I had a rather interesting email conversation with a Roshi of a large Los Angels Zen center a while back who discussed the aspect of Mind Training. She believed that the Zen Center’s function was to provide the training, the students themselves walk the path of Zen (Buddhism) individually.
Tibetans use a similar approach of Mind training with the Lamrim and the practice of Lojong that trains the mind. These are all preliminary practices, in which the student prepares to be a disciple of the Buddha, that seems to be an individual pursuit.
It is my opinion that Japanese zazen or Chinese shikantaza is a preliminary practice, designed to teach a type of mind discipline; to build up strength, endurance, and stamina. Though, this is just one expression of mind training, and not the only one. I have read of other variations of training from the hermeneutics traditions: such as living in a 5×8 box, not speaking for 3 years, dietary regulations, fastings, pain endurance, posture holding, and so on. Zen training can also include Martial arts, creative arts, performance ceremony (zen tea ceremony), archery, horseback riding, as well as still sitting exercises.
So, if we view the Zen Centers as a preparatory school, to get a would-be disciple ready for the actual path of the Buddha, then perhaps we have a better view of what the function of a Zen temple or monastic training center should be.
Having said that, not everyone needs Mind Training prep. school. Having spent time in a Zen Monastic center, some people came very well self-disciplined and were well on the way of walking the Buddha path themselves. Others, needed the training to prove to themselves they were worthy, that they could bear the pain of their own selfish desires, to look deep within at the suffering they create for themselves and others. And, yes there were some who never make it past the preliminaries.
So, do you need mind training? My answer is: only if you think you do.
If you can walk the Buddhas’ path yourself, you are ready. If not, then train to get ready.
Somewhere I hear Burgess Meredith in the back of my mind saying, “You’re gonna eat lightnin’ and you’re gonna crap thunder!”