Posted in zen

Zen Failure?

I ran a Zen sitting group at the Rime Buddhist Center for two years. At least I think it lasted two years…

Anyway, it started right after my divorce. I was a wreck and I asked for the opportunity.

The main reason I did this was so I’d have something to do Monday nights.

I love this old Zen story:

STUDENT: Master, I am feeling discouraged, what should I do?
MASTER: Encourage others.

I was feeling very discouraged.

But also I wanted to see if people in this Tibetan Buddhist community would be interested in something different. As it turned out, not very many of them were interested, but that’s okay.

I want to write now about my mistakes, about how I’d do things differently if I ran a sitting group now.

I’m not going to go into detail about what our practice was, except to say that there was some sitting, some walking, and just a little bit of chanting. And also, bells and banging the wooden fish. You know, regular Zen stuff.

But, what’s significant to me now is what I didn’t do. I led this practice for two years and I didn’t give any talks. I didn’t give any talks and I didn’t open up for questions. I just handed out instructions and introduced myself and we just did the practice and went home. Now it feels like I didn’t even really try.

And that is my regret. I could have been giving talks, sharpening my teaching skills and engaging people.

So why didn’t I?
It starts with confidence. Back then I didn’t have it. I didn’t know, in spite of all my training, if I was good enough. I didn’t know if I was capable. I didn’t have nearly the level of experience that I have now.  Now I’ve given over 100 talks. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true.

But there’s more, of course.

Two of the people that came to my sitting group are students of a Zen Priest that they travel to go retreat with. And I was glad to have them. They helped me design aspects of the practice and lead chants. They were so very helpful. And at some level I thought it wouldn’t be okay for me to be giving talks because they already had a teacher and it wasn’t me.

Sometimes our minds really lead us down weird paths and when try to follow what we were thinking it’s hard to understand.

Looking back it’s so weird to me that I felt that way because I think they would have liked seeing me give talks. I was just…well, timid, I guess.

And, of course, once I spent a few weeks not giving talks…well, inertia took over. It was too late to change what I was doing. Or at least it felt that way.

Anyway, people would come and not come back. Some of that is, of course, curiosity. But I often wonder if some of those one-time visitors might have come back if they had been able to hear a talk or I had been better in some other way.

Ultimately the group didn’t really grow. There were even some nights where I sat alone. Attendance was not good and it kept getting worse.

And really it’s because I was afraid to teach. I didn’t have the confidence that I have now.

 

So it feels like those two years were wasted. But maybe they helped me prepare in some way.


 

I’m not leading a sitting group anywhere now.

But if you want to see me, please look at my Events Page

 


and if you want me to come give a talk at your event or your temple…please, let me know.

 

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Author:

Daniel is a Zen Teacher in Kansas City. He leads Fountain City Meditation, a floating meditation community. Daniel is affiliated with the Dharma Winds Tradition, where he ordained in 2018. Daniel is a co-owner of the website The Tattooed Buddha and he has a weekly podcast called Scharpening the Mind.

4 thoughts on “Zen Failure?

  1. Love your honesty and genuine humility…often those we teach are not apparent to us…they may be there absence physical presence. You excel in teaching. _(I)_

  2. Your honesty and genuine humility are virtues of a true teacher…often times we teach to an audience unknown to us because they are not physically present. You are an awakened teacher and one it seems who effortlessly uses uppaya.

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