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Thursday, August 24, 2006

More on the Twisted Path

Posted by Picasa It just doesn't get easy, does it?

This photo was taken at the same time as the one which introduced my March 13, 2006 entry that I called "The Empty Well." If you're new to this blog, you might want to read that one; in my opinion, it's one of the better ones, and a good intro to this piece, as it concerns my frustration with the current state of Zen Buddhism in Nashville and in my life.

Luckily for me, things changed after that. About three weeks after that I took it upon my self to visit the Atlanta Soto Zen Center, and found a sangha and an environment which better suited my appetites to go a little deeper into living with Zen that the weekly coffee klatsch that NZC seemed to me to have become. All this has has been chronicled herein; this is the update.

Currently two events which could either or both be major are affecting (or not affecting) the Nashville Zen Center. First (from my perspective), the NZC has cancelled its fall retreat, based primarily on its belated realization of its poor showing last March and the unwillingness of a sufficient number of members to commit to anything (and upon the unavailability of its usual leader, Sandy Stewart of the North Carolina Zen Center, an excellent teacher who perceptively has found something better to do with his time). In lieu, it appears or has appeared that a number of NZC members are to accompany me or themselves to the ASZC for its September sesshin, September 1 - 3. Problems here, too; the main point of this trip was to meet the abbot of the ASZC, Michael Elliston, who has just returned from a 90-day or so stint in Austin, for reasons to0 complex to go into here. Now it appears the abbot will be out of town again, which doesn't bode well for the interface I had hoped to finally begin between the two groups.

At any rate, at the request of the ASZC tenzo I posted a couple of days ago on the NZC Yahoo group for confirmations for the Atlanta trip. No responses so far. So we'll see. As you might guess, my expectations are low.

To recap my March experience and blog entry, at the spring retreat for the NZC, exactly three regular NZC members (and one occasional member, who visited for part of a day) showed up; there were three other visitors. This was for the retreat led by Brad Warner, the man I credit with bringing me back into Zen after about 25 years, whom we brought in from California. The three members who attended were Nat, Jennye and I, who all busted our butts to make the retreat work for the members who didn't bother to attend. I won't beat that dead horse any more.

But now Jennye is having a similar experience with a guest she has invited in. Each year (until this year) the NZC has participated in Nashville's Buddhist Fair, which is or was a cooperative effort between the Zen group, the Tibetan group (actually, two of them) and a Vipassana group.
It seems to have been the tendency for each group to invite an out-of-town speaker to the group, and last year we lucked into having a Zen teacher in town who represented us. The Rev. Hye Sunim, a monk trained in Korean Zen as well as in other traditions, appeared and spoke for us, and met with us for a dharma talk at our next meeting. Sunim (as he likes to be called) has been teaching in Los Angeles, and is at this time again in Nashville and available to the NZC.

So everybody at NZC was excited that Sunim was coming. Everyone wanted to meet with him. He sat with us (with them; I was out of town) last Saturday at our only remaining weekly meeting, and will do so again this Saturday; reports are that the meeting has slightly more than usual attendance. Yet as of yesterday, NZC members had failed to attend any other functions with him, despite intensive and repeated notification. Luckily, members of another Buddhist group, ironically an offshoot of our group and with members also interested in Vipassana, have been attending. [An odd sidenote: the NZC when it meets is at least 90% male. I dropped by to see Sunim Tuesday night after work, and was the only male in attendance. Buddhism for women? I don't know what it means, if anything, just found it interesting.

On the other front, I am scheduled to finally undergo an initiation ceremony in Atlanta on either Sunday, Sept. 3 or 10. At that time I will finally, after years of practice off and on, adopt the precepts and the layman's vows appropriate to Zen. Obviously this is something I am looking forward to, as in case it means not just formally committing to Buddhism but also adopting or being adopted by a sangha. But even this has gotten complicated. The ASZC normally holds the ceremony twice a year, in September and March. I am told that traditionally the ceremony is held at the end of a monthly sesshin, at which time the initiates and the sangha have been sitting fairly intensively for a day or two. Next month, the sesshin is scheduled for the first weekend of the month as usual, but the ceremony was scheduled for the second Sunday. None of the senior teachers seemed to know why.

Now of course we know why; the abbot was scheduled to be out of town, which was apparently unknown to some or all of the students. I had had some discussions with the tenzo (innkeeper) to the effect that it would be nice to have the initiation on Sunday, Sept. 3 so that I didn't have to come to Atlanta two weekends in a row, and so that should any NZC members really make it to Atlanta, they could be there for it. To shorten this up a bit, it appears that largely for my benefit, there are now two initiation ceremonies scheduled, one for the third and one for the tenth. I'm honored, of course.

When I first started writing this blog entry yesterday morning, I had written the abbot and the tenzo and not yet gotten responses; after hearing from them, I'm going ahead with the initiation on Sept. 3, which will be performed by one of the students. I don't want to insult the students, and hey, it's just an initiation, not a dharma transmission or something. I'm just proud after all this time to be taking official vows and refuge.

I'm quite aware that this entry loses focus at the end; sort of like a real blog entry, huh? Yesterday I was agonizing a bit over whether I had insinuated the ASZC into compromising their schedule, and if my connection with the abbot and the school had been thereby compromised somehow. Today, I'm not worried about it.

Hey, and night before last my AC went out, and now it's fixed. Maybe that was the whole point after all.

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