What’s in a name?
Shortly after starting to offer Zen sitting on Saturday mornings at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Fresno, I got to thinking about a name for our zazenkai. Zazenkai basically means “coming together for zazen,” so of course, it’s okay to just be the Saturday morning Zen sitting. But after a while, not having a name feels funny; it leaves kind of an emotional hole. Since starting, I’ve been visiting the big pond behind Room 3 where we sit. Technically, the pond is called a ponding basin. Reverend Jessup explained that ponding basins are scattered throughout Fresno. They collect rain water in winter. In the summer they are often filled with water from the San Joaquin or Kings Rivers. The idea is that water in the basins will percolate down and replenish the water table underneath Fresno.
The pond behind our sitting room is lovely. I visit when I come to sit and watch the birds. Many species stop to refresh themselves en route southward for the winter, and again in early spring as they return to the north. Canada Geese, all sorts of ducks, and countless other species stop to rest. There’s also a steady population of gulls, crows, and smaller birds who hang out on and around the pond pretty much all year. The varied species seem to be able to share the pond without hassling each other. Some dive for food, others find food in the grasses on the banks, and some just rest, float, or poke around in the dirt.
I’ve been wanting to name our zazenkai after this pond. Many aspects of practice are akin to water: stillness, depth, essential refreshment, mirroring, and the ability to take whatever shape is required at any moment. I admire how the pond allows anyone – any bird – to stop by, briefly or for a lifetime, and take whatever is available, whatever is needed. So I’ve settled on the name Big Pond. It has a nice feeling. Serious enough without being pompous. Pretty, but not fussy. Of course, I checked with my teacher, Lew Richmond. He said something like this: Talking about being a big fish in a small pond is the ego’s way, but being a small fish in a big pond is Buddha’s way: Big Pond.