Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Having a Solo Practice

In Buddhist practice, there is am emphasis on the sangha, the community, the group in which one practices. There are many reasons for this as you can well imagine. I think it’s the same with martial arts practice.

There are times however, when we must practice on our own; perhaps even in a hostile environment. This is especially true given out current situation with the Corona Virus. A solo practice requires a special kind of discipline.

Below is an excerpt from Hardcore Zen, where the author of the blog (well known author/Zen priest Brad Warner) addresses a letter he received on this topic by relating some of his own experiences.

The full post may be read here. Enjoy.

I got an email and it went something like this:

“I spent the last little while practicing with a sangha at a fairly large Zen temple, but recently I’ve had to move several hours away to help run my family’s farm in a rural area. What is your advice about practicing with minimal support or potentially planting a sangha where one doesn’t already exist.” 

Practicing with minimal support? I’ve done plenty of that. I’ve even practiced while living with someone who was openly antagonistic to Zen. Basically, you just keep on keeping’ on, as the hippies used to say.

Here’s my story, if you want to know. 

When I first started doing zazen, I was living in Kent, Ohio with a born-again Christian. Don’t ask. It’s embarrassing.

Anyway, she did not like the fact that I was involved in such devilish voodoo as Buddhism. 

And she especially did not like that I practiced it each and every morning and night. 

She rarely went as far as interrupting my zazen. But I had to make my zazen fit into her schedule. 

Which mostly meant doing it when she wasn’t around or when she was asleep. Or else she’d “accidentally” make noise or otherwise bother my practice.

How did I keep going? Y’know… it’s hard to say. I had a strong feeling that this practice was something I needed in my life. The conviction was so powerful it sometimes makes me wonder if there really is such a thing as reincarnation. Cuz it was almost as if I’d done zazen in a past life and I knew I needed to do it in this one too.

Not that I necessarily believe that explanation. But there wasn’t anything in my background prior to discovering zazen that would have made me particularly predisposed to getting into it that deeply.

Then, after dealing with that for a while, I moved to Chicago. While I was in Chicago, I was terribly shy. I found it really, really hard to make friends. I did find a couple of Zen places in town. But when I went to them, the shyness and social anxiety flared up big time. I didn’t talk to anyone and I put out a spiky sort of vibe that was effective in keeping other people from talking to me. 

The result was that I didn’t go to those sanghas very often. Not enough to feel like I was part of them in any way. Which meant most of my zazen practice was done at home alone.

And remember, kids, there was no such thing as the Internet in those days. I couldn’t just read a Buddhist blog or watch YouTube videos of Zen teachers and feel some support that way. I don’t even think there were even any Buddhist magazines then. If there were, I didn’t know about them. Your average newsstand in the 80’s was not likely to carry Buddhist magazines next to its copies of Playboy and Sports Illustrated.

After Chicago, I moved into the infamous Clubhouse in Akron, Ohio. That was a punk rock house where a bunch of people in bands who didn’t have much money to spend pooled their cash to share a broken down house that no respectable person would want to live in. 

Those guys weren’t antagonistic to my practice. But try sitting zazen with a band rehearsing in the basement, all their amps turned up to eleven. Or with parties going on. Or with the daily temptation to just hang out and get high with everybody and watch Green Acres and Hogan’s Heroes reruns. It takes a certain amount of discipline. But if I can do it, anyone can.

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