Some months ago, yanfali and I took an introductory class at the local Chung Tai Zen Center, and last night I finally made time to drop by Bamboo in the Wind to get an opportunity to contrast different approaches to Zen.
The class at Chung Tai was very informative, covering a lot of the basics; it consisted of an hour of meditation (mostly sitting, some walking; I dubbed the latter “Zen marching band” as they followed the Chinese approach of taking each step to the sound of a wooden fish being struck at irregular intervals) followed by an hour of lecture. The Abbot, Jian Hu, is good at explaining, keeping a good balance of knowledge and humor; while he doesn’t try to hide that he’s here teaching because his master asked him to do it and would be happier meditating and studying the sutras in solitude, he’s doing a good job. The setting there is fairly formal; it didn’t really engage my interest.
Bamboo in the Wind is much less formal; it’s run by Rev. Val Szymanski, who recently leveled up to “Dharma Heir”. They meet in a Unitarian chapel, where there are plenty of Western-style chairs for people who aren’t up for the Japanese-style cushions, and the congregants used both. (They even have vernier cushions if you want to try a half lotus but you’re not flexible enough to get both knees to the cushion comfortably; my legs were nowhere near as numb after 40 minutes of sitting.) The session was pretty much as on the web site: 40 minutes of sitting, 10 minutes walking (no sound to call the steps), 10 minutes of service, and about half an hour of freewheeling discussion using a couple of lines from the Heart Sutra as a seed crystal.
Both places are friendly and welcoming, but I prefer the very casual atmosphere at Bamboo in the Wind.