So on Sunday Ajahn Chandako and I took a trip into Auckland as he was scheduled to give a talk at the Auckland Zen Center. I’ve always been slightly curious about Zen, having read a little on it’s methods and traditions, having heard more from Ajahn Chandako about it (who started out in the Zen tradition), plus it’s Japanese, and therefore cool! Well we were the first to arrive, and waited for a few minutes, but soon after opening, people began to arrive, mostly on bike, but a few on foot and a few drivers…Normal Kiwis, all…Except for one, who introduced himself right away as Richard. Turns out he’s an American like Ajahn and myself, and from Rochester, so a Western New Yorker, to boot. Oh, and he was a midget.
Anyways…So the Zen practitioners all changed into monastic robes, which was a bit unusual since only monks walk about in robes in the Theravadan tradition, and prepared for the meditation session. As soon as everyone lined up to walk into the meditation hall I realized I was in trouble, as out the dozen or so folks there I was the only person who had no training or prepping whatsoever in Zen custom. Ajahn and Richard walked in first, taking seats at the back of the room, which was about 10 x 20 or so. I walked in next, and Richard pointed down a row of cushions towards the Buddha image, so I walked to the back of the room and sat. And the person behind me walked on…Aaaand walked past me, then in front of the Buddha, and back up the next row. Doh! Oh well, minor infraction. I had to eye everyone to keep up with the chanting and when to bow, but managed to put in a decent show of it.
When the meditation time came, we did a few unusual things; for one, we faced the wall. Apparently that’s how it’s done in Zen. Since the session wasn’t guided, I just went with my usual breath meditation for the first session, eyes closed. But apparently, the Zen practitioners have their eyes half-open and stare at the wall. They develop one-pointed concentration through the eye-sense, rather than the breath, which is interesting to me at least. So 15 minutes in, I hear footsteps as Richard gets up, and walks over to the Buddha, and picks up…The STICK!!! The dreaded Zen stick I’d heard so much about. In Zen, the master will sometimes whack a student on the shoulders with a stick on specific pressure points to stimulate blood flow if their concentration is waning; the student can request it as well or the master might just whack them just because. Honestly; had I known how to request it, I’da asked for the stick, just to see what it was like. That, and getting hit by a midget with a stick is just too amusing. But alas, I did not…But I did hear the results and it sounded rather hard.
During that session I sat in the Thai style, legs folded beneath me, which I generally don’t do for an entire session. So when the half-hour was over, I was pretty rubber-legged…And was trying to stretch it out when all of a sudden, everyone just gets up all at once, no warning, no nothing, and stand, hands folded together. Gods damnit…So I did my darn best to stand, not being able to feel my legs below the knees, and somehow managed, though I had to brace myself against the wall at least once. And they all started filing out the door. DAMNIT!!! So I take a tentative step…Then another…And somehow, miraculously, keep from falling over, as I still can’t feel my legs…And we file out to do some walking meditation for 15 minutes or so.
We eventually came back and did another sitting session, which i spent meditating on the pain in my legs and my aversion to it, which went quite well, and then sat attentively as Ajahn Chandako, guest speaker, gave a talk first on his memories as an early Zen practitioner, which was interesting, and then on the importance of Dana (generosity), which was his actual talk topic heh. It was good hearing a bit more about Ajahn’s early history that he hadn’t shared; he got interested in Buddhism at 27, though I could not and still can’t imagine Ajahn with long hair and drumsticks in his pocket like he described himself…
Right before the meal, Ajahn pointed out a statue to me. I’m pretty sure it was an Oni figure from Japanese mythology, but it was golden, Buddha-ish, and had FANGS AND A SAMURAI SWORD!!! Ajahn Chandako says "hey, now here’s a Buddha you could really get into!" which brought more than a few laughs from me. Black robes…Evil Buddha…Stick of smiting…Zen Buddhism is for Sith lords! Count me in!