Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sensei and I left still-snowy Atlanta at 6:45 this morning to drive up to Chattanooga together to give a pair of talks at the local Unitarian Universalist Church. By "still-snowy," I mean, while not ice-bound like we were last Monday through Wednesday, there is still snow on the ground at most places, with some small patches of side streets still covered with ice, particularly the one on which I live.

The UU Church is not in North Chattanooga like the Clear Springs Yoga Center where the Zen Group meets, and while we found it easily enough (it's clearly visible from the highway, and I've noticed it many times on my trips to and from the Chattanooga center), we had a harder time finding a restaurant serving breakfast. But we did finally find one and had a satisfying if brief breakfast there before heading over to the UU for the first of two talks.

On July 27, 2008, in an event eerily similar to last weekend's shootings in Tuscon, Arizona, an enraged gunman, angry about "Democrats, liberals, African Americans, and homosexuals," entered the Tennessee Valley UU Church in nearby Knoxville during a children's performance of Annie and opened fire, killing two adults. On the eve of the holiday celebrating the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who dedicated his life to non-violence, the congregation reflected on this tragedy and the culture of intolerance that led to this and subsequent violence.

But that was not our reason for coming up to Chattanooga this morning. Next Saturday, the Zen Group of Chattanooga will be holding a zazenkai (day-long meditation period), and we were there to get the word out and promote the event. Sensei gave two talks at the UU Church, one to a morning group of interested parties, including an extended Q&A session, and a more formal sermon during the regular morning service. He invited me up to the podium to provide the details of next weekend's zazenkai and to provide the congregation with a formal introduction to him.

The local media picked up on these talks and we had a very good turnout, based in no small part on the newspaper article that ran in the Chattanooga Times Free Press. I was impressed by the number of people present who apparently had significant Zen experience (but for whatever reason are not affiliated with the local Zen Group), including two couples who separately attended retreats with Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, and a gentleman who had recently returned from a trip to Nepal and Dharmasala to practice with the Tibetan monks in exile there.

We had time after the UU service to drive over to North Chattanooga and the Clear Springs Zen Center to join the Zen Group's meditation service. There, I met a new member of the local sangha, a woman with over 40 years of Zen experience going back to practicing at the San Francisco Zen Center with Shunryo Suzuki in the 1960s. She has lived in Chattanooga for many years, and only recently became aware of our center.

Meeting these many several persons at the UU and the Zen Group with long and involved experiences with practice leads me to suspect that there are still others in Chattanooga and eastern Tennessee who are interested in Buddhism. Our outreach to this area before the zazenkai will continue next week with both a television and a radio interview of Sensei. Details (and links, if possible) will be provided here.

After the Zen service, a group of us had lunch together at Green Life, a combination green grocer and restaurant, before Sensei and I drove back to Atlanta, reflecting on our good fortune on this most auspicious day.

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