Zen Questions, Buddhist Queries Part 2: Is Buddhism Difficult?

Nômaku sanmanda bazaradan senda makaroshada sowataya un tarata kanman

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’).  See Part 1



How has religion shaped your life?* 

At its heart, I consider Buddhism to be a source of spiritual preventive medicine for the mind and for all sentient beings unfortunate enough to be around me on a daily basis.  The renewal of my practice coincided with my wife’s first pregnancy and the need for me to find a higher paying (and thus higher stress occupation) to support us.  I restarted my Buddhist practice as a way to prepare for the changes that I was seeing ahead.  It has helped.  It doesn’t remove the stress and I don’t walk around “blissed out” on Buddhism but I am able to place those stressors in the proper context and handle them in a compassionate, wise and understanding manner.

What are the challenges, if any, to practicing Buddhism?* 

Buddhist practice, by Kapleau-roshi’s standard, is made up of three aspects that are in constant flux: Great Faith, Great Doubt and Great Striving.  So the very essence of practice is activity and mental training and not the silence and stillness that is usually exemplified by popularized Zen.  That is a challenge but one that most of us wish to engage wholeheartedly and every day.

Logistically, it is difficult for me to find time and a quiet place to meditate.  In order to continue in my practice I have to view it as constantly in flux – always changing and always open for change.  Just as my experience of my wonderful daughter changes as she grows from infant to toddler, so does my practice.  I can’t expect that what I did a few years ago is going to be the same practice I have now or 3 years from now.  I allow it to grow organically with us.  Since the reason I began was to benefit my family and others, I keep in mind that clinging to a certain type of practice For example I have recently introduced more yoga and walking meditation since it requires less time than zazen (sitting meditation).

I will probably never be as focused as other practitioners and attend long sesshins and retreats, I will probably never engage in a teacher/student relationship as deep as others, I will probably never take my precepts.  But I will continue to strive and practice and live my days.

I recently came up with an analogy to explain my meditation – If you look at a duck on the water you will see a still bird bobbing on the waves while underneath and out of sight the duck’s legs are paddling wildly and constantly.  That is me.  Perhaps no movement is apparent on the surface but underneath there is constant activity.

Everything we need is already before us.  All of our practice is already actualized.  It is just a manner of us realizing and internalizing that simple and profound fact.  There are no steps, there is no attainment and there is nothing to attain – There is just a process that will continue whether we accept it or not.  We don’t need koans, lojong mind-training or pretty beads and a black cushion just as we don’t need happiness or fulfillment.   We just need … and that is the problem.  That is our challenge.

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14 thoughts on “Zen Questions, Buddhist Queries Part 2: Is Buddhism Difficult?

  1. In Kwan Um, we have bowing meditation. You do 108 prostrations in a row. It takes about 12 minutes and is very, very effective. My teacher told me that when her child was toddlering, these bows were a lot easier to do since it takes less time and people are less likely to interrupt you if you are doing something “active.”

    Great post, by the way.

    • Ha! Whenever I have family visiting I turn to prostration practice. I usually have earphone to listen to chants while doing them. One time my wife walked in on me prostrating. It was more emabarrassing to me than if she walked in while masturbating. That Christian guilt is still so engrained into me.



      • I said “prostration” not “prostation”! Although I can see where I would be mortified if my wife walked in on the later.

  2. “I learned how much my suffering had corrupted me.”
    ~G.García Márquez, ‘Memoria de mis putas tristes’

  3. I too find the time factor to be a hurdle in my practice. By the time I get home and get my little monster to sleep, it’s about 7ish, which leaves about 2 1/2 hours for the wife and I. Sometimes we chant, other times we just breathe. Too often we watch a movie. (the last one is no one’s fault but mine)

  4. excellent post.
    with working and parenting my son, keeping my practice active has been a challenge.
    these days i break out the cushion during my lunch break!

  5. What is the difference between Zen Buddhist and Tibetan?

    Maybe I should read more before I ask here but I know the clothes are different.


    • Both are practice-based teachings and the core is very similar but in Zen we consider ourselves a meditation -based practice and Tibetan or Vajrayana Buddhists explore a much wider and diverse field of practice which includes ‘secret’ teachings.

      I mean that is a very basic difference. Vajrayana focuses on meditation but not to the extent that Zen does and within the Vajrayana tradition there are differences in which practices are utilized as well.

      Zen is very much a focused, trimmed-down and basic practice when compared to Vajrayana. And most Zen practitioners may look at Vajrayana as being too complex and varied.

      I think many Vajrayana practitioners will look at Zen practice and see only the beginning of their practice, while we see this simple practice as something that needs to be refined and continued throughout a life-time and still never mastered.

      Both schools are considered to be expedient, in that enlightenment can be achieved in one single life-time, both also place great authourity on lamas (in Tibetan) and roshis (in Zen) as central to practice.

      Those are really quick generalizations on two schools with much history but I think it gives you the general idea.



      ps. Vajrayana has much crazier hats too!

      • Thank you. I have been reading ‘Hardcore Zen’. Its differently my kind of book.

        My first time with meditation was at Yoga Teacher training. I know I need to do more but sometimes its hard to find time to ‘sit’.

        Does one do more mantras then the other or anything like that?


        • Yes. More mantras in Vajrayana but Zen is not as mantra-free as many think. In the Zen liturgy that my group utilizes we do several mantras (Jizo, Kannon and Manjushri) and some gathas. I actually use them in my daily practice as well. Many Zen schools utilize the nembutsu as well (the name of the Amitbha Buddha).

          But, by and large, Vajrayana uses mantra practice much more.

          I have some links to mahamundra practice and the Japanese Vajrayana school of Shingon in my Resources page. Feel free to check them out.



          I have not read “Hardcore Zen”, I probably should.

  6. Pingback: Zen Questions, Buddhist Queries Part 4: Zazen and the Environment « Sweep the dust, Push the dirt

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