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beginnermind in zazen_practice

Zazen without Zen?

I've been pondering this community for some time. There sure are enough members now, I was surprised to see that we'd grown to 101 since I started it up over two years ago, with 93 active and watching. I'd thought about getting rid of the community as being perhaps divisive; the z_b community has been getting less posts for some time, too, maybe there's just too many communities and people don't bother posting because they're not sure where to post. But with so many members seemingly interested, I guess the community serves some purpose, even if no one is posting. Perhaps the lack of posts is a statement in itself, one that isn't unimportant to make.

Originally, I thought of posting my zazen practice here, how much I sat especially, and how I felt about that. I didn't expect much interest. Since then, my practice has evolved somewhat, mostly through the pressure I put on myself with schemes like, well, a community where I would record the quantity of my practice for all to see. Now, I wonder if such an idea, though part of the way, has a habit of divorcing Zazen from Zen somehow, inherently.

Zazen is Zen. Yes. But there are a lot of teachers out there, a lot said about the practice and about practitioners. Some of it wrong, okay, wrong-headed especially from novices who think their own navel is the center of the universe, downright misleading from people using their ideas about Zen philosophy as a prop for their own ego and/or ideal world systems. But perhaps all of that is necessary for actual Zazen practice.

The idea of sitting every day is propigated a lot in Zen literature, by Zen teachers (it seems especially true of modern Zen teachers, even moreso of those in the west perhaps). Now, that is an ideal ... but Zen itself is all about getting rid of ideals. At least in part. It certainly isn't about building new ideals, as any Zazen practitioner worth their salt should tell you. So where's this ideal creep in?

Shunryu Suzuki's "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind" is often lauded as a Good Zen Book. But the same people often insist on establishing a daily Zazen practice, as if that was the only way to work through this thing called life and establish a truly enlightened existence. The only way according to Buddhism, anyway, or according to Zen Buddhism. Yet Suzuki makes a key point in his much-lauded work: Zazen shouldn't make you more busy. Zazen isn't calistetics or yoga or taijiquan, a practice to be done like brushing your teeth or going for your daily jog at 5am or whatever it is that fuels your body and mind. Zazen isn't some hobby to busy yourself with, or a commitment to brush your teeth regularly. It's often compared to such things. But it IS different. Suzuki says something like, "I think maybe doing Zazen once a week is enough for you." Once a week and maybe you'll see something besides another thing to busy yourself with, I think he's saying. Then maybe more. Maybe a daily practice sometime. Because Zazen is something to WANT to do. To need to do. Like drinking, like eating. Like breathing. Zazen isn't something to accomplish. Doing Zazen isn't a goal. Doing Zazen is liberation itself. And that can be a scary thing.

Those of us who practice without a teacher should also remember another hint Suzuki gives in that most famous of Zen books: you should have a teacher. Why? Because you shouldn't go too fast. A teacher will slow you down, so that you have time to digest your enlightenment. That's the Soto way, Dogen's way. Of course, that's just me saying that, draw your own conclusions. But teachers, even ones who tell us to have a daily practice, sometimes warn about Makyo and about attachment to emptiness, attachment to "enlightenment experiences". Kensho is dangerous, and one should run, not walk, to a teacher upon having it ... because a good teacher can slow you down, knock you down, get you back to the important bit, and save you a few years chasing Satori. Satori comes or it doesn't, Kensho comes and goes.

I know that many forms of Zen Buddhism do chase Kensho ... these are also forms which demand a teacher-student relationship, and that the student be directed by and meet with the teacher to discuss their experiences. I don't know a lot about them, actually, but I think maybe there are inherent dangers that can cost a practitioner years, Kensho propping up a triumphant false faced ego for who knows how long ... especially if the practitioner then stops practicing.

So, what I'm saying, I guess, is that we shouldn't be in a hurry. Just sitting, there's nothing else to accomplish: sitting, shikantaza, is the expression of Buddha Nature from the beginning. There's nothing else but that beginner's practice, everything beyond that feeling when we first sit down is just something extra, something added. Zazen shouldn't be a chore. It is a requirement for us Zen students.

So, how can this community exist? Why should it still exist? If Zen is all about this practice, shouldn't this all be discussed openly among the Zen philosophers and Zen game-players? Isn't that even part of the practice? Weeds are weeds, and, again in ZMBM, Suzuki says to not hate weeds, but to love them. Just sitting Zazen as our practice, it's just something empty, like the moon in a cloudless sky. When glimpsed through the weeds, through partially covering clouds, the roundness and beauty of the moon jumps out, silvered clouds parting as the full moon beams down on the white snow, broken by those weeds...

Just focusing on Zazen, turning away from the weeds, how are we guided? We forget the moon entirely.

Lately, I've been sitting, and enjoying the calm, mostly because there are more weeds, that I'm starting to love, growing in my life and my mind. I thought they were hazards and nuisances in my practice, but perhaps I'm learning that they are what makes my practice beautiful.

I still don't know if we need this community or not. But I'll let it stand. See what else grows.


I sit everyday that I can ... I do not know if it is necessary or not ... my teacher advised it and I was sitting everyday anyway ...
I like to go on treeleaf.org and sit with Jundo ... tues. is sangha ... sun. is sangha ... I'm not caring about any enlightenment experiences anymore ... I realized finally it was not going to be some lsd/peyote/mescaline/mushroom type peak mind blowing pschedelic experience like back in my seventies youth ... it was going to be some fairly ordinary thing, kensho and/or otherwise ... Brad Warner described walking to work slipping into a kensho experience and then continuing to walk to work afterward (maybe even during, I can't remember) ... I mean I'm not meaning to be putting it down but it doesn't sound like something that needs chasing ... if I were in a monastery I'd be meditating constant in one form or another so I figure whatever I can work in as I go along through the day will somehow stand me in good stead ...
Is sitting every day a chore, though? Why do it? Does doing it mean you're a good Buddhist, so you do it to be a good Buddhist?

Maybe it's like that sometimes. Maybe that's okay, too. But there's something else to it, or even less to it. Dogen calls Zazen not-a-chore, he calls it the Dharma Gate of Great Enjoyment and Ease or something along those lines.

Polishing a tile, you can't make a jewel; practicing Zazen, you can't make a Buddha.
My view is that zazen aids the process of coming to True Nature. It provides a time when you can really work on letting go of attachments, single-mindedly. I like doing it. I look forward to it as a time to dig in the heels, as it were.
You can't make Buddha, because you already are Buddha. I know that risks sounding like spiritualistic drivel, but I think that was what Dogen was getting at from my point of view.
Is there anything I can do to help?
I don't think it sounds like spiritualistic drivel at all.

I'm okay, thank you.:)
Zazen is a chore like sex is a chore. Make a buddha? or make a good buddhist? One doesn't eat to shit ~ Homeless Kodo
Yeah, but I was talking about how you feel about Zazen, not how Kodo Sawaki feels about Zen.

Besides, if you eat, you shit. You want eating good food without any shit afterwards, you're going to need an enema! Poor Zen teachers having to give so many students enemas.;) Really, that's what I'm talking about. A good satisfying shit, or you forget what food's all about, and think it just goes in your mouth and stays there.

The Japanese aesthetic tries to remember that something isn't perfect unless you can see its imperfection. Okay, big oversimplification. But, flowers are beautiful because flowers fade; the moon is beautiful because clouds whip across it. Zazen is Zazen, but what is it that makes Zazen beautiful? You can't see the beauty without seeing something else besides Zazen, like not fully appreciating the moon without the clouds. The moon without the clouds is more sterile, astronomical, a heavenly body. But on a dark night, with the wind blowing clouds across the face of the moon, drawing the silver light across the sky in streaks of dark cloud, the moon is beautiful. Zazen without Buddhism, without practitioners who want something out of it, is just cold. It's cold at the top of a thousand foot pole, and you can't even take a single step.
Is zazen beautiful? I really have never thought about it really -- and even when I do I don't know -- maybe because it's like a good satisfying shit.

What about Zen teachers?:)

Peace isn't all that peaceful, or it's just running away and living in a cave. Maybe it's good to run away and live in a cave for a while to get your head straight. But when there's nothing at all around you, perched on Zazen like a thousand foot pole holding you high out of reach of anything distracting, anything likely to shatter your peace, how can you take a single step?

Hello again

I know that you and I have had this conversation before, but...

Zazen is the fundamental practice, at least of the Soto tradition. If you've gotten to the point where you need to examine if zazen is calesthetics or a burden, perhaps you've discovered that zazen is not the right practice for you. I think that's what Suzuki meant when he suggested that some people would be better off watching TV.

There's nothing you need to do. For some of us, zazen is the way that we make sense of our life; more than that, it is the basis of our life (i.e. life can't go on without zazen). Being a Buddhist means that you practice Buddhism to the best of your ability. Zazen is not about attaining anything, including peace or equanimity or enlightenment or anything else; it's just about doing zazen, without judging it or making it into some big deal. If you go at it with a gaining idea, well, there's always TV; it will give you just as much benefit. Even my talking about benefits has just earned me innumerable kalpas in some sort of hell (or maybe not :-) )

Sorry if I sound like a broken record...

Re: Hello again

Oh, I agree with what you're saying. I'm also saying, "Don't hate the weeds." I'm also saying, doing this practice in the spirit your words seem to point at isn't done in a vacuum. "Here is Zazen ... there is Zen writing and philosophy and bad ideas about Buddhism." Or "Here is Zazen ... there is my life which is based on Zazen." Zazen like that is okay, it's Zazen! But it's more difficult to appreciate.

Seperated out from other discussions of Zen Buddhism, like this community is seperated from the Zen Buddhists community, especially in the spirit I made this community, Zazen feels like a chore. Some people love to do chores, it makes them feel good about themselves! But something creeps into practice besides Zazen. Maybe it's the vacuum wanting to be filled. Zazen as a chore is okay, but it's difficult to maintain in a pure form that way, because it's difficult to appreciate.

I'm having a hard time expressing myself. But I don't disagree with you. I wonder if this community makes Zazen a chore, though. Or a crutch for ego in some other way. Maybe when Zazen is a chore, it's helpful anyway.
It's funny, I still sit sometimes, but Tai Chi has pretty much taken over as my main meditation practice. But I do it with roughly the same mentality as you idealize for zazen.
I've only been doing Tai Chi for a few months ... my teacher just got me through the first section (Yang 103 Traditional Hand) ... and I must say it's helped me relax about my Zazen practice. But like I wrote above, it isn't Zazen.

I'm not sure how, really, but Zazen is just plain different, in my experience. I'm probably practicing my Tai Chi form more than I sit, but there's stuff to learn about form so I'm more into it. There will probably always be more things to learn about form, in fact. In Zazen, you just sit, that's form, so there's something else uncovered, maybe, less to worry about, so more room for things to open up. Makes it easier, and harder, than Tai Chi.:)

May 2008

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