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Perspective on our Practice

Sanki Harold Schlechtweg recently shared his thoughts on practice in a message to Sensei, and was gracious enough to let us publish them to the greater sangha:

"After spending a week at a buddhist monastery followed by a week as a volunteer on a wilderness restoration/trail maintenance crew in the Colorado Rockies, I've concluded it is easier to be a monk (easier on the body anyway!).

I had a great experience at the Crestone (Colorado) Mountain Zen Center (http://dharmasangha.org/). There are about 8 male and female monks living there (an "abbot in residence" -- not Baker Roshi who is in overall charge) and three other men and four women. The practice schedule while I was there was in the morning starting about 5AM to sit two sessions of Zazen of about 40 minutes with 10 minutes of kin hin in between. This was followed by a service of maybe an hour(?) with chanting (in both English and Japanese) and lots of prostrations (lots!). Breakfast was at 8AM. The monks did at least one meal a day oryoki, sometimes more. Sometimes they would eat with the paying guests which was more informal (guests didn't do Oryoki). In the evening, there were two sessions of Zazen about 40 minutes with 10 minutes of kin hin in between and no service. One night a week they do a dharma talk instead of the second round of Zazen. On Saturday they only have the morning Zazen and service and the rest of the day is free time with informal meals. The rest of the week they work--gardening, cleaning, preparing meals, washing dishes and pots and pans, maintenance and construction--with some free time in the morning for exercise or study and the same in the afternoon. There were four other paying "guests" while I was there and we didn't work (they do have work weeks where volunteers can come and work for food and lodging). Guests were welcome to sit zazen and participate in the services. All the guests sat zazen at least a few times. I was the only guest who sat with the monks every day and attended the daily service--then again, I was the only "guest" who had taken refuge and was a buddhist. The other guests were a couple working on their relationship, a female Unitarian minister "looking for some quiet time", and a German ex-pat now living in New York who found the Center on the web and decided to visit. The Unitarian was the only one besides me who was a regular with the morning zazen. The monks told me the monastery isn't formally affiliated with the Sotoshu because Baker Roshi wants the Center to be able to control its own practice. However, they practice Soto or Dogen Zen just as we do.

I camped out in a tent on the monastery grounds but had access to showers and the monks provided vegetarian meals. The other guests stayed in guest housing which had real beds but which cost more.

I spent my second week in the area in the mountains with Wilderness Volunteers (a non-profit group that works with the US Forest Service). The work in the Sangre de Cristo mountains was physically demanding and exhausting. I was the oldest person on the crew and my rear was dragging by the time we finished. Most of the work was with hand tools (pick and shovel) and was at an altitude above 11,000 feet. It is an amazing place --the Sangre de Cristo ('Blood of Christ') Wilderness, in south central Colorado. Wild flowers were in full bloom and there was lots of wildlife. Early July is late springtime in the Rocky Mountains. It rained a lot, so we didn't worry too much about fire danger. I enjoyed two weeks away, but now I'm glad to be back in Wichita and ready to get back to working on my rakusu. Thank you Sensei, for encouraging my penchant for aimless wandering...in gassho,"

Harold "Sanki"

Sensei's reply:

"Thank you Harold;

Baker Roshi and I are acquainted and I am glad you got to practice with his group in Crestone. I encourage all of our members and especially those in training to practice with various groups to get a perspective on our practice and avoid developing tunnel vision.

As an aside, we are not affiliated with Sotoshu either; that is the headquarters in Japan. I did join the SZBA, which is a Soto organization of Zen teachers in America."

Sensei
 
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