One City

The truth is, I’m an accidental Soto Zen Buddhist.  When I initially
learned to meditate, I had little interest in sticking to any particular tradition.  I liked to call myself a “non-denominational” Buddhist and didn’t really see a need to identify with one school of Buddhism or another.  When I moved to Kansas, I joined a Soto Zen group, not
because I was interested in Zen at all but because this group seemed to
focus primarily on sitting, which happened to be exactly what I wanted to
do.  Also, there really aren’t tons of Buddhist groups to choose from
here so I took what I could get.  The funny thing is, looking back on
it, I think I also found the group that I didn’t even know I needed.

There was a Buddhist Geeks podcast episode a few months back called,
“You Will Get the Dharma You Need,” with Tami Simon.  It took me a little while to
realize it, but I think Zen and the Soto school in particular is the
dharma I need.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m an engineer.  Engineering
tends to attract a certain type of person.  Specifically, the curious,
analytical types who love to solve problems and get real results.  For
a while, I took the “hard-core” approach to the dharma.  I wanted to
know all about jhanas and how to reach some higher states of
consciousness and I wanted it all laid out plain as day in a map or
algorithm that I could simply follow and study my way to
enlightenment.  Then, I’d go in to talk to my Zen teacher with
questions on how to become a better person and his ever-predictable
response was: “just keep sitting.”  What?  Just keep sitting? And then
what do I do??  The truth was, I really didn’t like this response.  It felt like
someone telling me to just sit down and shut-up and my natural response
was to want to rebel against it.  It took me a while to see that this
was exactly the dharma I needed.

I spend my days thinking and
solving problems for hours on end.  Even when I get off work, I’m
constantly trying to schedule my days and get everything I want to
accomplish squeezed in.  So, when I sit down to meditate, my “left-brain”
is still running on all cylinders, cranking out answers to questions I
don’t even have yet.  The down side of this, of course, is that it’s
very easy for me to get off balance and go too far down the left-brain,
logical road.  This sort of thinking leads me to become very critical
of the actions of people around me and has been known to make me quite
an irritable and testy person.  When I think I’m was just being helpful or
curious, my loved ones sometimes see me as overly questioning and correcting
their actions.  In my hyper-logical way of thinking, I’m just trying to
help the person out, even if they don’t want to be helped.

is where Zen has come into my life and helped bring it into balance. 
Once I quit rebelling against the teachings I was hearing and began
learning more about them and really trying to practice in the Soto
style, I began to slowly but surely notice that my logical mind was
starting to quiet, giving my “right-brain” an opportunity to operate. 
You see, in my practice lineage, to practice zazen (or sitting meditation) is
basically to practice enlightenment itself.  As Matsuoka Roshi (my teacher’s
teacher) said: “This is because the practice of meditation and its
wisdom – enlightenment – are not separate.  Even the sitting of a
beginner will be a brilliant one which has the “lining” of right
enlightenment of the Shakyamuni Buddha.” (“The Kyosaku” p. 115)  As a result, in sitting zazen,
there really is nothing for my logical mind to analyze and figure out,
no problem to be solved.  Once I just sit long enough to let my logical
brain settle down, I’m able to come into a greater sense of balance, which I can
then take off the cushion and into daily life.  I guess it turns out my teacher
was right, I did just need to keep sitting afterall.

Don’t get me wrong I’m not
saying that other schools of Buddhism don’t have a lot to offer myself
or others.  I’ve read books by teachers from many different traditions
including Tibetan and Theravadin and I’ve received a lot of very
beneficial teachings from these sources.  But, I think the Soto school
presented a very direct challenge to my normal way of thinking; a challenge that I needed. 
Instead of allowing me to use my usual analytical thinking style to
practice meditation algorithms or even make an attempt at Koan study
(where it eventually would have fallen short, I’m sure), Soto Zen put
up a road block for me right away.  It challenged me right up front to
let go of all of my hard won problem solving skills and “just sit.” 
I’m the type of person who really needs to be challenged in order for
me to grow on a deep level.  Once I finally agreed to listen, I began
to slowly, dimly understand the wisdom behind the teaching.  I think
I’m finally starting to learn how to really sit down and shut-up.

I send it out to you.  Have you found “the dharma you need?”  If so,
did it find you or did you find it?  If not, don’t dispair!  There are
so many spiritual traditions out there, I truly believe there’s
something for everyone.  Just keep practicing

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