Friday, July 30, 2010

Finding a Teacher. Leaving a Teacher. Being your Own Teacher.

Last month I decided to end my seminary training with my Zen teacher. This wasn't a decision I made quickly or lightly, but one that felt completely clear and right by the time I let him know after so many months of careful consideration.

I've no malice towards the man--in fact I kind of love him, really. However, a combination of logistical, philosophical, and personal reasons left me little choice but the one I made. Looking back, on some level I knew from the start he wasn't the right teacher for me yet I dove in because I think it's important to have some consistent guidance and feedback for one's practice. This wasn't possible due to his travel schedule and aside from that I found that our interviews just weren't resonating.

There's a little more to it than that but I'm already somewhat uncomfortable saying as much as I have because I have the utmost respect for this man and I deeply admire what he's done and wants to continue to do.

Lately I've been practicing with two Kwan Um school centers since I think Seung Sahn and his teachings are awesome.

This experience has reminded me that ultimately we are all our own best teachers. The Buddha made it clear that the dharma is to be our guide above any illusory authority figure. It's the dharma we are called upon to answer to and not any one teacher. In fact as I understand it, learning and practicing was supposed to be more of a communal/friendship based system in the early days of Buddhism. A few hundred years after his death the student/teacher roles we are now left with morphed out of who knows what. And the whole Zen Master thing was concocted hundreds of years later.

Anyway, I'm coming to a final decision about seminary (with another Zen order) this fall that so far seems like a very good fit. It would give me the opportunity to serve people in a capacity that honors the calling I've had for several years now and feels appropriate for how I want to contribute to circulating the dharma.

As a very good monk friend of mine said recently, the dharma has a way of pulling us in the right direction at the right time.

Here's to hoping he's right.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

1,000 (B)OWS!

Last Saturday at Chogye Sah Temple here in Manhattan, I showed up for their monthly 1,000 bows practice.

I'll let the Kwan Um School website explain it better than I can:

From the Dharma Mirror - Manual of Practice Forms:

Prostrations could be likened to the 'emergency measure' for clearing the mind. They are a very powerful technique for seeing the karma of a situation because both the mind and the body are involved. Something that might take days of sitting to digest may be digested in a much shorter time with prostrations.

I showed up at 5:00 pm and Myoji Sunim (the Abbess of the temple) was there encouraging everyone as they started bowing. Her chanting and hitting of the moktak provided an intensely effective focal point to the practice. For the second hour (yes it takes about 2-2.5 hours to do 1,000 full prostrations) the chanting was done by Myong Haeng, the Vice-Abbott.

There's sitting and walking meditation, chanting, and bowing.

This isn't for the physically weak--as of today (4 days later), the soreness in my legs is just starting to subside. I don't recommend such practice for anyone with leg, knee, or foot problems.

While I was skeptical at first I can easily say now that this practice was the most demanding and mind-clearing of my life.