Zen in the Crossroads

 

“First of all, no matter how bad they may be, when more than four people gather together to practice, they form a sangha, which is a priceless treasure of the country. This should be most highly respected and honored.”

-Zen Master Dogen

Everyone reading this probably already knows.

Three weeks ago I started a Zen meditation group at the Rime Center.

The Rime Center is a non-sectarian Buddhist temple in the Crossroads Arts District in Kansas City, Missouri. [1]

What’s practiced there is mainly Tibetan style Buddhism, but in the spirit of openness, teachers from other lineages come to give teachings. That’s why I’ve had the opportunity to practice with not only Vajrayana teachers, but also Theravada and Zen teachers.

We were taking a chance in starting a Zen group.

We were inspired by Maezen, who has come to Kansas City and led retreats several times over the years. Although she inspired us to do this, I do have to mention that this is an unaffiliated sitting group. We aren’t connected to her lineage or any other lineage in any ‘official’ way.

There was no way to know how it would go. And my ‘training’ at such things is rather limited. I’ve had to ask for help a few times in remembering the proper order of Zen rituals and etiquette. There is plenty that I don’t know and this is a community effort.

I don’t think of myself as a leader, not really. I don’t really think of myself as a teacher either. I’m no one’s master or role model.

But the practice is the path.

 

A student asked Nakagawa-Soen during a meditation retreat, “I am very discouraged. What should I do?” Soen Roshi replied, “Encourage others.”

 

I think of myself as more of an encourager. I’m feeling discouraged, so I’m encouraging others.

 

Why did we start the Zen group?

Because Kansas City doesn’t have a thriving Zen community. Much smaller cities in the Midwest have big and thriving Zen communities. Wichita, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Omaha…

Why not Kansas City?

There are Zen sitting groups here. But they are few and small in number. And the ones that are here are really not similar to the practices we learned from Maezen. And that’s fine. Even within the Zen sect there’s a lot of diversity. I don’t want to criticize Kwan Um[2] or anyone else. But I do want to say that that’s not the way I want to practice.

And our group has the benefit of being in a Buddhist temple. All across this country there are Zen sitting groups that meet in churches, yoga studios, rec centers, and people’s homes. Meeting in a Buddhist temple means something to me.

I’m thrilled that we have the Rime Center here. It’s been here for 20 years and it might be the most successful Buddhist temple in the Midwest. It’s a part of Kansas City and will remain so for some time. And I’m grateful to Lama Matt for trusting me and believing in this practice enough to give me this opportunity.

Thus far the Zen group is going very well. I’m only judging from a few weeks, of course, but so far we get more attendance than the other groups that meet weeknights at the Rime Center. Every week I have the concern that we will run out of cushions and/or wall space. It hasn’t happened yet but I’ve come to the point where I’m certain that it will.

That’s a good problem to have.

We might even be forced to leave the beautiful small upstairs space and go down to the cavernous shrine room and face the walls down there, if we continue to get more people interested.

This past Monday someone said to me, “I like this practice more than the one in the Sunday service.”

It’s not a competition, of course. Not at all. I’m at that Sunday service every single week. I like it.

But I believe we can offer diverse practice opportunities. I believe we can offer something for everyone.

We’re there Monday nights at 7pm. If you’re in the Kansas City area, come practice with us.

 

FOOTNOTES

  1.  From the Rime Center website:”The Rime Buddhist Center is a (non-sectarian) Center dedicated to the cultivation of wisdom and compassion. The Center is a refuge for the nurturing of inner peace, kindness, community understanding and world peace. The Center’s primary objective is to provide a qualified program of Buddhist studies and Tibetan culture taught by monks, lamas and other Tibetan teachers.The Rime Buddhist Center & Tibetan Institute of Studies has evolved to reach an ever-increasing number of people interested in the study and practice of Buddhism in and around Kansas City. The Rime Center also sponsors meditation retreats and hosts special interest group meetings related to the teaching and practice of Buddhism in everyday life.”
  2.  The Kwan Um School of Zen is a Korean Zen organization that was founded by a teacher named Seung Sahn in the 1980s. There are affiliated branches throughout the United States including one in Lawrence, Kansas called the Kansas Zen Center. The Kwan Um School has a few practices that I don’t connect with very well. I might write about that at a later time, but I just want to say that joining a lineage solely because it’s the only one around might not be the best way to do things. I went through monk training in an organization that drew inspiration from Kwan Um. I was a monk school dropout for reasons I won’t go into here.
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About Daniel Scharpenburg

Daniel Scharpenburg is an independent dharma teacher living in Kansas City. He gives online teachings through the Open Heart Project. He also runs the Monday Night Zen Group at the Rime Buddhist Center. His writing has appeared in Lion's Roar, Patheos, Tattooed Buddha, and Elephant Journal.

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