First the plugs. My next talk/book signing is at Bodhi Tree Books in Los Angeles at 7pm March 12th. The address is: 8585 Melrose Ave. West Hollywood, CA 90026. It's free and open to the public.
Also, I'll be at the Dharma Punx place in Hollywood leading zazen and talking on Sunday March 15th at 11am. This will be a monthly thing. Although I won't be there for the April one and I'm not 100% sure about May, my Dharma Brother Kevin Bortolin will lead the ones I can't make it to. The address is 4300 Melrose (between Heliotrope and Vermont) Los Angeles, CA 90029.
Continuing with the Q&A stuff:
I was angry today. I have made this commitment to sit zazen for 20 minutes every night before I go to work. Not wanting to break this commitment to my self, I sat. I sat and I was angry. It took me a good 10 minutes to calm down, and yet I was still angry. I sat, I breathed. I sat with my anger. I acknowledged it. By the end of the 20 minutes I was still angry, but in a way I was "OK with it." I wanted to ask you about your experience with anger and sitting zazen. I would assume, being that your a human being just like my self, that you would have dealt with this as well.
According to "reliable sources," I am an angry Zen teacher -- perpetually in the thrall of seething rage! So who better to ask?
Actually, I don't feel a whole lot of anger anymore. Not like I used to, anyway. I used to be a breaker of stuff. The dashboard of every car I owned was caved in. All of my closet doors were beyond repair.
My experience with anger in zazen is pretty much like yours. It's good to do zazen when you're angry because you can't do any damage that way. You let it be just as it is but you refuse to act upon any of your habitual responses to it. Still, by sitting you are acting on it. Zazen is not avoidance!
Anger is the ultimate ego boost. "Bad" feelings are much better than "good" ones to reinforce your sense of self because they give you something clear to contrast it with. I'm not like that guy! He's wrong! I'm right!!
And, in truth, maybe you are right. Which will only make it worse!
Anger is energy. But it's not very useful. It squanders your resources and makes you behave stupidly. So it's best to avoid. It's energy the way eating Pixie Sticks or shooting speed is energy. If you're right and the other guy is wrong, you need to deal with that situation without anger -- if you're truly interested in resolving it and not just interested in proving yourself right. It's no good to be complacent in the face of a situation that calls for change. But it's no good to scream and yell because that just builds up the other person's anger and exacerbates the situation.
Sometimes walking away is good too. Sometimes you walk away and you stay away for a long, long time because you know the situation is not going to be resolved as long as it continues to anger you.
OK? Be happy!
I made an appointment for instruction at a local Soto Zen place. It went well and I had decided to start trying to sit with them. Then, near the end of the interview, the guy I spoke to mentioned that at some point a person (I'm sorry, I don't remember the correct terms) would come around and, if we gave the signal, hit us with a stick.
What is the deal with being hit with a stick in Soto Buddhism? I still want to sit with this group, but I don't understand the stick and it kind of freaks me out.
Ah, the kiyosaku! The "staff of instruction!" Yep. It's a common feature in Zen temples. In the old days it was common for a guy to come around looking for anyone who was slacking off in their practice and just whack them with the stick. That still happens, but it's pretty rare. Nowadays places that still use the kiyosaku tend to use it only when a student specifically asks for it.
Neither of my teachers used it. But I've been to temples where you could ask for it. I found that incredibly annoying. You're trying to do zazen and all of a sudden from the other side of the room, whack! whack! I hate that!
People who like the kiyosaku will go on and on endlessly about the benefits. How it stimulates the nerves and spurs concentration and blahblahblah... Once I was at a retreat where some kiyosaku lover went on and on like that to Nishijima Roshi. Nishijima just listened politely and when the guy was done he said, "That may be true. But I think it's better to wake up by yourself."
Still, if the only place in your area is one that uses the kiyosaku when students ask for it, I'd just go. The masochists generally get tired of it within the first few minutes and the rest of the sitting is peaceful and quiet. Plus if you never ask for it, you never get hit!