So, Todd bequeathed the maintenance of this community to me. The last posts in this community were about whether to keep it or throw it aside. I haven't seen a post since November, so I am assuming people would prefer it to go defunct.
Please chime in as to what you think should become of this community. I see that a number of people watch it, are members of it, etc. Let me know what you think, if anything. What have you found valuable in the community in the past, what could it be used for in the future?

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.
  • arkasis

Zazen without zazen

 I have not read Brad Warner's latest book, but only heard of it second-hand. I do remember reading Hardcore Zen, and thinking that it was lacking some substance. At the time, Warner liked to sum up his life and experience and frame it in terms of his current status as a Dharma Heir, whatever that means anymore. I went to the source after that and read Nishijima's books, including the Real Dragon one, and ultimately sold it for $3 at a local book store. 
Nishijima's approach is highly intellectual in nature, and aims to understand the Shobogenzo. In my opinion, the Shobogenzo reads like any other Zen writing in that it is not a compendium of 'Zen knowledge', but a means to point to the manifest nature of the human mind. True, Shobogenzo, which one can read excellent translations of at a site called the Soto Zen Text Project, is a compendium of Zen lore. However, this is not so much knowledge of Zen as it is a history or map of the Zen experience, which Dogen invites us all to experience in seated zazen in his Zazengi
So I have not been able to sit formal zazen for a week or so due to circumstances, and have found the practice of what Hakuin Zenji called 'the continual spirit of zazen' to be most helpful. Essentially, the idea behind it is to let the mind sit zazen while interacting with the world. The principal Way here can be found in the 6th Patriarch's Platform Sutra, when he speaks of Prajna. To have an unperturbed mind, while reacting benevolently and in a focused manner to one's Karma---this is called t'so-ch'an by Huineng, for whom as I recall, seated zazen was not a means of Enlightenment. However, Huineng is the subject of one of Dogen's Shobogenzo essays, Old Buddha

I would recommend anyone interested take a look at the Soto Zen Text Project, read Dogen there for free, and reflect on Warner's apparent need to manifest his 'Punk Rock Zen' via media and teaching appearances, as someone who 'understands Dogen Zenji'.
I realize this community has seen Brad Warner as a kind of hero, but in the interests of debunking hero worship in the tradition of Zen scepticism, I offer this as a thought to ponder, or rail against, or agree with. I just don't want to see this community die out, because zazen is truly beneficial, in my opinion.
  • Current Music
    Bach's concertos

Koan music

Instead of trying to figure out the koan, whatever koan it is, using the intellect and objective judgements and so forth, can one listen to the koan the way one would listen to music? What is the spirit of the Mu koan, for example? What is the quasi-intangible spirit of it? How can this be embodied in everyday life and on the cushion? What was Joshu's mood when he said Mu? 
Listening like this means that one has to loose one's hold on 'enlightenment' and 'transcendence' and just listen to Mu inwardly. How can this same approach be done to approach the breath, or the body? What is the spirit of this practice? What underlies our devotion to it? Our inward knowing that it is the way to settle our doubts about life, and to step into a true way of being?

  • arkasis

Hara or not

I was not told much about the hara in my studies of Zen, but it appears that focused concentration on this area, while grounding the mind in the present, is also a requisite for enlightenment. Hakuin, in his Orategama work and others, lets it be known that in order to work on Zen, one must be working on one's hara, or vital center. And of course, the man is right. I have felt somewhat depressed and anxious for awhile, and today when I focused on the hara, all of this went away. The more one focuses the more one wants to focus. The feeling feels good, strong and grounded deeply in the here and now.  What have others found?

Meditation log January 12

I sit within the luminosity between the fluttering thoughts. Focus, if any, is the kong-an. Tell that to monkey mind! Instead, after all the years of doing trance work and insight meditation before I practiced zazen, I slip and the insights come during zazen.

This morning: Physical pleasure and words and my day job are traps, but only if I consent to be trapped by them.

Form is emptiness, emptiness form.

another difficult reminder of impermanence

I found out today that my former Zen teacher who I practiced with in Nebraska is currently in the hospital with serious health problems. He had intestinal surgery recently and has since contracted a major infection which drastically worsened his condition. I haven't seen him in more than a year and a half and still every time I think about Zen, zazen, or seriously about life in any way, some aspect of his teaching and very being come to mind. Any of you that have ever practiced Zen with a teacher will understand the depth and power that is inherent in the student-teacher relationship. For myself and many others, Nonin has served as a living example of the efficacy that is found in a life devoted to zazen. Here's to hoping he can continue to serve in that role and is able to recover from his illness. Please, pray for Nonin in whatever way is appropriate for you, and do your best to continue to trust in and practice zazen.

Hands palm-to-palm,
  • arkasis


That moment where I want to give up, forget Zen and the difficulty of daily practice both on and off the cushion is the point where effort must be expended to keep on track. Will this end in enlightenment, or just a failed attempt at being something? This question must be forgotten, for enlightenment cannot be like everything else that is acquired in this life. Just keep on going, I say, keep on going. If you keep going, something will happen. And in that moment, I forget all about Zen and enlightenment, and I just persist, hanging on, and I find strength I never thought I had.

  • Current Music
    Karsh Kale

sitting meditation

I sat last night for 40 minutes. It was good. The dogs even left me alone. My little dog brought me his bone. He dropped it right in front of me. I have no alter so the dog bone worked perfectly. It is interesting what the mind does when sitting. The body so still but the mind races like a wild animal. Sitting was good. I should of done it all night because for some reason I can not sleep. I lay in bed awake till 5am.
  • Current Mood
    content content