Hello Poep Sa Nim
I also wanted to say a personal thank you for all your investment in me and teaching. You were committed to supporting me and made me feel comfortable however often I did or didn't join the Sangha.
Sorry I didn't get to say this in person to you.
What I have learnt from you has helped me day to day in so many ways so thank you again. I will carry on my practice here in Amarica and hopefully our paths will cross again one day. I have found Kwan Um School here in Los Angeles and will get in touch with them once they have finished their winter break.
I wish you and the Sangha the best
Alone or with Sangha: what is the difference?
Finding the right balance in our lives is not easy, and we often go astray looking for it. This is why we sit; to realise we already have it.
Living in London often means being bombarded with people, advertisement, cars, light and sound. Our senses are constantly stimulated, and we often lose our way in keeping up with work and family responsibilities.
In the midst of this chaos, people become dissatisfied with their lives, seeking pleasure in many forms and nurturing their egos. Through only living for an inexistent past and future, ignoring the eternal now, suffering arises for themselves and others.
Over 2400 years ago, the Buddha taught the world about Dharma and showed us how our suffering is the product of our desires and attachments. As soon as we seek happiness and balance outside of ourselves, we are soon lost and deviate from the Way.
With ‘don’t know mind’, we find out who we really are. Keeping this with us in our daily activities, practicing continuously, and diligently polishing the mirrors of our minds, we adopt the wisdom and compassion of the Great Bodhisattvas and free ourselves and all sentient beings from the chains of mental suffering.
The Three Jewels of Buddhism are Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Now, we will address the last in particular, and we will see how both practicing alone and practicing with the Sangha are beneficial and necessary.
Practicing at Zen Centre
After a month’s absence from the London Zen Centre, I have been brought back to the primary point, with a clear mind and clear direction in my practice. Bowing, chanting, sitting and walking with the Sangha has nourished my confidence and encouraged me to continue practicing diligently, strengthening my faith in ‘original mind’. In sitting with other practitioners, we grow as a collective spirit, mirroring one another to reflect our true nature: “Your enlightenment is my enlightenment!”
The Sangha gives me a sense of belonging, a spiritual family with whom to practice. Our tradition, which the Sangha has beautifully preserved for us (all the way from the time of the Buddha), gives me comfort and faith in the Way. The Sangha encourages me to realize my true nature, moment to moment. Sitting with other people in the Dharma room, there is no separation between us. This is the cultivation of a profound love, the boundless spirit of Zen.
It is, for me, a true gift to have a teacher, someone who watches you grow, season after season, like a blossoming tree. His role is to awaken the intuition we all have, the ‘don’t know mind’. The teacher’s stick always points to the truth, and is used to cut short all discriminative thinking (which we almost always use in our usual problem-solving state of consciousness). This is delusion, when we are unaware of our true nature.
It is important for me to return following a month of practicing alone, to express my true nature in kongan interviews and to have my intuition stirred from its deep sleep. During the interviews, the teacher addresses the student and the student responds. Although this is just an informal conversation, what happens is actually quite special. The kongan points straight to our mind. The teacher acts as a big mirror for us, and it is up to us to find an appropriate response. At that moment, the student is the teacher and the teacher is the student. But when you finally get the point, the student is again the student, and the teacher is once more the teacher. This is the true understanding, and why it is important to have contact with teacher once in a while.
The Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree for seven days before attaining supreme enlightenment. Likewise, for nine years Bodhidharma lived in a cave, sitting alone in complete silence. He sat in a profound peaceful and blissful state. But that’s not the point. The point is we should do the same when we are not practicing in the Zen Centre. We must remind ourselves we are born and die alone, however many people we surround ourselves with in our lifetime. But we must also be encouraged by our faith in the ‘original mind’. And this is the birth of responsibility.
When we find ourselves unable to attend weekly practice, perhaps due to living away temporarily, or having other commitments, to continue with practice is very important. For what value does practice have if it cannot be used in our everyday lives?
Therefore we must continue practicing every day, to anchor ourselves like a mountain in cloud. It is true that sitting alone is more difficult: we are prone to feeling frustrated, unable to deal with thoughts, and loosing our way. But that is fine. Just go with that! The trick is to stop checking: “Was my practice good enough?” Who cares! If you bow every morning and sit in the evening, just doing it and without checking, good fortune will prevail.
Balance in your life occurs naturally when you put the right effort in your practice alone. To look for balance is to lose balance. This is why, even when we are one thousand miles away from the nearest Zen Centre, we must continue working ardently and diligently. The importance of discipline cannot be stressed enough.
To schedule practice is not a bad idea. We always seem to complain about “not having enough time”. However, this is very wrong, for we cannot forget that you have all the time there is: which is now! So continue practicing alone, to retain the spirit of the tradition outside the Zen Centre, staying mindful and selfless in whatever you do. The founder of our School and eternal teacher Zen Master Seung Sahn once said “just go straight” and “just don’t know”. We must have faith in our Buddha nature and do just that.
In summary, practicing with the people at your local Zen Centre is no different to practicing alone at home. Realising the interdependence of both is rewarding, and beneficial to our practice. Keeping our minds as wide and clear as space, and our attention as sharp as the tip of a needle, we never go astray (whether with people or by ourselves).
Practicing with Sangha at the Zen Centre, we are always alone. Practicing alone at home, the whole world sits with us. In both cases, the whole world is a single flower!