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.
The “form” for Sanzen (the procedures for going to Sanzen, how the interview is ended, etc.) will be explained when it is offered.
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. Contact Domyo to set up a time for Practice Discussion (firstname.lastname@example.org).