You might remember that I was going to check out another zendo since I’m in search of a teacher. Well, things went quite well and it was so interesting to see the similarities and differences that can occur. In fact, I should have done this process a lot sooner, because it is apparent that I’m already getting too comfortable in my ways. Anyway, here is what I’ve learned:
Size – Wow, sanghas really do come in different flavors. One thing to consider is your own personal learning style. In a smaller sangha, there seems to be more opportunity to connect like a family. This can be challenging, because any family has instances where your buttons will be pushed, which of course leads to more practical experience dealing with people back at your job and at home. In a larger sangha, there is more of a tendency to blend in (well, except when you are screwing up oryoki like me). You might feel close to just a few people and you may not run into them too often. As for teachers, you are more likely to have more contact in a smaller sangha, while in a larger one, seeing a teacher may only happen when you hear the bell. Finally, one other consideration is the roles that you learn. In a smaller sangha you get to wear more hats — you might be the person hitting the gong during a sutra, whereas in a larger sangha, this role may be given to someone with more experience.
Age/Diversity – From my limited experience, this can really vary. For instance, the smaller sangha I visited had less diversity, and more people were over 40. However, at the larger sangha there was more of a range in age and diversity. Age can also become a concern, because if most people seem older and there is a lack of young blood, the sustainability of the sangha becomes a concern. I guess that concern makes me guilty of not being in the present 😉
Oryoki – Who knew that oryoki could have variances… you can do this with or without a placemat, the knot can be tied puffy or flat, you may or may not serve others, it may be done on wooden planks or the bare floor, the food may be spicy or bland, it may or may not be Asian style, and it might resemble a large procession or be more like a family sit down. It’s all so fun and it certainly keeps you on your toes (as intended).
Program – How interesting to hear how the Westernized version of the vows can differ. Some are more poetic, while others are short and sweet. What about saying some of the chants in Japanese? What about different sutras. Again, it’s fun to see what takes hold in different zendos. And by visiting different places you gain exposure to more readings and chants. Sharing at the end of a sesshin can be emotional, and it is also interesting to see how that can take shape. In a larger place, I have seen it done remaining seated in rows on the cushions, merely offering a voice Quaker style. Yet, at a smaller one, things may be done informally with tea and cookies in a circle.
Sleeping Quarters – This can really vary — I’ve had 7 roommates (four snoring) in bunk beds, while at another place I’ve had one roomate (non-snoring) on separate futons on the floor. Again, this is all part of the challenge we face. My husband snores anyway, so I’m pretty broken in.
I know for me, this chance to explore has created more questions. I find it easy to get caught up in what I like and don’t like — even down to kinhin and robes. It is even more proof that what I really need to experience are the things that make me squirm the most. As for picking a zendo, I still remain in the balance. I find that there are assets in all places, and like all things, there is no black and white answer. Maybe this is the problem of being an American and having the luxury of too many choices. I may not be sure where I’m headed tomorrow, but today I’m thankful that zazen even made it here.
Bowing to you…