Autumn came with grey sky, and this early morning when I left for Zazen it was only seven degrees. I decided to switch on the Dojo’s central heating system for an hour, since some visitors recently complained about sitting in the cold.
Thinking of my winter Zazen experience in an unheated Temple in Japan, I remember it was a bit hard in the beginning to get adjusted. With some warm cloth and realising the ability of our human body to produce all warmth that is necessary I eventually really enjoyed it. Facing a beautiful Zen garden we even had the sliding doors open for sitting closer with nature, the gently falling snow almost touching our skin.
When I lead Sesshin at a huge luxurious seminar place in Bavaria we practise in a nicely heated room, the thick walls of the former medieval monastery perfectly insulate us from the surrounding nature. It is a real challenge not to fall asleep in the warm stuffy air, and the sound-scape produced by the heating and all the other technical systems operating the house evoke a spaceship-like atmosphere at times.
Switching on my Dojo’s heating this morning felt like switching off the opportunity to experience Zazen with nature: hot in summer, cold in winter.
Yet, this pampered way is often our Western Zen, custom-made for us saturated middle class consumers. If not the quest to further improve and optimise our performance, some vague feeling of dissatisfaction, some wish to change our life drives us to the door of a Zen Dojo. Though instead of searching and finding a place to truly experience ourselves, we end up in just another comfortably heated room wasting our time.
I get the impression some more industrious Zen entertainers are well aware of that problem and fill the comfortable boredom with many kinds of entertaining nonsense: a catwalk of fashionable Japanese style Zen-clothing, talks and performances functioning like some kind of emotional central heating, or an overshoot of ceremonies are on display.
More than ever I feel the humble Zen experience I have to offer does not meet the expectations of the people frequenting my Dojo. These autumn days I decided to relocate to a more secluded place, unheated, in the midst of nature.