I've made some changes to the Saturday morning zazen schedule at Hill Street Center. These are posted on a link that's over there to your left.
I'm trying a little experiment. For the next few weeks we will do one 40 minute period of zazen followed by a short chanting service. I want to see how that works out. If it's a bust, we'll go back to two periods of zazen with no chanting.
Last Sunday a few of us made a field trip to Zenshuji in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo district. Zenshuji is the Soto-shu's official temple here in LA and their practice is closer to what you'd find at a Soto temple in Japan. The zendo there is in a basement and the zazen meetings are at 8 AM on Sundays so there's very little noise -- unlike Hill Street Center where you always hear traffic and people and sometimes huge hordes of children in the playground next door. It's also set up like a real zendo, which gives it a very nice atmosphere, whereas HSC is basically a reconverted living room. They do a brief chanting ceremony, much like most Zen temples. I enjoyed it, so I thought I'd try one at our place.
I've been to chanting ceremonies at other places before, like San Francisco Zen Center, Tassajara and other places I've visited. But mostly these are crowded church-like affairs that sort of give me the willies sometimes. Zenshuji did the same kind of services I'd seen elsewhere, but with a much smaller group. I think there were 7 or 8 of us down there. It was nice. I recalled the chanting services Nishijima Sensei used to do once a week at his place in Chiba Prefecture (the first Dogen Sangha). I thought it'd be kind of nice to do this and see what happens.
I also know some people are intimidated at the prospect of doing a whole hour of zazen. But since zazen is the key to the practice, I'm only cutting it down by 20 minutes. A compromise.
I think it's good to visit a number of practice spaces if you can. I've noticed that people who attend just a single teacher's practice often develop a slightly warped attitude (and this includes people who attend only mine, maybe it goes especially for people who attend only mine). I'm not a fan of the practice of running around from meditation center to meditation center picking and choosing the parts you like of each one's practice and rejecting anything that bothers you. I know a lot of teachers out there make a good living offering such cobbled together practices. But I've never seen one of those that had the least bit of value. They're always very nice and completely undemanding. Sweet and useless, like high fructose corn syrup.
On the other hand, it's traditional to visit as many teachers as you like until you find one that suits you. Dogen did this as did a lot of the great teachers of the past. Once you find the right teacher it's best to stick with that teacher even if you don't like everything she or he does or says. The one that suits you won't always be the one you like best. Naturally if they start mixing up cyanide flavored Kool Aid it's probably time to go. But it's not good to jump ship just because certain things bug you. It's good to get bugged sometimes. Often that's exactly what you need. Remember the thing that bugs you is never solely "out there" in your teacher. In a very profound way these are things you create yourself even when they appear to be coming from someone else.
So anyway, it's good to check out other ways of practice and see how they really do things. You'll always be surprised. I know I always am.
Speaking of which, on Sunday Feb. 1st 2009 I will be giving the Dharma Talk at Dharma Zen Center at 1025 S. Cloverdale Avenue, Los Angeles CA 90019. The schedule is as follows:
10am- Morning Bell Chant
This is a Korean style Zen temple and they do things a little differently from how we do them at HSC. Come along and check it out.
Last things: I'll have copies of my new book Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate for sale at Hill Street Center on Saturdays. So if you want one, you can buy it direct.
I've heard that the book is now selling some places. Somebody said they got theirs from Amazon and somebody else told me she bought one in New York City. So go look for 'em!
PART 2: THE GHOST AT NUMBER ONE
I just saw that Zen Wrapped in (etc.) is #1 in Amazon's category of Dharma and #3 in Zen (just after Thich Nhat Hahn and Shunryu Suzuki).