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Challenges of group practice

Challenges of group practice

Postby Jugglesaurus on Mon Mar 25, 2013 11:57 am

Practicing with a group is really helpful in terms of support. I think it comes with its own difficulties, though. What do you find hard about sitting with a group? I don't mean things like "I hate Dave, he smells funny and won't shut up." I mean more like:

I am not very good with large numbers of people, and can get really anxious when I feel hemmed in - this can happen on zen days.

You can't always pick and choose when you want to do your daily zazen - if you're five minutes late to the dojo, you are LATE.

People around you might be shuffling a bit more than you'd like them to.

You might be shuffling a bit more than the people around you would like you to - and that's pressure!


I think all of these things, as well as being difficult, are good and helpful challenges. Does anyone have more?
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Re: Challenges of group practice

Postby Kojip on Thu Apr 18, 2013 6:44 pm

HI Jugglesaurus.

.

This is a really different thing to consider, because sangha practice is very helpful for me, and I prefer it as much as possible... both live and now online too. The upsides are really obvious but the downsides maybe not so. Someone being smelly or having a gurgling stomach is not such a bother. For me, having practiced with quite a few groups over the years, the downside is more around Lay Sangha behavior when the Ordained Sangha is present. People can stop being natural, and start behaving like eager, good, students. If the teacher makes a mildly amusing joke, gales of laughter sweep the hall. An ordinary bit of wisdom that anyone might say over coffee, is suddenly a precious dew drop of extraordinary wisdom, because of the setting and who has said it. It is understandable and I've been there for sure, but it would be nice if folks would just be natural and not get swept up in a “scene”. Practicing silently together or chanting together is always wonderful

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Re: Challenges of group practice

Postby Carol on Thu Apr 18, 2013 7:00 pm

I love sangha and practicing together ... every annoyance is a precious mirror. Sitting, chanting, bowing, eating and moving together, the merger and blending of energies during sesshin and the deep realization of non-separation.

BUT, I don't like sangha politics! The dangers of group dynamics that exist everywhere else also appear in sangha -- competitiveness, jealousies, cliques, "in-groups" and "out-groups," gossip ... sometimes even going so far as scapegoating and cult-like behavior. I believe strongly that most sanghas of more than a few people need some outside professional (non-zen) training in group dynamics and how to build and sustain a healthy group culture. This is especially true since most sanghas are centered around a strong leader/teacher, and especially true if that teacher is charismatic (which many zen teachers are). I have had some of this training in other environments and have been surprised/shocked at how little zen teachers and sanghas appear to be aware of these destructive dynamics.

~Carol
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Re: Challenges of group practice

Postby Jugglesaurus on Fri Apr 19, 2013 10:25 am

Kojip wrote:HI Jugglesaurus.

.

This is a really different thing to consider, because sangha practice is very helpful for me, and I prefer it as much as possible... both live and now online too. The upsides are really obvious but the downsides maybe not so. Someone being smelly or having a gurgling stomach is not such a bother.


I know what you mean - it was the fact that I really prefer group practice that made me start to consider the possible challenges that I and others might take for granted. Not that it's healthy to go looking for problems - but I think it's good to know your challenges.

For me, having practiced with quite a few groups over the years, the downside is more around Lay Sangha behavior when the Ordained Sangha is present. People can stop being natural, and start behaving like eager, good, students. If the teacher makes a mildly amusing joke, gales of laughter sweep the hall. An ordinary bit of wisdom that anyone might say over coffee, is suddenly a precious dew drop of extraordinary wisdom, because of the setting and who has said it. It is understandable and I've been there for sure, but it would be nice if folks would just be natural and not get swept up in a “scene”. Practicing silently together or chanting together is always wonderful

Gassho, Richard


That's very interesting. It's not something I have really faced as we don't have that dynamic so much. If we have a visiting teacher, though, they get swarmed! Also, the number of attendees sometimes increases a lot, and that can freak me out a little.
Our local OBC group has a lay/ordained dynamic - I wonder if they face this issue as well?
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Re: Challenges of group practice

Postby Jugglesaurus on Fri Apr 19, 2013 10:32 am

Carol wrote:I love sangha and practicing together ... every annoyance is a precious mirror. Sitting, chanting, bowing, eating and moving together, the merger and blending of energies during sesshin and the deep realization of non-separation.

BUT, I don't like sangha politics! The dangers of group dynamics that exist everywhere else also appear in sangha -- competitiveness, jealousies, cliques, "in-groups" and "out-groups," gossip ... sometimes even going so far as scapegoating and cult-like behavior. I believe strongly that most sanghas of more than a few people need some outside professional (non-zen) training in group dynamics and how to build and sustain a healthy group culture. This is especially true since most sanghas are centered around a strong leader/teacher, and especially true if that teacher is charismatic (which many zen teachers are). I have had some of this training in other environments and have been surprised/shocked at how little zen teachers and sanghas appear to be aware of these destructive dynamics.

~Carol


Politics suck. I totally get what you are saying, even though I think our sangha is really very good with this, inclusive etc. But we all have the inclination for politics, I think - the nicest of people can get caught up or even instigate it!
Sometimes I see political feeligns in myself, and I fidn they are based on fear - usually a completely unfounfed fear of rejection, so part of me wants to get in there first to make sure it's not me being rejected. I keep this under control, but it's not easy. I guess if my practice wasn't group based, I wouldn't have to face that particular issue - but then I wouldn't be able to observe it and deal with it accordingly. :)
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Re: Challenges of group practice

Postby Gregory Wonderwheel on Wed Jun 05, 2013 3:07 pm

Jugglesaurus wrote:I think all of these things, as well as being difficult, are good and helpful challenges. Does anyone have more?
'

Seems like too much thinking to me. Dreaming of shades of perfection.

When I sit, I sit in the weeds and grasses, and when a thought comes up in reaction to one weed or another it floats like a puff of dandelion.

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Re: Challenges of group practice

Postby Jugglesaurus on Wed Jun 05, 2013 3:10 pm

It's ok - I have permission to think about things!
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Re: Challenges of group practice

Postby Seeker242 on Wed Jun 05, 2013 11:45 pm

The challenges are a blessing in disguise! IMO :) They show you your karma. They challenge you to face things that you would not otherwise face if you did everything alone. Without any challenges, it's quite difficult to grow.

Zen Master Seung Sahn spoke of this in some of his letters to his students. Below is one of them. :)

July 6, 1978

Dear Gail,

Thank you for your letter. How are you?

I read your letter. I know your karma. You are not the only person with this kind of karma. Many students like practicing alone. This is not good, not bad -- better than nothing. But if you practice alone, your practice does not grow. Zen means not holding onto anything. If you are holding something, or making something, or attached to something, you are not practicing Zen. If you try to practice Zen this way you cannot get Enlightenment and cannot understand your true self, even if you try for your whole life. So it is very important to put down your ideas and your feelings. What are you? If you don't know, only go straight -- don't-know.

You are always checking, checking, checking -- "my feelings," "somebody's feelings," "somebody's mind," "my mind," "somebody's understanding." So you make your problems. You say you cannot help other people, that you are a burden to them. Don't worry about other people. If you do together action, your good and bad actions already help other people.

It's like washing potatoes. When people wash potatoes in Korea, instead of washing them one at a time, they put them all in a tub full of water. Then someone puts a stick in the tub and pushes it up and down, up and down. This makes the potatoes rub against each other; as they bump into each other, the hard crusty dirt falls off. If you wash potatoes one at a time, it takes a long time to clean each one, and only one potato gets clean at a time. If they are all together, many potatoes clean each other.

'Our practice of bowing, chanting, and sitting together, and everyone living together, is like having many potatoes bumping into each other, cleaning each other. Sometimes you are too tired and you do not want to get out of bed, or after work you only want to watch television. But when you live at a Zen Center you must practice with everyone; you must put down your own feelings and do together action. This action means not being controlled by your bad karma of desire, anger, or ignorance.

Sometimes you bump into other people: "I don't want to bow!" or "I'm too tired to do the dishes!" But soon you see you are only bumping into your bad karma. If you are alone, it's easy to hold your own ideas: "Only my way!" Then you are separate from other people, and your thinking and opinions grow stronger and stronger. Then your mind becomes narrow and tight; it has many walls.

Zen means inside and outside become one. This means any time you and your correct situation become one. When you practice with other people, everyone helps you see your correct situation. Then your life becomes simple and clear. Then your thinking-walls become weaker and weaker, and soon they disappear. Then you can see, you can hear; all just-like-this is truth. When someone is happy, you are happy with them. When someone is sad, you can see this and help them. That is called freedom. It is also called Great Love, Great Compassion, and the Great Bodhisattva Way.

Gail, you only make your own walls. When will you get out of your small walls? This universe is very wide, infinite in time and space. So don't make "my space;" don't make "my time." Put down I-my-me. Only try, try, try. This is very important. The first time is very difficult, but if you don't check your mind, don't check your feelings, don't check your understanding, then no problem. Thinking comes and goes -- let it be.

When you practice correctly and become strong, your demons can also become strong. When together action is difficult, this means your Dharma and your karma are both very strong. At that time, you must only go straight -- persevere. Then you will win, O.K.? Then no problem. So you must try, try, try. If you keep try-mind, you will become a great woman.

So don't check your mind or your feelings or your understanding. Put it all down. Only go straight for 10,000 years, nonstop.

Yours in the Dharma,

S.S.
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Re: Challenges of group practice

Postby Jugglesaurus on Thu Jun 06, 2013 3:01 pm

That was really interesting. Thanks for posting it.
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Re: Challenges of group practice

Postby Jok_Hae on Thu Jul 25, 2013 3:35 am

Carol wrote:

every annoyance is a precious mirror.


This is why Sangha is one of Three Jewels. :)

Good luck and thanks for practicing,
Keith
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Re: Challenges of group practice

Postby Pedestrian on Fri Jul 26, 2013 10:25 pm

I really treasure that third Treasure! However, I get to experience it a lot less than I'd like. Our sangha sits Monday nights. My and my wife's professional obligations often interfere, either directly (we work in education, and Monday nights are a favorite meeting time in our neck of the woods) or indirectly (if one of us has something, the other covers child care at home).

So my challenge is making it consistently. Since it's so precious to me, when I'm there, my biggest challenge is finding a spot on the carpeted floor to focus my aging eyes upon!
"Buddha, to liberate beings, cultivates practices everywhere." Avatamsaka Sutra.

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Re: Challenges of group practice

Postby Kojip on Mon Jul 29, 2013 3:45 pm

Jok_Hae wrote:Carol wrote:

every annoyance is a precious mirror.


This is why Sangha is one of Three Jewels. :)

Good luck and thanks for practicing,
Keith


Hi Jok Hae. Good to see you.

It is interesting that what annoys one person may not annoy another at all. Someone eating with his/her mouth open drives me up the wall. Always a good mirror. We each have our own tailor made annoyances. :lol2:

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Re: Challenges of group practice

Postby Pedestrian on Mon Jul 29, 2013 4:11 pm

I'm going to sit with the sangha for the first time in weeks tonight, and this topic is very much on my mind. I'll bet I have more annoyances than I realized -- or admitted above! ;)
"Buddha, to liberate beings, cultivates practices everywhere." Avatamsaka Sutra.

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Re: Challenges of group practice

Postby Nonin on Mon Jul 29, 2013 4:40 pm

Pedestrian wrote:I really treasure that third Treasure! However, I get to experience it a lot less than I'd like. Our sangha sits Monday nights.

That's it??? That's all??? How about connecting with a sangha that meets more often? Most do.

Hands palm-to-palm,

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Re: Challenges of group practice

Postby Pedestrian on Mon Jul 29, 2013 4:45 pm

Hi Nonin,

I'm not sure what to make of your many question marks!

However, I am very happy to be part of the Boundless Way Zen sangha here, which includes not only our local sitting group in Providence but others in Worcester, Boston, and elsewhere. While I'm only able to make the 90m drive to out-of-state sits rarely, there are many options for those who can.
"Buddha, to liberate beings, cultivates practices everywhere." Avatamsaka Sutra.

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Re: Challenges of group practice

Postby ed blanco on Mon Jul 29, 2013 6:49 pm

We meet twice a week, the Miami sangha does; the Boca sangha I see once a month. Like a bunch of potatos glancing off each other in the centrifuge pealer we take shape.
It is a gift, a real treasure, specially the lady with the false teeth grinding. :p:

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Re: Challenges of group practice

Postby Pedestrian on Mon Jul 29, 2013 7:01 pm

ed blanco wrote:Like a bunch of potatos glancing off each other in the centrifuge pealer we take shape.


Excellent!
"Buddha, to liberate beings, cultivates practices everywhere." Avatamsaka Sutra.

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Re: Challenges of group practice

Postby Nonin on Mon Jul 29, 2013 9:21 pm

We at Nebraska Zen Center / Heartland Temple are a small group, about 15 to 20 hardcore members, with always a few others coming in and out. We have sitting and services six mornings a week (6:00 -- sitting for an hour, then 20 min. service) and sitting three evenings a week (at 7:00 -- sitting for 1 /12 hour). We are closed on Monday. We have Open Services every Sunday morning at 9:00 am -- 25 min. zazen, 10 min. kinhin, 25 min. zazen, 10 min. service, dharma talk or group discussion, and then, coffee or tea with baked goods.

I encourage all sangha members -- the regular hardcore are my students (all lay people at this point) -- to sit regularly, on at least five days a week (preferably after rising in the morning) for 1/2 hour or 40 minutes, followed by a short chanting and bowing service of about 10 minutes. This is considered a formal practice commitment. Most of our members do this at home, only one or two (plus me) come on weekday mornings and maybe 2 or 3 (plus me) on weekday evenings. I encourage all members to come to the temple once during the week and on Sunday mornings, and people make this part of their five days a week formal practice commitment. Usually, 15-25 people attend Open Services on Sunday morning. Some of our members have been practicing seriously like this for many years.

My serious students (the hardcore) attend sesshins, precept ceremonies, study groups, etc. and perform a job at the temple that takes about 1-1/2 hours a week -- arranging flowers, cleaning altars, office work, etc. These jobs rotate once a month.

Formal Zen Buddhist practice takes serious commitment and regular involvement (I say at least 5 days a week), regular connection with a teacher, and connection with and participation in a sangha.

Hands palm-to-palm,

Nonin
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Abbot and Head Teacher, Nebraska Zen Center / Heartland Temple, Omaha, Nebraska, USA
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Re: Challenges of group practice

Postby Jok_Hae on Mon Aug 05, 2013 12:06 am

Kojip wrote:
Jok_Hae wrote:Carol wrote:

every annoyance is a precious mirror.


This is why Sangha is one of Three Jewels. :)

Good luck and thanks for practicing,
Keith


Hi Jok Hae. Good to see you.

It is interesting that what annoys one person may not annoy another at all. Someone eating with his/her mouth open drives me up the wall. Always a good mirror. We each have our own tailor made annoyances. :lol2:

Gassho Richard


Thank you for your response, Richard. It's nice to hear from you. :Namaste:

I suppose our annoyances are the result of our past actions. It's interesting, to me at least, to consider where they came from. I know someone who is very long on ideas, but very short on action. Instead of focusing on the good ideas, I choose to check why this person doesn't offer any action. I wonder why? Good practice....
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