Saturday, February 6, 2010

Floating Zen: Spring Hill Zen

An old image of the UU Church of Medford, found here. You may also visit their website here.

Boston Dharma Tour 2010 continues...! Today I chanced to visit Boundless Way Zen of Spring Hill in the Medford neighborhood. Housed as it is in an old Unitarian church (est. 1663!), my first impression was quite grand: Today I am going to have a truly religious experience.

Indeed, one of my very favorite things about experiencing the different types of zen offered in the area lies in the precious discovery of so many approaches to practice. For there are so many expressions to offer, as I've always assumed, but never explicitly sought out. It's a treat and a gift to be in this position-- of not being a seeker, per se, as I've already found "my" lineage and practice-- I'm not shopping for form. Rather now I'm simply exploring what is out there, to enjoy and learn from what others do.

For Spring Hill Day I arrived a little early, thinking I'd acquaint myself with the new surroundings. I found the sangha gathered in a large social-hall in the back of the church. (I'd actually hoped for a peek into the church itself, but ah well, next time...). They were a friendly group, and in good, intimate number; again as it was at Open Circle, the core seemed to consist of 4 long-time members. Additionally there was a visiting teacher, and another newcomer and myself. Such a mix lent a good dynamic as far as age-range and practice experience, it seemed to me. We stood outside of a smaller room, speaking quietly to each other until 9 am. Then we filed in, chose our places, and sat facing forward until the service began.

The service! My. I have not attended a full Zen liturgy in years and years! And this is where my first bit of resistance popped up: Shaddap already. I just want to sit. Yet you'll see a note on their website that specifically addresses this resistance (what, you think I'm the only one?), and at the end a key point by John Daido Loori roshi: that it's through this practice of offering and expressing our beliefs that we bring Buddha to life. Not here, not gone: Buddha exists beyond absolutes, and our devotional practice--performed with the right spirit-- allows us a moment to access that sense more fully.

One of my first observations was that the ceremonial form of the practice toys with absolutes...Meaning the quality of the practices did not settle, but changed with each turn: first chanting cadence up, and then down... kinhin slow, and then fast... zazen facing the wall, and then the center. The practice seems to me another mix of Soto and Rinzai Zen, which I'm finding typical for the area. And without settling on one or the other, a pattern developed, a rhythm of doing, a rhythm of change, that offered me a new perspective, a new approach, to not knowing.

The morning thus consisted of a 1/2 hr service (facing center!), with lovely bells and drums and song; then 5 minutes of kinhin (slow, then fast!), and then four 25-minute periods of zazen (facing/not facing/facing/then not facing the wall), punctuated by the same kinhin practice. We ended with a recitation of the 4 Vows & of course, 3 Bows, announcements... and an invitation to brunch down the street.

Spring Hill Zen offered a vibrant, committed and intent-driven practice environment. And situated as it is in an old church, being surrounded by fragrant old wood and stained glass offers one a real sense of tradition that is not as evident in the shiny-new (current century, that is) patina of many Zen Centers. Oh yes, and once again? Great zafus.

"Three out of three enso" ;)

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