Monday, July 08, 2013


Speaking of groups—which we weren’t, but which we are now—our gathering is a Zen meditation group known as a sangha. That’s a word that in Sanskrit and Pali means a unified body of individuals.


          I guess “unified” means that when we are here, we are here.


          We may not consider ourselves Buddhists, but as with many Buddhist sanghas we meditate together. We discuss matters of Zen as well as a wide range of subjects. We think and not-think. That’s pretty much what our group does.


          So what is our group called? What is its title? And do we need a title?


          Do you remember a 1948 movie, The Treasure of Sierra Madre? In it a Mexican outlaw, pretending to be a sheriff, is asked for his badge. His answer:


          “We don’t need no stinkin’ badges.”


          Well, our sangha don’t need no stinkin’ title.


          However—and there is always a however—for the sake of letting people know of our existence, this group has a name, and it is Fayetteville Soto Zen Group.


          The world has plenty of diverse groups. Each has its own reason for existing, each has its own procedure, and each has its own purpose. Some are heavy duty cerebral assemblies, others are relaxed social gatherings.


          Before we dive into the ocean of groups, let’s define the word therapy. Therapy basically means the treatment of some kind of disorder. A disorder can be bodily, mental, or behavioral.


          Therapy groups have been big time since the 1960s. They may also go by the name Personal Growth Seminars or Human Potential Retreats. Basically they involve get-in-touch-with-your-feelings-good-or-bad-and express them out loud.


Therapy groups are based on a series of meetings that are guided by a person trained in rehabilitation other than the use of drugs or surgery. Attendees are encouraged to voice their problems. The interactions between individuals and the leader are considered to be a part of the remedial process.


          Counseling groups are usually modest in size. They usually comprise two people, an individual and a trained person who gives advice based on personal interviews that test interests and inclinations.


Primal Scream Therapy, to use a few psychobabble words, is a trauma-based therapy that popped up in the early 1970s. It was the brain child of psychologist Arthur Janov. According to Janov neuroses are caused by the repressed pains of childhood ordeals, many of them attributed to the fault of parents.


Adherents were encouraged to show their pain, live their pain. A friend of mine who was involved in primal therapy described his group lying on the floor along with several other participants and screaming their guts out. It was a form of treatment endorsed by such celebrities as the Beatles’ John Lennon, actor James Earl Jones, and pianist Roger Williams.


Primal scream therapy is no longer in fashion. Apparently screaming had no lasting benefits.


          Moving from the ridiculous, there are support groups of various sizes ranging from two to more individuals. They are designed to offer moral or psychological help in the form of a listening ear in times of grief, approaching death, and cancer.


          To switch from the cerebral to the practical, Book discussion groups are quite popular. Individuals are expected to read a pre-assigned volume, then meet to discuss such matters as writing style, the author’s intent, and any messages that come across.


You may have heard of the Great Books Foundation. It concentrates on certain classics of literature, philosophy, history, and science that are believed to contain the basic ideas of Western culture.


There are religious prayer groups whose members gather to pray or to worship their god collectively. At the other end of the scale are pagan groups that gather to mock religious beliefs and practices.


There are atheist groups that meet to share their convictions that belief groups are a crock of hogwash. Supposedly it validates their beliefs as non-believers.


There are informal discussion groups that meet to discuss women’s issues, men’s issues, or any societal issues.


Many aficionados—buffs, junkies, enthusiasts—attend groups for the purpose of displaying their arcane knowledge, or for reputing other individuals, or to dispute or bicker.


You may wonder why I’ve drifted so far from Zen.


Well, a Zen sangha is not your everyday sort of group.


Zen is not a major surgery, or a repair shop, or a Band Aide. It is not a forum for public speaking.


In classical times, if a Zen scholar or a novice were to start spilling his or her guts, a master would probably say, “That is well and good, but what does it have to do with peach tree in the garden?”


A Zen master or a Zen teacher is not a therapist or the kind of mind-altering specialist commonly known as a shrink.


A Zen master or teacher encourages people to think for themselves. He pushes individuals to realize their own potential. He does this by irrational statements or by word puzzles. He may even exhibit oddball behavior such as plopping a sandal on top of his head. These are tactics to encourage a person to abandon logic and behave intuitively.


Only by thinking for one’s own self can one truly comprehend one’s self.


          To quote Martin R. De Haan, “If you can’t think for yourself or make a decision, then you’re in trouble.”


          Ironically, De Haan was a Christian minister, which brings to mind the old saying about the pot calling the kettle black.



The idiom "The pot calling the kettle black" is used in a situation where a person is considered guilty of the very thing of which they accuse another. It dates from the time when cooking was done over an open hearth fireplace; both the kettle and the cooking pot would be suspended above it and collect the same amount of soot.



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