Saturday, April 28, 2012

Zen in Flux

At Zen Center this morning, our lay training group met to discuss what the purpose and focus of our group should be. It's been about two and half years since this experiment began, and although some things have changed, I really think the heart of our work has been to unearth models for doing/embodying Zen practice as lay people in the 21st century.

Given that the forms and many of the emphasized teachings we inherited from our Japanese ancestors were designed with monastics in mind, this has been kind of a koan for our sangha. None of us are quite sure what it is that this group is doing together. We are filled with questions about Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, and the rest of the Eightfold Path. We are often challenged by what "commitment" means when everyone is living diverse lives, with a diverse set of issues and needs. We aren't even sure what the word "training" means in a lay context.

I know this is also going on all over the Buddhist world these days. Indeed, there seems to be a lot of flux in general in our world right now. Perhaps it's just that the truth of never ending change is simply more manifest - literally in our faces. However, something about the speed of flux feels - on a deep level - different from even the recent past.

Anyway, I want to offer you all some of what we are calling the "purpose points" for our Lay Training Group. These are things we came up with this morning, but I see them as the fruit of decades worth of individual and collective practice. Everyone in the group has been a Zen student for a decade or more, which makes it all the more rich in my view.

At the same time, I'd say we are mucking around in a semi-dark cave. Grounded enough that we are able to hang with uncertainty. But also aware of the fact that in some ways, we don't know any more than a total beginner.

Here are some of the highlight "Purpose points," in no particular order.

1. Balance – Structure/open inquiry

2. Shared leadership of larger community

3. Focus on practice in daily life, sharing/exploring how to do "lay practice"

4. Embodying active listening

5. Intimacy

6. Repentance to each other

7. Community/connection/friendship

8. Ritual and organized dharma study

If anyone out there has experienced similar group processes in their spiritual community, I'd love to hear from you in the comments section. And of course, all comments are welcome, regardless of whether you have similar experiences or not.


Mumon said...

Sounds like you're looking for a narrative but where is the 話頭 once the narrative is expressed?

Nathan said...

There's a lot of don't know for me in the whole process. We'll probably just keep going once a narrative is expressed anyway, so what is that?

spldbch said...

You make an interesting point about a lot of the teachings you are trying to incorporate originated in monasteries. Were Buddhist practices confined entirely to monks? Or did lay people incorporate them into their everyday lives? Maybe the more relevant question is WHEN did lay people begin practicing Buddhism? Did the early lay population experience any of the same difficulties your group faces now? I wonder how they addressed them? These were just questions that came to mind as I read your post. Sorry I don't have the answers to them...

Nathan said...

There have always been lay practitioners in some form or another, and the early monastics were more wandering monks than living together in monasteries. I do think there are some similarities between today and during the time of the historical Buddha. Both periods are marked by rapid social changes, and societal upheavals. I have been on the lookout for more material/records of lay practitioners from the past. I wrote about Layman Pang and family (lay practitioners from China in the 8th century I believe) awhile back. There are plenty of other examples as well, but they're mostly scattered about.