religious sightseeing.

I'm not sure how many people would spend their weekends like this. If they're cute single girls, give them my phone number.


On Saturday, for one of my top two bizarre first dates (the other one involved a crescent wrench and a policeman), I met this girl for coffee and then went to see Adyashanti, her spiritual teacher, who lives around here. My Zen teacher had mentioned him (with some concern), and another friend is a student of his and had recommended him; I've been skeptical, partly because I'm suspicious of spiritual teachers anyway, especially who seem to be the focus of their own teaching, but I'd also suffered through about 30 minutes of one of his videos, "The Journey After Awakening", which was him in a rambling dialogue with one of his fellow teachers, proving what a teacher at San Francisco Zen Center told me: "Nothing is more boring than someone else's spiritual insights." After the satsang on Saturday, I'm still a little iffy, but I'm happy to report that video isn't his best work.

He's an interesting character, and I listened carefully to what he said for clues to where he's coming from. He studied Zen for about 14 years, in a lineage that, from my readings, I might describe as "slightly cranky". According to my friend, he was one of the hardcore ones and blew out his knees sitting zazen. He had some opening experiences, and in there somewhere, decided there had to be an easier way that he could teach to people. (Zen is, or can be, somewhat internally high-pressure: some lineages, like Adya's, work very hard to "raise the great ball of doubt", a confusion that consumes you so completely that you finally see your anguish and clinging to transient things, and let go of it. It's sort of unpleasant, and some people get to that point and leave, and a rare few go insane; and Adya seems dedicated to finding some other way that's less painful for people.)

History, and Zen especially, is full of warnings about drifting into the terra incognita of doing your own spiritual teaching. It's a wild place, trying to find your own framework for teaching, somehow convinced that your previous framework doesn't work, but not sure where to find the next thing. Adya's relationship to Zen seems to be that of a grown child to a parent both loved and resented: he made a number of snide comments about Buddhist practice, but on the other hand his teaching is essentially Buddhist in character, a bit watered-down and skewed toward the warm-and-fuzzy. I think he overdid it in his Zen practice, and encountered a lot of other people who overdid it, and got too attached to their practice. It's a known hazard, but it seems like of the available responses, he got cynical about Zen. He reminds me a bit Dennis Genpo Merzel, a full teacher in Adya's Zen lineage, though Merzel's excursion into the weeds of spirituality seems way worse.


My friend Matt is a church music director on weekends, and to cover for a friend on Sunday, he led the evening contemplative service at Grace Episcopal Cathedral in San Francisco. He and I have had a lot of religion talks, and he invited me to come, both to have a friendly face (and strong singer) around, and because he knows I was raised Episcopalian. This was all new to me: I think the service may have been modeled on the Taizé services, but it's very much its own thing. I may track down a source for the text, because it's a perfectly brilliant service. There's short, engaging music (Matt does his work on guitar, but apparently it's usually piano), a bit of plainchant of all things, a couple of Japanese kesu gongs to signal a couple of (very) short meditative silences. The text is largely drawn from the various Episcopal services, so it's all distinctly Episcopalian, while pulling in various elements of the church's first millennium: the plainsong, the egalitarian setup of everyone in a circle around the altar and the Scripture readers. It was a lovely way to spend a rainy Sunday evening, especially since I found easy parking.

(Matt is strongly Catholic, at least culturally, and as we walked up toward where the service would be, he leaned over and said,

"All their hymnals are from 1982."


"Is that normal?"

"It's a highly democratic organization, so revisions take a long time."

"Huh. Fascinating."

I might also have explained that replacing hymnals is expensive, but we moved on. I like Matt.)