What does it mean to be a member of a Sangha, and why do we sit?

Dear Folks,

Following the fascinating and stimulating discussion we had in the Liverpool Zendo on Wednesday night about attendance and absence etc. I thought a summary of my own thoughts might be useful for further discussion and thought.

For me both in my own training and as a teacher, maintaining connection (even if this would be to properly end the connection) is a crucial part of Zen practice as well as part of being a member of a sangha. Just everyday caring enters into it also.  For a strong sangha, which is also a place of refuge for each of us, my pragmatic experience is that there needs to be a sense of mutual responsibility held by everyone. Part of the benefit of sitting regularly together, is that we hold the space and it is thus always available when we or other folk need it. It is to maintain connection and to provide this place of practice and refuge that we show up.  Each of us is individually responsible for this.

If you are absent for weeks we do definitely miss you and if you do not let me or other sangha members know why, we do wonder if you are alright or if maybe you have just decided the practice is not for you. However, the decision for us to call and ask you is difficult since maybe you would feel this as an intrusion etc. Yet to not call you could also feel uncaring.

Commitment to practice allows us to examine and understand what we are. Unless we see the knot of the self we cannot untie it.  This tradition is demanding, it requires a radical shift in our view of what life is and who we are in it. It is not for dabbling with or for the faint hearted and certainly for me it can be disquieting if I experience someone using the place as a drop in centre!

While I continue to really appreciate the strength of SWZ and the fantastic contribution made to its life and to the life of the wider sangha by all of us in Liverpool, I have also become aware that I have not been clear enough about my own expectations of the sangha.  This is especially so for folk who have received Jukai and or Shoken.  With this in mind I plan to work (in consultation) on creating a syllabus and set of requirements that need to be fulfilled before agreeing to give Jukai in future. One of these conditions will be a commitment to sangha e.g. showing up!

For inspiration I have collected together, from various sources, some of the reasons we sit.

My best wishes and in appreciation of your contribution to the life of SWZ.


Keizan Sensei

Why Sit?

1. Most of what we do is spent on externally oriented functions. Most of the time our attention is focussed outwards. We rarely look in. Perhaps out of avoidance, anxiety or fear.

2. We sit because of, for and with an appreciation of daily life. How quickly it can slip by in distraction and tunnel vision. Odd that we have to work at being at peace. This being at peace is a state of mind and body. We sit to experience the spaciousness that allows us to appreciate the ordinary.

3. We need a rudder, a vehicle, a method to steer the narrow path that has on one side fear and the other desire/attachment. Sitting is the practice of self control. We do not get up and move. This is not self control in a discipline style. This is specifically allowing observation to replace action. Thus sitting helps us to manage our lives .

4. In sitting we find pragmatically that compassion arises.  It helps us come alive to other people.  It allows that experience of separation/merging, individuality/immersion, self and selflessness  to coexist.  Sitting allows us to know that place where we are both separate and united. Love and relationship. We can be alone and together at the same time.

5. Sitting allows us to sift our emotions and to discover what we really care about as opposed to mundane irritations that can seem bigger than they are.

6. Sitting has a religion/not a religion ambivalence. It requires and engenders faith.  This is the simple faith that through zazen we can become more free of concepts and beliefs more fresh in our outlook.

7.  We are nailed by fact that death is life’s door and vice versa.  Sitting requires us to acknowledge the role of death in our lives.  Knowing we will die enriches and excoriates life so we have to go out of the way to seek discipline and the stability that we need to really face it.  To embrace life we must shake hands with death.  For this we need practice.  Each act of sitting is a dying to outward activity, a giving up of distraction, a cessation of anticipatory gratification.  It is life now, as it is. Some day this austere focus will come in handy.’

8. We sit to be free of judgement, our own and other peoples.

9. We sit in isolation to lose our isolation. We sit as an island to be part of a community.

10. Sitting helps us overcome our deepest fears. We become freer to live from the heart and face the consequences