I was lucky enough to visit a girlfriend this past weekend and hang out in Brooklyn. I decided to make the Zen Center of NYC Fire Lotus Temple a pitstop on Sunday. It was comforting to see a student sweeping near the front door as I approached. Since I wasn’t sure what time visitors were to enter, I decided to wait. I met two other men who were also visiting for the first time, and it was fun to compare notes on other places they had been and what had brought them there. For me, it was a chance to see if this was another location that could facilitate more visits for group meditation.
The first thing that I noticed is that people were very welcoming and offering a smile. They were quick to suggest tea upstairs and there was happy chatter about a recently remodeled kitchen. In many ways, the temple resembles the monastery in upstate NY, but on a smaller scale. There is plenty of wood, stone and plain walls, and of course, the artwork of the late Daido Roshi — probably another reason I felt comfortable. The introduction that was given for newbies by Lisa was refreshing with its detail on zazen. She used the word buoyancy a lot and I almost pictured a rock solid tripod with the legs and a head that was tethered like a balloon. As one that often suffers from back pain, I thought this description really worked to keep good posture without holding on to tension. I was also glad that I attended the intro because the pattern for kinhin is different at this temple, moving horizontally rather than vertically. I’m sure that could have been a bit of humor to cause a traffic jam after a sitting period!
Once our group was seated with the rest of the sangha, it was easier to notice differences. Many people were not dressed in black and some even wore skirts and shorts. People were also seated more closely next to each other, bringing more of a sense of unity to the group. The kindness that I felt when arriving didn’t stop at the door — the students worked hard to incorporate newcomers, even giving up their cushions to bow on the floor. One man suggested I move my cushion to the right of a pillar in order to see Shugen Sensei better. What a luxury– I considered myself lucky to even have a seat. For those of you who have not visited this temple, Shugen Sensei is very warm and filled with humor — and well worth a good view. It ended up being a special day, too, because there was a memorial service honoring Robert Aiken, who had recently passed on. So, not only did I leave knowing that I had more friends to sit with, but I also left thankful for the ability to experience zen teachings in the United States. If you are in Brooklyn, drop by — black not required. 🙂