Friday, April 18, 2008

Basic Zen Buddhism

The awareness that something is missing in life is generally what motivates people to explore Zen Buddhism. As we try to fill the emptiness, meditation –zazen-is our greatest teacher. When we sit down-even if our first experience is five minutes of a buzzing mind and twitching body- we can begin to see something about the nature of our mind.

What is Zen?

The word Zen comes from Sanskrit dhyana (meditative absorption), which was translated into ch’an in Chinese, then into zenna, or Zen in Japanese. This practice has come to US as Zen. Zazen literally means “seated mind”

We can talk about Buddhism and about Zen Buddhism from many different perspectives-religions, philosophy, psychology, art. But perhaps the best way to see Zen is as a way of life.
Vietnamese master Thich Nhat Hanh, in Zen Keys captures the everyday nature of Zen practice in the following conversation between Buddha and a philosopher:

“I have heard that Buddhism is a doctrine of enlightenment. What is your method? What do you practice everyday"?
“We walk, we eat, we wash ourselves, we sit down.”
"What is so special about that? Everyone walks, eats, washes and sits down".
“Sir, when we walk, we are aware that we are walking, when we eat we are aware we are eating…”

In Buddhism mindfulness is the key. Mindfulness sheds light on all things and all activities, producing the power of concentration, bringing forth deep insight and awakening. Mindfulness is the basis of all Buddhist practice.

An ancient koan, or a teaching story, likens entering into genuine Zen practice as stepping forward from the top of a hundred foot pole how do people take the first step? What does it feel like? To a certain extent, the answer depends upon who you are and where you are and when you decide to step of the pole.

The most powerful aspect of Zen practice is the freedom it gives you. Zen goes directly to your own experience of oneness of the universe, of your interconnectedness with all things. You learn to distrust whatever you clung to in your old sense of separation, and that realization can be the most liberating thing in your life, a freedom beyond anything you could have imagined.

What is enlightenment?

Enlightenment is to see into your true nature-to experience your oneness with all things. To be free of the delusion that you are a separate self. It is important not to reify enlightenment as a thing that you get, as if it were permanent and solid. It’s an awareness.

Is there a conflict between Zen practice and belief in another religion?

No. Zen being nontheistic, simply does not address the question of whether there is a god or not, so the only discord that might arise would come from the other tradition.

What is “Zen mind”?

It’s not the intellectual mind but that deeper cognition that understands or that experiences the whole world as itself and itself as the whole world. It’s the mind of emptiness.

What is “beginner’s mind”?

It’s the ability to encounter each experience with fresh innocence, as if for the first time.

Does Zen Buddhism put zazen above everything else?

It puts zazen at the heart of everything else. Zen literature is filled with warnings of dangers of self satisfied, passive meditation. Yet ultimately it is through zazen that we become capable of functioning with wisdom in the world. So yes, zazen is the heart of it.

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Journey Within

The least explored area by humans is their own self. Self awareness is the first step in knowing what you are all about. Meditation is the first step towards self awareness. The journey ends with life and is as thrilling as any adventure you might have embarked upon. You will discover life as you have never imagined. This is a journey without any baggage from past or the future. It begins and happens right here , right now in this present moment. All eternity exists in this present moment of yours. May you find it now.