My first visit to a zen center

Thoughts and Opinions

Yesterday I visited a zen center for the first time and it was amazing. I visited Dharma Rain Zen Center in Portland with my friend from my meditation group. She has gone there for years and invited anyone interested to come along with her yesterday morning. I’ve been really wanting to check it out but being shy I knew I would never make it down there by myself. So needless to say, I was really happy to go with her.

I was  briefed on what to expect so I had an idea of what it might be like but, still, it was such a new and different experience. And also not new. It felt kind of comfortable in many ways. I’ll explain.

The “service” (I’m not sure what Buddhists call it) involved lots of ritual. Ritual that I didn’t know anything about, having never attended any kind of Buddhist ceremony in my life. So in many ways I feel like a complete dork for not knowing what to do. Everyone was cool and, frankly, didn’t even notice my unsure feelings, but still.

What I noticed right away, and what I really liked about it was that it reminded me of Catholic mass. having been raised a Catholic this felt very comforting to me. The ritual, that is. This is something that I never realized before yesterday either. I spent a great deal of my adulthood outwardly despising the Catholic church, and there are many things about it that I do despise. However,  I have really fond memories from my childhood of church. I can’t believe I am actually saying this, but I do. We would go every weekend and I think it was a source of comfort to me, somehow. All of the ritual was  embedded into my conciousness and has become comforting to me as an adult. I remember working at Santa Clara University and secretly loving that I worked there. I loved going to mass when they occasionally held it during work hours. I loved walking around campus and being around all the Catholic ephemera. It comforted me. I would have never admitted that  out loud, but it did.

So as I was sitting there yesterday meditating on my cushion, I was realizing this. I think I was drawn to Dharma Rain because of the ritual. Because it would  make me feel like I was at home. Again, I felt like a dork for not knowing what to do (much like a Baptist would feel going into a Catholic mass for the first time) but that’s o.k. feeling like a dork isn’t going to kill me.

There was lots of zazen. Way more than I do daily. We meditated for an hour total. There was 20 minutes of walking meditation (also interesting). Then there was the 20 minutes of chanting. It was absolutely incredible. The best part of the service. I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful and mind-blowing it was to experience that for the first time. The group chanted some sutras, translated in english. I was reading along in the book (I wasn’t going to try chanting my first time) and, my god, it was the most incredible, beautiful thing I have ever read.  I was reading along  being blown away by the beauty of what I was reading and then hearing it chanted around me by these beautiful voices. It was interesting because the words were chanted on the same note. It is the same note that you hear when monks chant “OM” (If you’ve ever heard that before). What is it about that note? Is it some direct frequency to God or something? What ever it is, it is a mystery so incredibly powerful and beautiful.

The dharma talk at the end was really cool too. In fact, I felt like I went yesterday specifically to hear it. It was about doubt. The thing that I took from it was that we are going to feel doubt sometimes, and it’s ok. That doubt is a part of the process and it will help you become a stronger person later. So don’t push the doubt away or make yourself feel bad for doubting (which is what I tend to do). Instead, let it in and take a look at it.

So anyway, that was my experience. This is a long post and I’m sure you have stopped reading a few paragraphs ago :). I mostly wanted to just get my thoughts and  feelings down before it all flew out of my head.