My Teacher would have loved this video!
Living in spiritual community is not an easy ride. It’s not supposed to be! Oftentimes, people come to a community — whether an ashram or a meditation center or a monastery or temple — and they expect that somehow the behaviors of people there will be somehow “different”, or holier or easier or “better”, than what they find in their homes and their jobs and their various social engagements. And there is a difference — the difference is direction. The structure and the underpinning rules or standards or practices are designed too lift our scattered thinking-consciousness out of its customary self-entanglement into a more stable and consistent connection with the vast, boundless, deathless absolute of Now. And then the community should also have ethical guidelines for how that Maserati of our just-now mind is guided towards helping other beings trapped in the web of mental torment — what the Buddha called “the sea of suffering”.
But though the methodology might have direction, human beings always bring something to a retreat or a living experience that can be problematic for others to live with: their psychology, sometimes called “karma”. And this can be a challenge. Living with others so closely in community can be a truly unnerving experience, because everyone is just trying to “work it out.” It’s like that quote we see spun around as a meme sometimes: “Nothing is in control. Everyone is just winging it.” Or that other insightful meme: “You are a ghost driving a meat-covered skeleton made from stardust riding a rock floating through space. Fear nothing.”
Zen Master Seung Sahn encouraged community living in a Zen Center precisely to urge on us the intensive development that comes from this bumpy ride together along with other “meat-covered skeletons”. He described Zen Center life (and, by extension, convent life, and monastery life, and ashram life, etc .) the same way this Tweet does that I encountered several days ago — exactly the same way:
Here is his timeless medicine given to a Zen student who complained of the difficulty of living and practicing together with other people (excerpted from his book, Only Don’t Know: The Teaching Letters of Zen Master Seung Sahn):
[ FULL DISCLOSURE: Though I edited and published this text, at Zen Master Seung Sahn’s direction, and am listed on the frontispiece for that role, I receive NO financial compensation from its purchase. ]