Zen 101

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Zen of Holy

The Zen of Holy

And ye shall be holy unto Me; for I the LORD am holy, (Lev.20:23)

In the beginning they say the holy spirit swept across nothing and in a word the world was born.  That same spirit breathed life into mud and told the mud to name everything.  In the final chapters, so they say, the holy spirit told humankind to be holy, and to do so all they had to do was follow a few rules, and so they tried…but the rules were too difficult, don’t you know, and so?  We humans once again fell from grace.  Yet, in doing so we fully realized ourselves and THAT who always was and always will be suddenly goes silent: when all is One, there is no one.

Zen practice is like that, isn’t it?

We come to Zen seeking something, often salvation, a new life, a better life, or a life worth living. Such lives are hard.  They are hard because we need to let everything we know and care about fall away in order to be truly present. Being present, awake in the moment opens our hearts and minds. We can become afraid. We don’t know what will become of us through such an act; it is a serious leap of faith. So serious it is that few of us are either capable of, or are willing, to go there.  So, what do we do? Well, I think its  like we side step our way through the gates of bliss not knowing fully what to expect and yet expect our rewards will be greater than our efforts.  

A rule with a different view:  We often believe if we sit on a cushion long enough keeping an “open” beginner’s mind, our thoughts, fears, and concerns will fall away.  We chant:  “how wondrous and glorious are the clothes of enlightenment, formless yet enfolding all treasures. Wrapping ourselves in the Buddha’s teaching we free all living beings.”  We put on the robe. But not in any sort of serious mind, we just put it on. Like the saying, “the clothes make the man”  perhaps we think if we wear the robe some level of holiness will rub off on us and a buddha we will be. Within a second or two we forget all about the Buddha’s teaching, the robe, and frankly, anything else because we are now facing a wall, thus facing ourselves.

Master Dogen essentially argued that when we take our seat in the manner prescribed and practice in this way, we are in a state of what he called “practice realization.”  I call it “holiness.”  In the holy there is no two, no other, nothing impure, nothing profane.  In fact, even holiness evaporates. There is just this breath, then the next.  There is just this thought falling away and that thought falling away.  And in this know nothing place holiness arises.

Holiness is nothing special, it is with us in each and every breath. The sutra says there is nothing sacred and nothing profane, in fact, as we practice, holiness itself is rendered meaningless and in that moment, it too, falls away.

The Zen of Holiness then is a holiness gained, therefore lost. We don’t walk on water, but we do love each other.  We don’t perform miracles, but we do treat each other with a profound compassion. We don’t go to heaven, but remain here in this most needy world, offering a way, just a way, for each of us to live fully and completely.  May we each realize such holiness.

Monday, April 03, 2017

On Being a Zen Student

With palms together,

Teaching for nearly two decades has been a course in reality I deeply cherish, but have ambivalent feelings about. Students have come to me from around the world and throughout the United States each with their own agenda, their own motivation, and their own capacity for study and practice.  Most do not have the dedication to be a true student of Zen.  Most seem to allow their agendas to get in the way of their practice and, most importantly, continued practice.

My students often come wanting something a teacher cannot offer: answers.  They become frustrated or disillusioned and leave the practice hall.  The something that drove them to seek a teacher is often self-centered:  "I want to be less stressed, less angry, more compassionate" and so on. My answer does not satisfy: "You already possess these attributes, now sit and discover them."

It would seem the student wishes an answer, precisely to their need and their need is an answer, a concrete solution to what drove them to me.  This I cannot give and would not even if it were possible.The reason is actually quite simple: each of us is unique and my "answers" are not your answers.

To be an effective student of "the Way" is to be willing to sit with yourself gradually peeling away the layers that separate us from ourselves. The layers upon layers of assumption, rationalization, and ideas we hold about ourselves and our true nature.

A teacher cannot do this; the student must. What the teacher can do is support the practice.