If you are familiar with me then you know that I have a distinct distaste for the term “zen” used as a descriptor of other things (ie. the zen of marketing) as well as the term Zen to infer a mystical ethereal quality, which has been popularized in the west by various self-help zombies and new age gurus.
Now part of this is funny since I often title things with the “Zen and the…” in my blogs. Although, granted, I do try to make the relation funny or at least ironic when I do it. Whether or not I suceed in that endevour will be judged by history.
However the concept of “mystical” Zen still annoys the crap out of me. Zen is constantly inferred to grant practicioners with some mystic or supernatural qualities (or at least the teachers or purveors of wisdom are assumed to) or that even the concept of Zen, while complicated, is endowed with some ethereal foundation. Nothing about Zen is mystical, spooky or supernatural. It just isn’t. You may want it to be soooo much but still…it isn’t. Deal with it.
You can even pretend. You can give your practice a really cool sounding name like “Dark Zen”. Oooooo…I feel all special and mythic when you make it sound like that. Maybe I should call my own practice something cool like “Epic Zen” or “Hulk Zen”.
Wow, that would be awesome. That would make my mundane little practice seem so much more interesting. It could even get me some followers and maybe even a book deal. Imagine that…all I have to do is lie alittle and stretch the truth abit and grow my hair longer, maybe get a cool goatee, Oh! and black, i need to wear lots of black. Black everything. Maybe learn some kung-fu. That should help….
Lets not make this more than it actually is…a meditation school.
Zen is quiet and gradual. It is an abbreviation. A form and a style of meditation. Why it got abbreviated in the first place, I have no idea. Who cares.
Zen is loud and abrupt. Sure, why not? It is sometimes and sometimes it isn’t. But quiet or loud, gradual or abrupt, simple or complex; the one thing Zen is not is fucking magical. Sorry.
…anyway…I thought I could provide a brief outline of Zen Buddhism and Zen practice. In my opinion (humble as it is) if you function in the way below you are on the Zen Buddhist path. Whether or not you want to call yourself one is entirely up to you. Personally, to me, Zen isn’t a religion in the classical sense – it is a path – one that can mix with any other religion or belief system.
- All Buddhist schools focus in some way on meditation. In some the primary form is scholarly study of sutras (meditative in a way), others utilize visualizations (mental or actual physical representations of buddhas or bodhisattvas), mundas (positions of hand or body) and mantras (“power” words or phrases, nembutsu).
- Zen focuses on zazen or seated meditation. Meditation can be silent with no-thought (shikintaza) or with a focus (koans, riddles). Most, if not all, schools of Zen focus on breathing as the first step in mediative practice.
- Where Zen really moves away from the rest is that the zazen is only a first step in Zen practice. It is more than quieting and focusing the mind. It is more than finding the still point – that area of your practice where we can sit, presently, in the moment. The goal then is to transfer that feeling to all aspects of life. It should be there when we laugh, cry, work, play and eat.
- This is the reason that kinhin (walking meditation), samu (working meditation) and chanting are used in Zen practice. In each of these activities we focus the same attention. We process less during the tasks but reflect more.
- The best description is your reflection in a pool of water (cliche!). When the water is disturbed and waves are appearing the reflection in the water is difficult to make out. But once the water clears you can see that reflection perfectly. These waves will always happen in your mind as well as in the pool. But once we get that reflection for the first time it never goes away. We now know what we are looking at no matter how obscured it gets…that is our buddha-nature.