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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Life at the Cambridge Zen Center - Why are We Here?

Living and practicing at the zen center is an ongoing experience of learning to work together in as many ways as we can. We learn to support each other's practice by taking care of each other's needs a few of which are cooking and sharing meals, doing house chores together, leading zen practice and instructing outside visitors who may want to learn how to do our style of meditation or other types of zen practice.

By sharing the burden of these tasks we can devote more time to zen practice, to do our work, to go to school or study for classes or to have free time. I had lived in my own home for many years with my own set of rules so when I first came to live at the zen center I knew I would be adjusting to different structures and responsibilities. I was about to learn how to live with others who had committed themselves as I was doing to learning this way of looking inward, getting to know my true self and learning to trust that. 
 As I continue to learn how to integrate my community responsibilities with my job, studies and private life I experience a growing sense of self confidence  and belonging in  community and experience of the satisfaction that arises from putting others ahead of self, always asking, how can I help?
That very question can help one discover one's true path in life. Why are we here?  What are we?  We take these questions and develop wisdom from examining them closely

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Communal Life - Work Practice and Meals

Living at the Cambridge Zen Center

Visit With Us

Working together to care for our temple is an good way to get to know who we are.  Life in a zen temple revolves around practice. It holds the sangha together whether we are bowing, sitting, chanting or do walking practice. Acting together helps us to recognize in real ways that we are not separate, small 'I's but parts of a greater whole that sustains us and all the other beings on the planet.

Work Practice
Each Saturday morning we gather together to do two hours of work practice.  Our temple is a large building with a front and back yard and a parking lot. We take care of it and we welcome the public to learn about the dharma and practice with us.  
You're invited to visit with us at the Cambridge Zen Center!
All are welcome to join us on Saturday mornings at 7:30 AM for  breakfast  at the zen center and then to help with small projects, do some gardening or yard work, go food shopping, tidying up in the house or helping out in the office. Come and get to know us, learn about our practice and about life at the zen center.



Simple Living

Since 2006 I have been living in community at a Buddhist zen center. I had owned and resided in my own home for about 25 years.  When I first began to live here I felt I was living in a more constrained way.  It was true that I had given up the amount of private space I could live in for a very small room. But I quickly found that I liked this smaller space because it took no time to take care of it. I kept less in it because the more I brought in the more clutter, and the more distraction I had to deal with.   I quickly realized that I preferred to have less property to care for; I liked the shared living spaces because everyone helps to care for it.  We share all the things that anyone could need for everyday life. Each person doesn't need to buy their own mop for the bathroom or a vacuum cleaner for their room. One or two vaccum cleaners can be shared and maintained by the whole group. It keeps expenses down. You have less personal property but you actually have much more because you share a lot of things you wouldn't necessarily want to have to buy.  We also share the cost of utilities as we do the cost of food.  You may even be able to borrow a fellow community member's vehicle if needed instead of having to rent one.  My first room at the zen center was as simple as it gets: a 10 ft x 10 ft guest room in the third floor of an old townhouse.  I brought only what I needed to stay there and go to work every day for a few weeks so the atmosphere of the room remained uncluttered, simple and calming. The room had it's own basic furnishings, a bed, lamp, closet, a fan and a small dresser. It was surprisingly sufficient for someone used to living in a 1200 square foot space with a few extra rooms and a basement I used for storage.

I chose to live with as few furnishings as possible wanting to see exactly what the room itself was like: the sunlight pouring in down the walls and across the floor, the texture of the two hundred
year-old floorboards.
I noticed the sounds of the room. It would echo a little even in this tiny space. All that was there to absorb vibrations were the bed, sheets, blanket and pillow.
This room was the perfect retreat after a long day at work. I was a retail clerk then, dealing with an endless flow of people and objects and answering questions all day.  That sparse room allowed my mind to settle down quickly, I could lay down on the bed and leave the endless questions and the stream of 'things' behind.   I had no radio, TV, computer, landline or cell phone in my room and no nagging urge to watch or listen to anything.

The house shared space includes a computer room, a tv room, a laundry area, a small library, a large kitchen, dining area and two reception areas.

Sharing Meals
Another aspect of communal living is sharing meals and cooking.  We share food costs and shopping,  take turns cooking and cleaning up after meals each week.   It saves us quite a bit of money on food and  since we take turns, each person doesn't need to cook and clean up every day.
Fresh vegetables ready to be cooked for a retreat meal

Preparing Lunch
Since our home is also the temple, our meals at home are all vegetarian.  Our vegetarian diet helps us to reduce the impact our dietary needs impose on the soil and water while still enjoying delicious and nutritious meals.


Marinated tofu ready for baking