Temple Update: Adventures in Zen Buddhism in Seattle

Hi all,

After my last Buddhist post, I wanted to give an update. I’m happy to report that I’ve been finding some good temples to visit lately. Thanks to “M” and others, I’ve had a few potential temples to check out in Seattle. I found one temple near Beacon Hill, just south of downtown, which I started visiting two weeks ago. This temple, another Rinzai temple, had the best schedule for me because they had a Saturday morning Buddhist service starting at 6:30. This is very convenient for me because I can come there while my daughter is sleeping, and still come back in the morning. That means I can come home before I go oncall at work (if I am oncall that week), or just spend the rest of the day with my family. Other temples have times either in the evening or mid-morning, which is more difficult for me.

Saturday morning service has fewer people at this temple, and most of them seem more like senior members of the temple who are already pretty dedicated. There’s no sermon or “dharma talk”. That happens on a different day, which I am unable to attend. So, this saturday service is focused mostly on chanting and meditation. Since I couldn’t attend the “introduction” class either, I had to just follow along and try to not make mistakes. Easier said than done. ;p

Anyhow, although I’ve been to the temple twice, I’m finding that I have much to learn about the Rinzai approach to Buddhism and Zen. There’s actually very few resources on Rinzai in English language (most are written for Soto Zen), other than books about koans (公案). I’m personally not all that interested or eager to delve into koans, so I just want to get a general “feel” for Rinzai. Since there’s not many English-language sources on general Rinzai Buddhism, other than this book I read, I have been learning a lot from the basic services.

A lot of Rinzai Zen seems to be about being fully “engaged” in what you’re doing.1 Of course, this can mean meditation, but also things like drinking a cup of tea, walking (hence kinhin 経行 or walking meditation). I started trying this on my own as well. While reading bedtime stories to my daughter, I try to slow down and read each word, instead of reading fast. I make fewer mistakes reading too, which is good. ;p Also, while drinking coffee I also try to slow down and be engaged in drinking my coffee. When I didn’t pay attention, I spilled coffee on my shirt. I should be more engaged more often. ;p

The other thing that surprised me a little was the liturgy used in Rinzai Zen. It’s a mixture of typical things you would expect (Heart Sutra), but also a mixture of esoteric dharanis as well, which you normally only see in esoteric Buddhism (密教). I’m going to write up a small post on the Rinzai liturgy I’ve observed so far as a reference to others who want to do a home service. I never saw dharanis used at all in Pure Land Buddhist services, so I was surprised to see them at all.

I’d like to write more, but I want to visit a few more weeks before I say too much. It’s been an interesting learning experience, and so far I’m happy to keep going. The temple has a convenient schedule, and has a large, mature community (but not too large). My wife also has been very supportive too, and I really appreciate that. My daughter requires me to bring donuts back. It’s a fair trade, I think. 🙂

Thanks everyone for your continued support!

P.S. Sorry “M”, this wasn’t the temple you suggested. This one just had a more suitable schedule, but I’m still investigating temples in my area just in case I find something even better.

1 The term “mindfulness” is used a lot in English when talking about Buddhism, but this is abstract and potentially confusing I think. Hence I like using terms like “alertness” or being engaged in what you do.

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Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

5 thoughts on “Temple Update: Adventures in Zen Buddhism in Seattle”

  1. I like that your daughter and you have worked out an equitable solution to your being out of the house so early. Kinda sounds like me bringing a Hershey bar back for me wife after I was gone all day yesterday at temple.

    The things we do to keep the peace at home, eh? Ha! Be well, friend. 🙂

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  2. I think I would have made the same choice. I find chanting and meditation are the most useful to me. When it comes to Dharma talks, no matter how good the speaker is, I get a lot more out of it after doing the devotional stuff. Having no Dharma talk would not be a problem for me! 🙂

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    1. Hi Johnl,

      Yeah, I know what you mean. The balance of chanting/meditation makes me feel like I’m finally “doing something” on the Buddhist path, which I find more satisfying. I mean, I know the nembutsu is part of Buddhist practice too (and I still do that), and some Pure Land Buddhist groups do meditation, but I wanted to take part in a community that had more “structured training”.

      Agreed, the Dharma Talk is nice, but I’ve heard enough of them over the years, so they become repetitive. I’m happy to put these into practice for the time being.

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