Dipping the toe in the sea of Zen

by Ulises Quiñónez

We asked people to share their memories of the places where we practiced for a quaarter-century in southeast Portland. You can find these posts using the “MemoryBook” tag.

Around five years ago, after a couple of years of many changes in my life and living in a rather messy way, I reached a turning point: after reading (of all the books, go figure!) Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, I told myself, not for the first time, “I must find a place to meditate.” I had said it before but never taken action.

This time, using the internet service of the library to search for places of meditation in Portland I found three options:

  1. A Yoga studio in the north offering a meditation and chants session for a Saturday.
  2. A temple in southwest offering a meditation event for an afternoon weekday
  3. Dharma Rain Zen Center near Downtown, a Sunday service

I attended the Yoga studio and meditated with the owner and two other attendants, one of whom was the one running the event. Then the following week I attended the temple in SW with a large structure and hundreds of meditators. The leader at the front taught something and then all we meditated.

Then I came to Dharma Rain Zen Center.

The following Sunday I dressed in dark clothes (I had read it!) and rode my bike down to the address taken from the website. It took me a while to get there because I was living four or five miles away from the place and had to ask directions to a couple of people. I had read on the Temple´s website about some formalities when visiting the temple and a few concepts about meditation.

I arrived quite early and cautiously entered the reception. A man wearing an eastern suit addressed me to confirm it was my first visit, welcomed me and gave me a swift explanationofn how to enter and leave the meditation hall, the types of meditation performed in the service, and where to find cushions. He even explained to me which direction I should begin to walk in Kinhin [slow walking meditation] (one of the fifty mistakes I made during that first service).

The service was very good, although I can’t remember all the details. It took me a good deal to adopt the posture for meditation and my legs were hurting for a couple of weeks. Then I attended a couple of workshops where I learned some more details about the proper way to meditate and the correct ways to behave inside the Temple.

Kyogen, Patrick Finneran, and Gilbert at a break during the softball game.
Kyogen, Patrick Finneran, and Gilbert at a break during the softball game.

I continued attending the temple, had a private interview with co-aboot and even attended two short retreats, including ceremonial meals. I participated too in an activity of various Buddhist communities in a park and the annual softball game of our Sangha (I was a member of the Roshi’s team, and we lost!). Dharma Rain Zen Center was the home I had been looking for a long time.

For life matters I had to leave Portland and return to Guatemala. As a perfect Zen circle my last attended lecture in the temple was given by the wife of the man who had welcomed me about six months ago. She wished me a good farewell. That night another good friend gave me a book by our Roshi with the following dedication note: “take a little Dharma with you down to Guatemala”.

I will always keep with me that time when I had the privilege of sharing with the Sangha at Dharma Rain Zen Center. The patience shown to me while breaking formalities in those early Buddhist services and the Buddhist philosophy that could be seen in every member of the community represented my introduction to the Way. I hope someday to visit you guys at the new place in Siskiyou and (finally) take the precepts.

In gassho,
Gilbert