Sanzen and Practice Discussion
There are two different kinds of meetings with a teacher in our lineage. The first is Sanzen (called Dokusan in some lineages), which is a formal one-on-one meeting with the teacher, usually during a time when the rest of the community is in zazen (seated meditation). The second is Practice Discussion, a less formal meeting that can last up to an hour and takes place at other times, by appointment.
Both Sanzen and Practice Discussion are Zen practices. They are optional, like all of our practices, but they can be very useful. In both types of meetings the focus is on the student and his/her spiritual life and practice. It is not a time for general social back-and-forth between teacher and student, as might occur in other settings. Meetings with the teacher are opportunities for the student to ask questions, present his or her understanding or experience, have a witness to her or his spiritual journey, and meet the challenge posed by communicating about deep spiritual and personal matters with another human being. To read Domyo’s essay, “What’s the Good of Zen Teachers?” click here.
Sanzen and Practice Discussion can lead to an ongoing, deepening relationship between the teacher and student that can lead to a formal teacher-student relationship. However, these practices can be very useful whether or not you feel drawn to take a teacher, or whether or not the teacher involved is one with whom you have, or would want, a formal relationship. Many Zen practitioners visit a number of different teachers for Sanzen and Practice Discussion.
Sanzen usually lasts 5-10 minutes, and should be focussed on one main question, issue or topic. Ideally this question or issue will deal with “edge” of your practice – where is your point of growth, discovery or fear? What are you working on? What is most troubling to you, what is most challenging? On the other hand, perhaps the “edge” of your practice is opening up to something like joy. The more real and relevant to your life and practice you can make your Sanzen, the more useful it will be to you. This benefit is almost independent of the teacher’s response to you; the very effort to clarify and verbalize what is going on in your spiritual practice is what is most instructive. Keep in mind that what you present in Sanzen does not need to be profound. Sanzen actually means “zen (meditation) together” so perhaps all that a Sanzen interaction will involve is a smile and a few deep breaths.
Sanzen is offered during the second period of zazen (seated meditation) at the Bright Way Zendo on Tuesday evenings and Sunday mornings.
- Sign up on the list just inside the Zendo door when you arrive.
- Sit the first period of zazen and start kinhin (walking meditation).
- Come meet with Domyo for 5-10 minutes when she rings her bell from the sanzen room (if you’re first on the list), or when the person on the list before you returns and hands you the sanzen card.
Meet with Domyo for up to an hour to discuss your practice in a more relaxed setting. Practice Discussion presents an opportunity for the student to cover multiple questions, issues or topics, and provide the teacher with more context. In this setting it is appropriate to tell your story and give a more complete picture of your life, your practice, and your journey.
Domyo is generally available for practice discussion at her home office (in Cedar Hills) Wed-Fri 9am-4pm, and Saturdays 10am-4pm. (Other times can be arranged if none of these work for you.) Email her to request an appointment: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Members are encouraged to ask for practice discussion as often as once or twice or month! This helps Domyo get to know you over time in order to be better able to guide your practice.
Not a member yet? Feel free to give Practice Discussion a try, we just ask that you become a member if you want to take advantage of this offering more than once or twice. Thanks!