No Shoes? No Problem!

I was at the Houston Zen Center the other day sweeping outside during Soji (silent work practice) and as I came back inside I removed my shoes and placed them with everyone else's.
 
I usually do this without a thought to why, but this time I thought about it. Why do we we remove your shoes to enter a meditation hall? You could chock it up to a Japanese cultural practice, but I'm not sure you'd be correct.
 
At the Jade Buddha Temple, which is part of a Chinese Mahayana/Pure Land lineage, we also remove our shoes but only for the meditation hall or the Grand Hall if it isn't a Sangha gathering day like Wesak or Ulambana. The signs at the front of the the Grand Hall seem to indicate that the shoes thing is only because of the hardwood floors that were installed to replace the carpet a few years ago.
 
In doing some research online I've discovered that most traditions require you to remove your shoes for meditation.
 
This may hearken back to the barefoot monastics of the early sangha who meditated on the ground and didn't wear shoes.
 
However, I think the practice continued for better reasons. First, it's hard to sit cross legged with shoes on. Also you feel more connected and vulnerable without shoes. You only take your shoes off in places that you are comfortable. It can also be an outward sign of letting down mental and emotional barriers and connecting with the sangha around you or with the Greater Sangha that is the Universe and all beings within it.
 
Gassho.
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