I find this little blip of Brad Warner in his latest HCZ blogpost spot-on...

I think it's good to visit a number of practice spaces if you can. I've noticed that people who attend just a single teacher's practice often develop a slightly warped attitude (and this includes people who attend only mine, maybe it goes especially for people who attend only mine). I'm not a fan of the practice of running around from meditation center to meditation center picking and choosing the parts you like of each one's practice and rejecting anything that bothers you. I know a lot of teachers out there make a good living offering such cobbled together practices. But I've never seen one of those that had the least bit of value. They're always very nice and completely undemanding. Sweet and useless, like high fructose corn syrup.

On the other hand, it's traditional to visit as many teachers as you like until you find one that suits you. Dogen did this as did a lot of the great teachers of the past. Once you find the right teacher it's best to stick with that teacher even if you don't like everything she or he does or says. The one that suits you won't always be the one you like best. Naturally if they start mixing up cyanide flavored Kool Aid it's probably time to go. But it's not good to jump ship just because certain things bug you. It's good to get bugged sometimes. Often that's exactly what you need. Remember the thing that bugs you is never solely "out there" in your teacher. In a very profound way these are things you create yourself even when they appear to be coming from someone else.

So anyway, it's good to check out other ways of practice and see how they really do things. You'll always be surprised. I know I always am.
So, Brad having said that, I want to expand on a few things.

Finding a good Dharma teacher is one of the core challenges of beginning a Buddhist practice, and it really can be a challenge. It's not like finding a professor you like, a new friend to hang with, or a favorite new author. Honestly, finding the proper sensi, yogi or baba for you is more akin to finding a quality doctor, dentist or therapist (or hell, good auto mechanic!)

But one thing I see far more often than I thought I would is people having trouble with ritual and form between sanghas, and especially as the establishment of that form relates to their dharma teachers. Tres interesting.

I've heard so often from (certain kinds of) practitioners that this or that zendo's form is "too loose", "too formal", "sloppy", "hippy-dippy", "zen-lite", "needlessly complicated", "not authentic enough" and on and on. They will often grouse about it 'mongst themselves, but never bring their opinion to the attention of the shusho, let alone the sensi/roshi. They may even really like the sensi's teachings and manner, but just bristle at certain ideas: we have to do [x] minutes of zazen? What about kinhin? What about bowing practices? Why don't we do it this way, so more people are this way or that? That chanting doesn't make me feel warm and fuzzy. Meh. I'll just sit through it until we get to the dharma talk. At least sensi gets that right...

Well, first off, if you think that the only thing your teacher can do well is speak to you, you probably haven't done enough research in picking a teacher. Of course, the way the teacher communicates his or her ideas or understanding is important, but what many of the "form whiners" aren't getting is that the form is part of the teachers' understanding. Not only part of, but quite possibly the basis for whatever understanding they're bringing to you. That very form is as much a part of the language that sensi is using to communicate their understanding experience to you as the words they use, and here you are, telling them the language they're using is all wrong!

Let's look at this in a slightly different way.

Let's say that I have a special pair of glasses, and because of their special lenses, these glasses have the ability to allow the wearer to see something in a very specific way, not unlike 3-D glasses do. It's very easy to understand that if two people go to a theater and see Bawana Devil, and one wears the specs while the other doesn't, the two viewers will experience inherently different views, even though the primary content will be the same. The glasses, by virtue of those colored lenses, allow the user two things, one that's overt, and one that's more subtle. On the surface, the wearing of the glasses helps people see (generally) the same thing. This is essentially an appeal to the intellect via a few of the senses (most notably, sight). The information (the moving picture) is being conveyed in the manner the artist (the director) intended, so everybody more-or-less comes away with the same intellectual experience. So this relates to the "form as language" analogy above; wear the gear to get the whole message sensi is trying to convey. Now, the more subtle effect is this; the wearing of the glasses also allows for a shared experience in the wearing of the glasses with everyone else in the theater. That's right; part and parcel of the whole 3-D thing is, for lack of a better descriptor, looking like a dweeb with everyone else! It is the shared experience that brings the whole thing together. So, in this regard, you're also doing what everybody else in the theater/zendo/shala did in order to essentially be on the same page as everyone there. Having close to the same experience as everyone else allows for a base of commonality that encourages communication laterally as well as up and down. If not, when asked about the movie, someone would say "Did you jump when the spear came at you?" and the other would respond "Feh! Sean Connery didn't look anything like King Arthur!"

Each sangha, each zendo, each meditation group does things a little differently, and this is typically established by the sensi, leader, organizer, etc. for a number of reasons, not the least of which is simple continuity. So, when it comes to zendo form, and the manner in which your sensi runs the show, take away this from me if anything. It's perfectly alright to experience a number of different forms while investigating Buddhist practice at first. But if you actually want to get anywhere with a teacher, you must have a bit of faith in their form (or at least a faith in the power of form at all) and give the teacher's form a chance to work for you. This takes time, and can easily take years (one should think months at a minimum). If in a year, you still don't connect to their form, then look for a different teacher. It's very easy to be moved by someone's intellect and their ability to speak to you. But Buddhism is an experiential practice, not merely an intellectual one. So give the sensi some time to conect with you on all levels. Think of them as explaining it this way; "This is my form, and is part of the over-all manner in which I try and communicate to you this thing that is nearly ineffable. If we stick to mere language, it will truly remain ineffable. I didn't have just a realization. I didn't merely have an understanding. I had a comprehension. I had an experience of both mind and body. It came under these circumstances, through this form, doing things in this way. I can try and describe what I comprehended to you, but unless you're doing what I was doing, it's pointless. So, if you are coming to me in order to have me teach you how to hit the nail on the head, we'll need a board, a nail and a hammer..."

Pre-conceived notions are the death-knell of Buddhist understanding.

"Already knowing" is the enemy...

...but I've seen the film before, so watch out for that freaky spear!