How Mindfulness came to the West - part 2 - No Pain No Gain (apparently)

I was looking for a structured meditation practice and teaching – a combination of a western woman, Christian nun Roshi [I was a former catholic] and it being local. Perfect. I attended my induction discovering I had to sit on the floor cross legged which I could no longer do as, despite being flexible from years of dance and yoga, I had a hip replacement.

This inflexible rule hinted at others. Initially, I was not allowed to attend retreats as I really couldn’t sit on the floor for any length of time. Eventually this rule was relaxed and I was allowed to sit on a chair. I assume that those confined to a wheelchair or bed or disabled were not eligible for enlightenment!?

During practice in the Zendo I conformed to wearing only black, sitting on a chair facing the wall [at the far end of the room], and internally chanting the sound “mu” feeling like a cow. Why Mu? I never discovered. Tears poured down my face from the first night I ‘sat’ for the 25 minutes then walked in a circle around the room for another 10, then repeated the 25 minute sit cycle for another 2 hours.

The tears continued for weeks. The rebel in me began to surface. I disliked the rituals and ceremonies, invocations, chanting, and prayers [in sanskrit?] that accompanied my practice including bowing on the floor to my teacher. Even in one-to-one interviews with my teacher there was to be no questioning or inquiry. There was no teaching as such. There were readings from Buddhist texts but no explanation.

I continued my practice, though apart from discipline there was no advancement in me. Eventually, Sister Elaine and I crossed swords. I was not brought up in the eastern guru tradition where one revered and never questioned one’s teacher. I had been taught to question, analyse, inquire, investigate, interpret, and assess. To think for myself.

The crunch came when a substantial sum of money was requested from each of the members of the Zendo to fund the travel and expenses of a Japanese Roshi‘s teaching expedition to the US and the UK . I wrote to our treasurer requesting a breakdown of the expenses for the part of his visit to the UK. In my pecuniary state I had forgotten the obedience without question to the Guru. In reply I received a letter from the Roshi with no explanation of the forthcoming incurred expenses but requiring that I leave the Zendo. Expelled.

Should I wish to return I should request an interview and plead to be reinstated, my membership and her teaching [no doubt bowing with my head on the floor = Kow Tow]. I replied to her by letter, including the words that Enlightenment obviously did not confer consciousness, kindness, reasoning, empathy, or common sense. Only now did I come to my senses.

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