Well, my brief experimentation with Soto Zen is officially over. I started attending an online Soto Zen community about 4-5 weeks ago and took part in the yearly Ango (安居) vows.1 As I said before, it is a good community. I followed the Ango vows under a senior student, and learned a lot about Zazen meditation.
However, I came to realize after a while that it was difficult to sustain as a working-parent. I kept missing the weekly online services because the time conflicted with work. On the weekends, I was busy with children all day and by evening, I was too tired to do anything. After a couple weeks, my Ango vows started to slip more and more until I stopped altogether.
Now, someone might say that if I was really devoted to it, I would find the time. I would make time somehow. I realized that this was true. I was genuinely busy, but also I was making excuses. I really could’ve found a way to keep up Zen practice. But I didn’t.
Later, I thought about why I wasn’t motivated. I was curious about Zen before I started, but after doing it for 4 weeks I realized I wasn’t interested in Zen “culture”: the so-called “teaching outside the tradition”, the mystical, cryptic teachings, and the narrow focus on meditation. A lot of people are attracted to Zen culture but I just didn’t like it.
I got annoyed toward the end and decided that rather than forcing myself to continue, and hope it gets better, it would be better to stop right there. So after a short goodbye message (in which I expressed my frustrations), I left the community and gave up on Soto Zen. I probably shouldn’t have said anything and quietly left but I felt it was important to say some things.
To be honest, I think if I stayed with a Rinzai community long enough, I probably would get annoyed too. The temple in Seattle annoyed me in some ways too. I guess Zen really is not for me.
But as I said, it is a good community and if you like Zen and want to learn more, I definitely recommend it. I learned a lot. I also realized that I would be happier following a different path, but at least I gave it a sincere try and I met some cool people.
As for me, I guess I like being a Pure Land Buddhist who dabbles in meditation more than a Zen Buddhist who dabbles in Pure Land stuff.
But as I look back, I’m starting to think I don’t want to be ordained in any tradition. Sure, I like teaching things a lot, but ordination requires me to follow a certain doctrinal line and I am not comfortable with that. I’m not comfortable doing it in the Zen tradition, and I’m not comfortable doing it in the Jodo Shinshu tradition either. I’m happy to help at the local temple because my family goes there but I am not sure I want to be ordained after all. I like being who I am, making the best effort I can as a layperson. Time will tell. I still have lots of time to decide.
Anyhow, just some thoughts for today.
1 Ango is the Japanese-Buddhist equivalent to the yearly “rains retreat” still observed in Theravada Buddhist countries.