and the fact that any benefit we get therefrom is, like all things, transient.

If you've been following these entries, you know my paired frustration and enormous benefit from the spring retreat sponsored by the Nashville Zen Center a few weeks ago. A number of things have been coming more clear to me on a daily basis since then. That retreat was a lot of work for me and a very few others, and I have come to believe more strongly in the old axiom that the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. I got enormous benefit, of course from the sitting, but more from getting to know Brad and Yuka Warner; I also discovered that I greatly enjoyed introducing new people to something I thought was very important. All this has deepened my commitment to zazen practice. It has also left me greatly frustrated with regard to what is available to me in Nashville. It now seems inevitable that after having spent a good portion of my life in parts of the country where Zen is easy to find (New Mexico, California), I find myself in the Bible Belt with a real hunger for deeping Buddhist understanding. Such is the desperation of which valiant effort must be born.

I have really come to believe that to get what I want out of Buddhism, I have to have a connection to a genuinely dedicated sangha and an authentic tradition. Perhaps because it was Brad's book Hardcore Zen which brought me back to Zen after more than twenty years of floating in and out of various schools of Buddhism, the tradition I have been most attracted to is the Japanese Soto school of Zen, the tradition of Brad and his teacher Nishijima (see links to Hardcore Zen and the Dogen Sangha). But it's more than that. I have come to believe that one waying of knowing what is true for myself is that truth is recognized rather than learned. Reading Brad's book and following up on his teacher's teachings led me back to the time long ago when I first realized the limits of the human mind and rational thought, and that reality is so much more than can be encompassed by our philosophies and religions. That is the real sense in which Zen is, to be trite, the finger pointing at the moon. So many philosophies and religions, and most Buddhism itself mistake the finger for the moon and can't get beyond it. That is why Soto Zen, with its emphasis on shikantaza (just sitting) appeals to me over the koans and distractions of Rinzai.

Not that Rinzai Zen is bad, mind you. It is very common for modern teachers, many of whom I respect, to combine the two. But I agree with Brad that it's like martial arts; each one takes a lifetime to master, so when you meet someone who claims to have mastered them all, doubt is required. The NZC, being by its nature eclectic, lacks an anchor to a single, authentic school, so I have been seeking a connection to Soto Zen.

I believe I may have found that. Last week I picked up (read, not bought) a copy of Tricycle magazine at the bookstore, and discovered in the directory at the back something called the Atlanta Soto Zen Center. Atlanta is only four hours away and I certainly have time right now, so this weekend I'm going to a Friday-night-through-Sunday retreat with them, in hopes of making contact with an authentic tradition. It looks likely; there will be a couple of attendees and speakers with connections to the San Francisco Zen Center (the place where I first sat zazen in 1981, and a Soto center), and the leader of the ASZC is ordained in the Soto tradition; so we'll see. Wish me luck and check back here next week.

Anway, I'd been having trouble making contact with the ASZC; I'd sent two emails and left two phone messages at different numbers, and as of yesterday morning no one had gotten back to me, so I was beginning to despair at hearing from anyone in time to arrange attending the retreat this weekend. Their three-day retreat is monthly, but I wanted to get there this month because having to travel to Atlanta requires I have Friday off, and I have to go back to work eventually. So I was overjoyed because yesterday I heard back from someone at the ASZC and finalized my arrangements. Needless to say, after reading this post, this is something very important to me; it may also prove to be important for the NZC, if it is to survive and become sincere again, but we'll see about that.

Meanwhile, in a totally unrelated move, I decided to upgrade my cell phone. With Cingular you get to do that every two years or so with a contract extension, so I ordered one. Having worked in sales for Cingular, I knew better than to deal with the internet or phone ordering systems; the best way to get a cell phone is to, well, go to a store and get the phone. But Cingular has screwed up their system even more by jacking the prices in the stores, so the only way to get a good deal is the internet. With misgivings, I did, and my phone is now looking for delivery on its fifth day on "two-day air." Ironically, the fault is not with Cingular; UPS just can't get their act together to deliver the damned thing. I won't bore you with the details. Hopefully I'll get it today.

The point is, I've been working on my equanimity the last few months. At the first of the year I was ready to pop. I had a job working with and for people who exasperated the shit out of me every day, so I quit, and that's one reason you're not seeing as many angry posts on here. I've been taking my time seeking new employment, and working on things meaningful to me that I couldn't attend to because my frustration level was so high, mainly my Zen practice and my health. I 've found a whole new calm and a partial purpose for my existence. So all in all, I've been happier this month than I have been in a long time.

But not yesterday afternoon. After a day of elation, with the contact from the AZSC and the cementing of those plans and a good workout, I got dragged down because my new cell phone sat at the UPS warehouse all day because for some unknown reason it never got on the truck. If it doesn't track as "out for delivery" today, maybe I'll have to go get it. I'm OK now. But last night, I blew up. I called UPS. I sent angry and abusive emails to Cingular and UPS (and got the phone number for the local office). All this about a geegaw that I don't really need and ordered on a whim. But it was mine, damn it, and they'd better get it to me!

So I sat, and I recovered. But it just shows, there is no enlightenment, there is only continuous practice. But things do get better. I am so happy to finally get to the point where I can tell you for a fact that that is true. You do have to work for what you want. Strive with diligence, as Gatauma said.

More soon.

1 comment:

Warp Spasm said...

I've been reading, with interest,about your journey back to your cushion. My own circumstances have been focusing my attention in a similar way.
I'm happy to hear about your retreat and meeting with Brad Warner. He was at my old sangha in Detroit recently, but I wasn't able to get down there to hear him and I've yet to catch up with my buddy at the sangha to talk about it.
I haven't studied as much about the various lineages as you, but I have found the brand of Korean zen taught at my former sangha to be earthy, heartfelt and sound. If you ever wish to venture north, I'd be happy to introduce you to Still Point in Detroit.
All the best in Atlanta and on your cushion.
Deep Bow,
WarpSpasm, aka dennis