Zen Questions, Buddhist Queries Part 1: Why Zen?

On kakaka bisanmaei sowaka Tan Tan Tanuki no kintama wa

This week’s posts will consist of the questions I received from a student writing a paper on Buddhist practice.  My answers were supplimented slightly before posting with additional info, links and quotes.  So anyway, I hope my answers can be of some benefit and maybe promote some conversation (maybe even an ‘A’). 



 How long have you been practicing Zen? 

I have been practicing Zen regularly now for three years.  Before that, I was intermittently practicing but had no real community to ground it.  Being a beginning practitioner with no support made sustained practice very difficult.  It wasn’t until I found a small grassroots Soto Zen group that I was able to really get into the nitty-gritty of daily practice.  The interacting and engagement online also bolstered my ability to continue to explore and internalize the Buddhist concepts into something substantial.

What attracted you to Zen Buddhism specifically?

Zen was conceptually very simple without being superficially easy (although many still mistaken it for being an easy Buddhist practice).  It provided a sturdy framework from which I could continue to grow and expand if needed or I could keep it steady and stick to the sitting meditation.  The liturgy and chanting is also quite beautiful and poignant so I surprised at how much I found that I could meditate and engage with my practice through those mediums. Again, this was something that came about with practice in a small group as well as through recent changes in my life.

I have often used the analogy of a house to describe my Buddhist practice.  The foundation is the basic teaching of the Buddha (4 Noble Truths, 5 Precepts, 3 Poisons, Karma, Dependant Origination, Paramitas etc.) and the actual structure of my practice (the walls, ceiling, roof, floor) is provided by Zen.  Zen provides an expression and focus for those most basic Buddhist concepts.  The minimalistic approach works well for me in that I can approach my practice without a plethora of obscure references, complex philosophical concepts or diverse approaches.  Those things play an important role and I don’t think that we should become victim to tunnel-vision but their time will come.  The references will become available – the concepts become clear – the teachers will appear.  Until then, we sit and train our minds.  Just like our breath, our understanding and practice of the Dharma continues to ebb and flow in an organic and natural fashion.

That, in itself, provides a sturdy and energetic practice that can and will last a lifetime while leaving plenty of room to decorate with other more esoteric aspects of Buddhism (Jodo Shinshu’s Nembutsu chanting, Mahayana sutras and commentaries, Shingon’s mandalas, deity visualization practice, Tibetan Vajrayana, Yoga, Buddhist Yoga, etc.).  But those decorative touches are more like experimentations.  Sometimes they last for a long period of time and become a consistent part of my daily routine and sometimes they only last a few weeks.  Maybe one day one of my experimentations will change my whole structure….who knows.

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