I have not devoted a full day to myself in a few weeks, so today I planned to do make some collage pictures, stay in doors and lay low — that is until I read one of the blogs I follow. I really don’t remember how I stumbled on to Brad Warner’s books. He is a fifty-year old Zen priest who lived in Santa Monica (He now lives in Philadelphia), plays in a punk band and wrote three books about Zen Buddhism. They aren’t the typical mainstream Zen books you will find in your local bookstore. That’s probably why his writings clicked with me (I am anything but mainstream). So last night I looked to see what he was writing about and discovered he is here for the day, in Culver City, California. That is about an hour north of me. My collage would have to wait. I was going to sit Zazen with Brad and other devotees.
My day started at 7am. After a quick breakfast and walking the dogs, I was on the 405 freeway to formally sit Zazen, something I haven’t done in ten years. The freeway was clear which is a good and bad. If it’s rush hour, cars are going slower and I feel more relaxed. If the roads are clear, drivers speed and dart in and out of traffic. There’s always some guy riding my bumper. I go the speed limit, so I guess the guy behind me thinks, if he gets close enough to my rear-end I’ll speed up. That never works but it sometimes makes me nervous. Today I ignored them and thought back to when I went to the San Francisco Zen Center.
When I lived in the City I went several times a month to sit 5:30pm Zazen. I really enjoyed meditating with a group and reciting the Heart Sutra at the end. Would today’s experience be the same or different? The last time I sat Zazen was New Year’s Eve 2004. I took the city bus, which was free to all riders that night, to keep party goers who had too much to drink, from driving. It was an interesting experience coming back from midnight Zazen and watching other passengers. At one point someone stood up and sang, “The wheels on the bus go round and round.” The others quickly joined in. It was quite a contrast from the hour long silent meditation I just came from.
I was in Culver City before I knew it. We were meeting in a room at the Veteran’s Memorial Building. Right across the street is Sony Picture Studios. The Sony Pictures (where they make movies and television shows). How cool is that!
I had no idea which room we were meeting in so I just wandered the building until I spotted Brad (He looks just like his photos on the book jacket) standing around waiting for someone to open the door. There were around seventeen of us when we started. The last time I sat Zazen I did not have a walker. Today I brought my fancy one that comes with a seat so I could sit and meditate on that.
When you do Zazen meditation you keep your eyes open (barely open anyway) and face a wall. The wall I was facing had a large window above me and the blinds were partially open. I couldn’t reach the stick to close them, so the hot sun was on my face the whole time. I ended up squinting because of the sun’s rays. Oh well, I was sitting Zazen and that’s all that mattered.
For the most part my monkey brain behaved, but I did find myself daydreaming about being outdoors in a motor home, enjoying the day. The scene in my mind was quite relaxing so I decided to let the images hang around for a while. It was certainly better than rehashing old arguments with people, something I can do all day long if I allow it. Meditation has really helped put a stop to that. I still get those thoughts, but I see them for what they are and can move on.
We meditated for thirty minutes (which felt like ten) and before I knew it we were having a discussion about what it means to be a bodhisattva and what taking the vows of a bodhisattva mean. I don’t know if that is what Brad had in mind for his dharma talk, but that was the first question someone asked. This group was less formal than San Francisco, which is fine with me. One of the things I want to practice more of is to “go with the flow.” I figure I am here today for the experience and hopefully learn something, and I did.
I learned that I live my life (although not perfectly) as a bodhisattva already. I do try to be kind to others and to take care of creatures big and small. Here is a quick reference to those vows:
A few weeks ago my kitchen was over run with ants. We are in the midst of a drought and they are looking for water and they found it — in my kitchen. They found the cat food too. How would I ever get them back outside? I keep a clear plastic cup in a cupboard to relocate critters that find their way indoors, but there were too many ants to do that. I vacuumed them up and I felt terrible. They can’t help it. They are wanting to survive. I would do the same thing if I were an ant, unless I was the Queen ant, then I’d sit around doing queen stuff (whatever that is).
My point is that I don’t like to see any sentient creature suffer, whether it’s a homeless person or an ant. We all have a right to be here on this beautiful planet and I think we all basically want the same thing — to live in peace and enjoy life. I am guessing that ants feel the same way (I know they don’t have brains) but we don’t know what they “feel.” Just because a creature is physically different than us doesn’t mean they experience life any differently. After many studies we now know that animals experience similar emotions like us humans. Why not ants?
A couple hours after I arrived for Zazen, I was back on the freeway heading back to Anaehim. I enjoyed myself. I even got to recite the Heart Sutra with the group. I was home.
This is a good video of the Heart Sutra that I do by myself:
If you’re interested in Zen Buddhism from a different perspective, check out Brad’s books: