Name of sangha: Dojo Zen de Santiago (Chile) within Kosen Sangha
Year founded: 2002
Number of members: 20
What teachings are offered at your dojo?
Zen nun Andrea Vásquez (Seï Ken): Our sangha is in the Soto Zen lineage, so the base of the practice is sitting in zazen. We try very hard to keep the practice alive, along with the details of sitting: the posture, the breathing, and the mind state. We try to maintain that exact approach to zazen. Zazen is very much its own teaching.
When there is a master visiting the dojo, such as Master Soko, he offers teachings in Spanish. We record them and create little books with all of his teachings. Then, when we are guiding the community, we can read from the books. This relates to the meaning of kusen: ku is mouth, and sen is the teaching given by masters at the dojo during practice.
Zen nun Susana Quiroz Saavedra (Ho Ji): The Zen dhyana [cultivated mind states] goes back to the experience of Shakyamuni Buddha, who in the 5th century BCE reached awakening in the zazen posture. This experience was transmitted without interruption from master to disciple, thus forming the lineage of Zen.
How large is your community?
Quiroz: Kosen Sangha is a large sangha with many dojos around the world. At our dojo [a large meditation space] here in Santiago—which is a house rented specifically for our community—there are about 20 people. There are also different dojos around Chile. In the north, there is a community in Coquimbo and La Serena. There are others near the coast, in Quilpué and Viña del Mar. There is also one growing in Valdivia, in the south.
Wherever you find a dojo from our sangha, you will find the same way of practice. Everyone does everyday life as a Chilean, Argentinian, or French person would, and while Chileans have certain peculiarities in common, we think of the practice as independent of that. [The practice] remains faithful to how it has been transmitted since the time of Shakyamuni Buddha. Inside the dojo, we consider zazen to be universal.
How would you describe your relationship with the different dojos in the Kosen Sangha?
Vásquez: Very tight; we are always asking each other questions. We are very much in touch with the association in Argentina, for example. We email and use WhatsApp, Skype, and Facebook.
Quiroz: We are in constant communication so we can know about everything that’s going on and all the work they are doing. We plan to go to the temple in Argentina every summer, or attend the sesshins [periods of intense meditation]. The sangha there is very strong and at 500 people much bigger than ours.
Also, when we have doubts about the practice, the ceremonies, or some specific situation, we can write to the masters in a direct way. Of course it’s very important to practice together, to go to the retreats, and to unify the practice with others and refresh it. It is also important to receive the teachings from masters during zazen practice [kusen], and practice samu [mindful physical work]. We receive updates, such as if something has changed in how we prepare the genmai [a traditional soup], or in the way we sew our kesas [traditional clothes] .
Vásquez: At the end of the sesshins, there is also a moment called mondo, during which any practitioner asks the master in charge a question. This happens in front of everybody so that everybody can learn, and maybe be touch with—on some level—the answer.
What kind of challenges do you have in your community?
Quiroz: One challenge is that people feel they don’t have time to practice. It can be difficult to come here for meditation if they’re tired at the end of a long day. Maybe people have little free time that they prefer to spend with family and friends, or at the cinema or the gym. That’s fine, I do that too, but zazen is something important to me, so I reserve the time to practice it in daily life.
Vásquez: A related challenge is keeping the practice alive. Sitting in zazen is quite difficult. It’s like sitting down in front of a wall of all of your stuff. You need courage to do that, and sometimes you don’t want to. It is difficult for society right now to be in contact with that kind of practice, because most people are always looking outside themselves for answers without much effort. They want them right now, and fast!
When you are in zazen, in front of the wall, you must first make your body calm and quiet. That is already difficult to do. Then you start to look inside, to see your true thoughts, your true mind, and all your stuff. There are good and bad things, and we don’t want to see the bad things about ourselves. We always put those under the carpet.
In zazen, you must be honest with yourself. You can’t run away. To do that—to stay and watch—you must have courage. When you see your true thoughts and recognize them as your own, it is always uncomfortable or painful. But then you can work through these thoughts, embrace them with kindness, and let them go. Then you can be more happy with your true self.
What changes have you noticed in the past 15 years since your dojo was founded? How has the community evolved?
Quiroz: It has been very hard to maintain a consistent group. In the past, there were times when everything was working smoothly, but then someone left to go to another city. That was very hard. When that happened, the few people still here had too many responsibilities. With that situation, the dojo could not grow.
Now, our group is very organized. We are maturing, with new practitioners learning different responsibilities. Everyone does the work; some people take care of the house maintenance and the dojo room, while others work on the finances and communications. We also take turns guiding zazen sessions and hold frequent meetings to organize activities. Every Saturday, we do samu and other work for the community, without looking for any goal or any personal benefit.
Vásquez: Samu can be work within the dojo, but we have also offered workshops—such as in universities or parks—to introduce zazen to others. We show people so they can know a little bit about the practice.
What do you admire about your dojo in Santiago?
Vásquez: We have a lot of perseverance and good communication. It can be very hard to keep up the energy to come here and practice zazen.
Quiroz: We have equal relationships between people. We are also very authentic. People are who they really are. I think this is important, because when I first started to practice, I had illusions about the monks and the nature of the sangha. But then I learned that everyone can be themselves. We have nothing to hide.
I don’t know if every group is like that. I know other groups that are so strict. They say things like you have to be vegetarian or you cannot get angry. I think that approach feels abrupt. I am in this group because of our authenticity.
We realize that everyone is different. We have different paths and different interests. For example, in addition to being nuns, Andrea is a homeopath and I am a scriptwriter and journalist. We also know that what is good for someone may not be good for another person. The master says disciples have to harmonize like milk and honey. We influence each other by sitting together, by singing the sutras in the same tone, for example. It is a beautiful teaching.