Meeting with a Teacher

The Sanzen Room

The Sanzen Room

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 Dharma Interview, a less formal meeting that can last around 30 minutes and takes place at other times, by appointment.

Both Sanzen and Dharma Interview 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 their understanding or experience, have a witness to their 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 Dharma Interview 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 Dharma Interview.

Sanzen Room Kanzeon

Sanzen Room Kanzeon

Sanzen

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.

  1. Sign up on the list just inside the Zendo door when you arrive.
  2. Sit the first period of zazen. If you’re the first person on the list, you’ll be handed a card. After kinhin (walking meditation) begins, leave the zendo and wait in the tea area until the teacher rings the bell to indicate s/he is ready. If you’re second or third on the list, stay in the Zendo for kinhin and zazen until someone returns from sanzen and hands you the card.
  3. If you’re the first person, wait in the tea area, and then come into the sanzen room with the teachers rings the bell. If you’re the second or third person, once you receive the card you can come straight into the sanzen room.
  4. Instructions for what to do once you’re in the sanzen room will be found on the card.

Dharma Interview

Meet with Domyo for around 30 minutes to discuss your practice in a more relaxed setting. Dharma Interview is like Sanzen (read description above) but 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.

Bright Way Zen members are encouraged to come for Dharma Interview regularly – anywhere from once a month to once a quarter, and as needed in times of stress or change. 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 Dharma Interview 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!

Domyo is available for Dharma Interview at her home office (in Cedar Hills) or by Skype or Zoom. To request an appointment via her online booking calendar, click below: