The Eight Gates of Zen ~ Zen Practice inspired by John Daido Loori Roshi

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The Four Noble Truths, the Buddha’s original teachings on putting an end to suffering, culminate with the Eightfold Path. This path emphasizes that in order for our spiritual practice to be genuinely transformative, it must be engaged wholeheartedly, encompassing every aspect of our daily lives.  Developed within the Mountains and Rivers Order by John Daido Loori, Roshi, the Eight Gates of Zen are a modern expression of the Eightfold Path. They are a widely recognized way of engaging the dharma and of returning to intimate contact with our inherent stillness and clarity. The Eight Gates can be walked through at home, in retreat or at work. [from the Mountains and Rivers Order of Zen Buddhism retreat guide] 

The Eight Gates are:

  1. Zazen: This formal practice of seated meditation is the cornerstone of Zen training. A profound entry into our study of the self, zazen is boundless in its scope and ability to reveal the true basis of reality.  Our day begins and ends with meditation.  Even if it is a simple breath taken with care or a full round of formal zazen.  We attempt to stretch that breath out throughout the entire day, our entire life.  It is one breath that is shared by all.  We breath the air of Buddha.  We take refuge in our breath.
  2. Zen Study: Zen is an ancestral lineage, and personal study with an authentic teacher is critical in traditional training. Although fundamentally teachers have nothing to give, they are indispensable in helping us navigate the difficulties along the way, directly pointing to our inherent perfection.  Teachers stumble the path as much as the rest of us.  The teacher/student relationship is not unilateral.  Is the teacher is the ocean then we are the beach.  The ocean shapes the beach and the beach determines the form of the waves.  Both transcend their roles. 
  3. Liturgy: In Zen liturgy we manifest in a tangible form what we know intuitively. Liturgy brings into awareness the shared experience of the community and is an expression of the underlying religious truths of our lives. Each day involves the practice of formal services, including bowing and chanting.  Form is emptiness but this is only realized after we delve into the form.  Zen breeds beautiful rebellion to form but only after the form is understood.  Forgetting form is to forget emptiness.  To internalize form is to internalize emptiness.
  4. Art Practice: Our creativity and spirituality share a common source. From its inception, the Monastery has employed traditional Zen arts as well as contemporary artistic forms to offer art practice as a dynamic way of studying the self and expressing the understanding that we discover within.  While beyond scripture, sometimes the only way to express the Absolute is through the unhampered explosion of creativity.  Talent or skill is merely a label here.  You can express your practice in a brushstroke, verse or movement but it still all reeks of shit and shunyata.  Embrace it.
  5. Body Practice: This area of training explores our physical body as a vehicle for self-realization, an experience that includes our whole being. Body practice helps us unify body, breath and mind through activities ranging from refined practices like Tai Chi to mundane activities like washing our face or eating breakfast.  Every practice is a body practice. Every practice is a mind practice.  No-body No-mind.  Radical Interdependance is glimpsed when our body and mind fluidly interact.  No stopping.
  6. Buddhist Studies: Many Buddhist practitioners in the West are not familiar with the historical, philosophical and psychological underpinnings of the tradition. Academic study of Buddhist texts and commentaries is an essential part of establishing sound religious practice.  Our practice is transformative and visceral but no realization is possible without some understanding. 
  7. Work Practice: This is a reminder not to isolate ourselves in our spirituality but rather to transform every dimension of our lives into sacred activity. During caretaking periods on the monastic schedule, our daily tasks become fruitful opportunities to broaden our spiritual practice, as well as to explore work that does no harm and nourishes ourselves and others. Before we can come does from our cloud we need to place our feet and hands firmly in the earth.
  8. Right Action: This is the study and practice of the Buddhist Precepts, the moral and ethical teachings of the Buddha. Engaging the precepts teaches us to embody compassion as the selfless activity of the awakened mind.  No rules but the visual and practical expression of compassion tempered by wisdom.  The child of our practice is birthed through our union with the precepts.

This (as well as most of John Daido Loori’s work) has been a grand influence on my practice.  While unable to attend any retreats (let alone any retreats all the way over in upstate NY) the guide does bring to light many of the basic aspects of an expansive Zen practice.  One that transcends the zendo floor and opens itself up into the daily, mundane and significant areas of our life. 

Zen is the practice of this life; lived moment by moment with care and attention.

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4 thoughts on “The Eight Gates of Zen ~ Zen Practice inspired by John Daido Loori Roshi

  1. As did I but I really felt drawn to Loori’s “Invoking Reality” on living the precepts. The precepts always come off as rule-driven rather than as the process that they really are. The precepts are a roadmap of becominga more compassionate and wise person. By applying rather than following them blindly, you see the wisdom of using a map while blazing your own trail.Cheers,

  2. Was talking about American Buddhism with @DVCMom last night. I really have to thing that Daido Roshi was an innovator into *American* Buddhism, as differentiated from Tibetan, Japanese, Vietnamese, etc. It seems to me that Buddhism has to speak to the soul of the culture in which it is rooted in order for it to be effective.Some day I WILL get to Zen Mountain Monestary for some formal interaction. Some day.

  3. I’m ordering “Invoking Reality” on your previous recommendation (a tweet from way back that I favorited). Finally, getting around to it..

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