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a rough day, a good evening, and a gentle form of Zen.

February 24, 2011

Today I woke up not feeling very well.. rather tired.. balance not the best.. feeling out of it.. several days in a row with 6 hours sleep, not good. And, lots of road work being done on the other side of our backyard fence. My parents, aunt and myself currently live along a main road in the area, which is being chewed up and re-done in some fashion this month. Rather aggravating, and at times, terribly noisy.. from around 9 am until 6 pm. Super.

Even though I felt very fatigued (and annoyed that I could not get back to sleep), I still endeavored to get a lot done. The relatives were out on various errands, and I had the house to myself. This is fairly rare, and always nice.

When they are gone, I like to clean up, so they have a nice house to come home to. I did the dishes, cleaned the kitchen, donned an air-filtering mask and cleaned the cat box, used a dustbuster to suck up the cat hair on the stairs, and did a load of laundry. I did not get to my instruments tonight. I was too busy.

I also wrote a blog posting, spoke with my brother a little while on the phone, and did a bit of online house-hunting. No luck. A strange thing.. so many residential areas and yet just about all the houses we find for sale are in one of two sections of town, and all the houses in each section are within 4 or less miles of each other. Peculiar.

I had to go over maps here on the internet to make sure I was heading in the right direction and would not get lost. The drive proved to be uncomplicated. I like that. No streets that suddenly go from two-way to one way. But, on the way to the sangha, the name of the road I traveled on changed three times, and the road I took home, going a different way, the name of the road changed to something else entirely. Odd.

About two hours before I was expecting to leave, I was feeling more ill and tired than earlier in the day, but psychologically rallied myself to feel better so I could go to the meeting, and this actually worked.

I took a bath – I tend to prefer shaving my head bald while I’m in the tub. I have a large cranium, and even though it is only partially covered with hair these days, it requires time for a good smooth shave. I prefer to be sitting in the tub instead of just standing under the running water of the shower. I do that after I’ve shaved.. shower, I mean. It’s just nice to soak.

Strange thing though.. pretty much whenever I take a bath, my mind is especially overactive. I get deep into imaginary conversations with people I’ve met, with famous people (sometimes I daydream that I had just published not one but two bestsellers, and am being interviewed by Charlie Rose), or with people I just make up in my head. My mind races along at an insane pace if it is not involved in imaginary conversations.. and so my baths are not as relaxing as I would like them to be.

Bath and shower and grooming activities finished, I got dressed, loaded up my old military satchel (which is, sad to say, just the right size to be called a man-purse. It might have been carried by my great-grandfather during WWI, or one of my other relatives could have just bought it at an army/navy store. It’s been in the family for awhile, but I don’t know where it came from. I feel a bit odd carrying it, but probably shouldn’t. I got to carry my stuff in something – said stuff being ipod, wallet, glasses cleaner and cloth, mints, sometimes other stuff as well.)

I barely had time to eat. Oscar Meyer Angus beef hotdogs. Taste awesome! And are probably QUITE awful for me. The second ingredient in this .. meat product.. is cultured corn syrup. Great. I’ve also been eating a lot of O.M. bologna lately.. also with corn syrup. In California, almost all the groceries we bought were all natural, and from a wonderful grocery store called Trader Joe’s. There are, as yet, no T’J’s in Idaho, which really sucks. Since I am used to eating all natural food, (except on fairly rare occasions when I eat out), my body is not used to corn syrup. Bleah.

I really really want to change my eating habits, and am seriously contemplating again becoming a vegetarian.. and this time around, not cheating as I did before..used to have a cheeseburger once a week.

Reasons to become a vegetarian : 1. kinder to animals. 2. better for the environment 3. meat is rather fattening and unhealthy to eat.. except for certain nutrients found in meat.

Reasons not to become a vegetarian: 1. I will have to learn to cook a lot more meals (but I want to do this anyway, so that’s alright), 2. When I ate mostly vegetarian last time around, I was almost always hungry right away.. meat seems so much more filling. 3. having to do more research to make sure I get proper protein. 4. lots less choices when dining out. 5. even though I feel bad about eating dead critters, they tend to taste so damn good!

Yes, becoming vegetarian will be a challenge. I will hopefully have at least some help, if I can meet some helpful vegetarians.

But today.. processed meats..some healthy food earlier in the day at least.. but hotdogs are the quickest to prepare, and I was in haste to head out to the sangha.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, (or at least I think I already mentioned this), on Mon., I was driving home from an appointment, and along the way I passed a small and very humble-looking yoga studio. Just the sort of building that might rather appeal to me. I wondered what it looked like inside, and how much the classes were.

Last night, I was doing some more investigating of sanghas (A sangha is a Buddhist community. I suppose I should have said that earlier in the post..). I sent out several emails. 2 of these came back undeliverable. 2 other sanghas have meetings on Tuesday nights, but I am busy on Tuesday nights.

One sangha I noticed has meetings on Wednesday nights – good! And my email was promptly returned.

Turns out the sangha with the conscientious people in it who return emails happens to be the closest one to where I live (the drive is approximately 35 minutes) and it meets in the little yoga studio I had passed earlier in the week. Nice!

The drive out there is quite pleasant too, even though the road changes names three times. Heading east, I see mountains the whole way. I like this general area.. mountains in every direction. Not big huge impressive mountains, but still, nice views, I think.. especially when the mountains have snow on them.

I drove out, later than I expected, but surprisingly not worried about being on time.. no, I don’t mean worried about being late, I mean worried about being on time for the service. My plan was to show up early and help put out the mats and pillows. Since I don’t have much money to contribute to the sangha to help them rent out the yoga studio for a little while, I give my time and energy.

I arrived precisely at the time I had hoped to, even though the car almost ran out of gas on the way. Conveniently, I had just passed a gas station when the low fuel light went on. I drive a Toyota Corrolla (however that is spelled). Good gas mileage, small gas tank, quick and relatively inexpensive to fill. And such good timing! Perfect time to have the low fuel light go on. Wow.

Made it to the yoga studio right on time to be as early as I’d planned. I helped set up a little, but, since I and a woman were new – first timers at the sangha, one of the senior guys took time to tell us a little about the service, so I didn’t have much time to help set up. That’s alright. I’ll be helping more in the future, I’m planning.

This particular Buddhist group practices Vietnamese Zen. There are many many types of Buddhism in the world, spread throughout Asia, and eventually spread out through the United States and other countries as well.

In Southeast Asia (where Vietnam is located), another type of Buddhism, called Theravada is generally practiced. I do not know why they practice a type of Zen in Vietnam. By the way, there are two main branches of Buddhism – Theravada and Mahayana. Please don’t ask me to explain the difference, because I have forgotten.

Those are the two main branches.. I don’t know if there are many types of Theravadan Buddhism, but I do know that there are MANY different types of Mahayana Buddhism. There are even slightly different versions of one type of Mahayana Buddhism called Zen. There is Chinese Zen (which is actually called Chan) several types of Japanese Zen (“Zen” is a Japanese word), and Vietnamese Zen. I don’t know what the word “Zen” is in Vietnamese.

The main patriarch of Vietnamese Zen is still living, although, like the Dalai Lama, he is quite old. Also, like the Dalai Lama, he has written lots of books that are beloved by Buddhists worldwide. Unlike the Dalai Lama, this man is not well-known by non-Buddhists. His name is Thich Nhat Hanh. His name is pronounced “Tick Not Han.” “Han” sounds like “Han Solo.” You get the idea. Up ’til tonight, I’d always pronounced this man’s first name as “thick,” not “tick.” Good thing I have not talked about him much in the past.

I have read a little of one of his books.. don’t remember the title, but was not in the mood for it at the time. I will soon attempt to read some of his material though, probably starting with a book simply entitled, “Happiness.”

Thich Nhat Hanh is sometimes called “Ty,” – that’s how he was referred to about half the time during the meeting. I don’t know why his name is shortened to Ty. I find that distracting.. and also that his name sounds like “Tick.” I get weird word associations. I don’t want to think of this guy, then think of a tiny and disgusting bloodsucking little critter that spreads a bad disease. Maybe that’s why this guy is called Ty.

He lived in Vietnam until sometime during the Vietnam War, or so I was told. I do not know what happened to monks in Vietnam as it split into two countries (North Vietnam being communist, the South, not). I do know that some monks, to protest the war, sat down in the middle of city streets, dowsed themselves with gasoline, entered some sort of meditative trance, and set themselves on fire. If you have seen the cover of the first album by the band Rage Against the Machine, you have seen one of these burning monks.

Mr. Hanh did not set himself on fire, as far as I know. Instead, he went to France. Interesting choice. France controlled Vietnam, before the anti-colonial forces fought the French and won. While the French were still fighting their war, in what was then called French Indochina, during the 1950’s, we already had CIA and other sneaky American personnel over there checking things out. The war went horribly wrong for the French. We Americans figured we were much bigger badasses then the French, so decided to sort of pick up where the French left off. The French wanted to hold onto control of their colony .. and failed. America wanted to prevent Vietnam from becoming a completely communist country.. and failed.

And Mr. Hanh set up a monastery in France. I don’t know if he still lives there. Through his books, and probably some visits to the US, the form of Buddhism he practices has spread. It is not as likely to be found as Japanese Zen, but you will find Vietnamese Zen sanghas here and there in America and other parts of the western world.

I had tried Japanese Zen when I was still living in California. It was pretty hardcore. More intense in some ways than the service I went to this past evening, even though the structure was similar. In both the Japanese and Vietnamese Zen services, there is a period of meditation (facing a wall and breathing.. counting one’s breaths.. that’s pretty much it), followed by a time of walking around the room in a circle..slowly .. this is called walking meditation, then 20 more minutes of zazen (sitting meditation) only facing each other this time.. a bit distracting..) and then a talk at the end.

The vibe is different though. The people (all of them non-Asian) leading the Japanese group were all ordained, wearing full robes, rather formal.. We were instructed to hold our arms and hands in a certain (QUITE uncomfortable position) as we sat on our cushions, tried to keep our backs straight while we meditated. Then, in the Japanese-style service, we had a chant, and did some prostrations.. prostrations … you’ve seen these movements before.. Muslims do a similar prostration in their services.. bending down then laying flat on the floor, then back up again..

Then a dharma talk.. with tea. I cannot tell you what a relief it was to get to the end of the service when it was time for the dharma talk (a little sermon of sorts, with discussion, perhaps).

The group I went to tonight.. more laid back. Led by a guy in what looked more like a martial arts uniform than a robe – brown trousers and brown loose shirt. The other senior member had sweat pants on and a brown shirt.

A more relaxed atmosphere in a far more comfortable room. The Japanese service was in a tiny room that was on the campus of a Brethren church. Even though less than ten people attended those services most of the time, the room still felt cramped. And, they turned all the lights off, just had a few candles burning, and the air circulation system made very strange, odd noises, quite distracting.

The yoga studio had pleasant light, plenty of room, nice setting, not at all cramped, even though over 30 people showed up! That’s a good turnout! Especially considering the astonishing amount of Christian and Mormon churches in this area. It’s amazing there are any Buddhists at all out here. There’s a street nearby where I live.. it’s quite a sight.. a Christian church right next to a Mormon church.. they practically share the same parking lot. Hurray for Buddhists in this area. At least there are some sanghas here.

This particular group has been in existence since the 1990’s, and has a committed bunch of members. I like that.

This group likes to sing.. Buddhist hymns in English.. probably written by Americans.. some translated from the ancient languages of Pali or Sanskrit perhaps, but some of them written by Americans, I am guessing. No chanting of any sutra tonight. I don’t know if they chant sutras at all. A sutra is a.. well, a chant.. translated from one of the two ancient languages mentioned above. I actually like chanting a sutra as part of a service. That was one thing the Japanese-style sangha had going for it.

Tonight, we mercifully only had one period of sitting meditation, followed by walking meditation, then, instead of the second session of sitting meditation, we got together and had a discussion of the future of the sangha.. I was the first to speak out, and learned the hard way that during a dharma discussion, the person speaking first has to bow, then talk, then bow when done. They were nice about it though.. telling me this.. of course, since there were several of us first-timers, they could have told us this beforehand. Oh well. I only felt a little embarrassed, and only turned a little red.

My question was..”Does the group regularly do singing and/or chanting? Cuz I like that.” I was told the group likes to sing.. regularly, and chants occasionally. One of the older members of the group brought 2 CD’s of songs over to me. That was very nice of him.

Other topics that came up.. one woman wanted to start a Buddhist camp.. they talked about that awhile. I’m tired right now, and don’t remember much of what else was discussed. This group conversation was a continuation of what had been going on in the previous two meetings, so some of it went over my head, no worries.

Overall, a much more pleasant service with the Vietnamese Zen group. No Vietnamese people in it of course.

There are ethnic Asian Buddhist sanghas – and I don’t think non-Asians are especially welcome in most of these.. also, the services in these sanghas are in Cambodian or Vietnamese or Thai, etc., and most Westerners don’t speak these languages.

The other sanghas.. comprised mostly of white people. This may seem odd, but consider that the vast majority of Christians in this world are not ethnic Jews, like Jesus was.

Well anyway.. a nice service.. a more gentle style of Zen. I liked it. I plan on going again, and sticking with it pretty much every Wednesday evening.

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