Most of the zen centers (if not all) in the Kwan Um School of Zen have shut their doors temporarily to maintain social distancing in response to the pandemic. It’s been gratifying to see how sanghas have begun ways to reach out in virtual community to practice together. Now we can live stream on YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook and Zoom. We can get dharma talks, download chanting books, read ebooks and all from the comfort of your own home. The only thing you can’t do is hug your sangha members which I am totally looking forward to when we are able to sit together again. Since every zen center has been experimenting with their online presence, I’ve had the opportunity to be in touch more with our worldwide sangha.
Recently I had the good fortune to practice zen chanting and meditation with members of the Las Vegas Zen Center. My own teacher, Zen Master Ji Haeng, is the guiding teacher there, but Las Vegas is a 2 day drive for me so it was nice to see that I could, at last, have a virtual practice with a sangha that means so much to him. I pushed the button on my computer to join them on Zoom and my presence was soon acknowledged by the leader of this Zoom practice. I muted my button so that I could chant along with him. The internet often gives me the chills – it’s just so cool that I can chant along with someone in Las Vegas in real time and be in my home in Kansas. Every participant had their computers muted, but I could see them all chanting.
Soon chanting was over and we began sitting meditation. The leader said we would be sitting approximately 40 minutes and asked that we all face outward and so I dutifully turned my back toward the computer and prepared myself for meditation. I heard him hit the chugpi – a long wooden clapper that is hit three times to signal the beginning and end of sitting meditation – and I began following my breath and using my hwa-tou as I normally do during sitting meditation. Following my breath, asking a great question. Following my breath, asking a great question. Following my breath, asking a great question. Over and over again. Soon I began wondering about the time – surely it was getting close to the end of the sitting period! No chugpi though. So I brought my attention back to my breath and began my meditation practice again. It wasn’t long before I started getting restless again – surely the time was up now! Finally I turned around on my cushion only to find that Zoom had kicked me off the live stream and I had been sitting for a little over an hour! Ha-Ha-Ha.
You can get so tired/bored/sore/foot asleep/tearful/restless – you name it, it all comes up during meditation and if the chugpi hasn’t been hit to end meditation, then you have to deal with everything going on in your mind. Zen Master Seung Sahn used to say that zen practice was “mind-sitting”. We learn to just see what’s there without acting on it. Pretty soon you begin to realize that your mind chatter is not you. It’s just chatter. Seeing that is great freedom from always being controlled by your thoughts. So, don’t hit your chugpi – even though you may get up from your cushion, let your meditation continue throughout your day – moment to moment letting yourself be aware.