Saturday, March 19, 2011

How We Treat the Room

Today, moving the Zen Group back into the dharma room above the garage was completed with a small ceremony: putting on the robes and doing some Sogamuni Bul chanting followed by sitting.

There is nothing magical or "woo-woo" about this. You could call it an act of theatre and I would not object in the slightest. Acts of theatre are powerful, and this is what ceremonies are for.

The formalities associated with the meditation room -- bowing when you enter or leave, bowing before you take your seat, bowing if you approach the altar, walking behind people seated in meditation, not entering or leaving during meditation, keeping the room clean, using the proper robes if your temple uses them, all creates a certain ambiance that you could describe as a theatrical effect. Yet theatre is quite meaningful, and by treating the room a certain way we are encouraging ourselves to pay attention to how we treat our own practice, and that of other people in the room. People worry about getting the details right, but that's not the most important thing -- forms can be learned and practiced, mistakes are not important.

What makes this useful is the promotion of caring as well as enjoyment and appreciation of the space where formal practice is done.

Yoshi Oida opens his famous book about acting and teaching, The Invisible Actor, with a description of his students' routine of cleaning the studio before class or rehearsal that itself constitutes a warm-up in concentration and discipline.

Don't rush, get distracted, or think about other things. Don't chat to other people. All of this is quite difficult, but it is very good training for the concentration an actor needs.

The way you treat the room has to do with how you treat yourself; and how you treat yourself has to do with how you treat others.


Lorianne said...

You can call it theater, or you can call it romance, with the special flowers, special candles, special smells all working to "get us in the mood" to be here, now, loving whatever the moment presents us.

Mandy's Kidding said...

"There is nothing magical or "woo-woo" about this" made me laugh.

I'm just reacquainting myself with these rituals after a long absence from a temple. Just finished my third mediation class this afternoon as a matter of fact. Still feeling a bit awkward about bowing.

I like thinking of it as theater.

*Jazz hands*