After last night’s meditation, two of us stayed to talk about our zendo. Why is it, I wondered, that so many people come to sit for a while and then drop by the wayside? Years ago my monastic teacher told me not to worry, but to announce the times, sweep the walkway, unlock the gate, light a candle, and be ready to receive whoever comes to the door.
If one person shows up, he said, be glad and ring the bell. If ten or twenty come, likewise. But what if no-one comes? Ditto: light incense, bow, ring the bell, and sit. Make sure you meditate regularly and don’t get hung up on numbers. Concern yourself with your own salvation and leave everyone else to attend to theirs. People will come when they need to.
My zendo friend and I also touched on the weight of having a teacher present, and of following certain forms and rituals. Might that be the reason people flock to centres where there’s someone in a robe and a title? How is that people spend hundreds of dollars to travel and sit among a large audience to hear someone speak in translation — but won’t sit on a cushion once a week, free of charge? We both agreed that yes, a teacher is important and sooner or later most everyone can benefit from being pointed along a path, but that meditation, the fundamental ‘work’ of awakening from delusions, requires individual effort. The purpose of a sitting group, then, is to bring together a group of people — a sangha in the Buddhist tradition– to support and accompany each other.