I greeted an old acquaintance online the other day, a fellow Zen Buddhist back from my days practicing at the Atlanta Center. More specifically, I complimented some pictures that he had posted to Facebook, and his reply, in addition to thanking me for my comments, was something along the lines of, "Nice to hear from you. I hope you're still meditating."
I know he means well and no offense was implied on his part, but I found his reply a little troubling. No "Hope you're doing well" or "Hope you're healthy and happy," but instead just a simple "Hope you're still practicing the same faith as me."
Now, it could be argued that he hopes I'm still meditating because if I'm meditating, then I must have at least a certain minimum level of health, and as an adherent would have it, if I'm meditating then happiness, or at least contentment and acceptance, can't be far behind.
If we base our behaviors on Maslow's hierarchy of needs, then if I have the spare time to engage in a contemplative practice of self-actualization or self-transcendence, I must have the basic needs of safety, housing, clothes, food, and so on covered, and I'm obviously not out living on the street begging or stealing for food. It's been argued that humans put of extravagant displays of leisure in order to demonstrate that they have the basic needs so well covered that they have the time and resources to spare in order to engage in time-consuming grooming activities (outrageous hairdos or facial hair, six-pack abs, suntans in winter, etc.) or pastimes like golf that consume a lot of effort without fulfilling basic needs. We can display our suitability as mates to the opposite sex by showing off the wealth of free time that we have. I personally have never considered the hours of meditation as demonstrations of this sort of wealth and I've not heard anyone state that so-and-so must really have it together because they have the time to sit and stare at walls, but I guess if you do have the time and resources for a layperson's practice, you probably are at least relatively affluent and have the basics covered. Maybe that's why Zen isn't as popular with the poor and the homeless as it would be otherwise.
But I'm off course already. Where was I? Oh yes, I don't think he was wishing me health and prosperity in a roundabout way by saying he hoped I was still meditating; I believe that his reflexive wish for me, the first thing that came into his mind, was that I still practiced even though I'd left the Zen Center.
And that upsets me even more so. Anyone who knows anything about my leaving knows that I didn't leave because of any change in my attitude or interest in Zen practice but due to an inevitable and unavoidable conflict with the ego of the teacher there. The whole confrontation was arranged by the teacher in such a way that I would be the one to leave and he could say "I never forced him out," but the truth is he felt threatened for some reason and turned on me in a way he knew would cause my departure. I don't like talking much about it as I don't want to be one of those persons - or be perceived as one of those persons - who define themselves by the wrongs they feel were done to them, but I'm still as much of a contemplative practitioner as I was on the day I was kicked out.
The comment "I hope you're still meditating" either misunderstands the reasons I left or assumes that practice outside the confines of the center is tenuous at best. Neither case is true. In fact, I can argue that a self-directed practice is more in line with the teachings of the Buddha than relying on the guidance and counsel of a self-appointed teacher.
But as I said at the start, I understand that no offense was meant and that he was only wishing me well in the way he knew how - in relation to his values and the way that he sees them. No offense was taken, since no offense was offered. But it does show me the problems inherent in organized practice, and makes me more glad than ever that I've set off on my own path.