Tuesday, 15 November 2016


63. Many who are new to Zen, and some who are not so new, ask how often they should meditate and for how long. Underlying such questions is a query about effort. How much effort must a practitioner be prepared to expend on Zen to gain its promised benefits? Quite a lot, if Master Mumon Ekai, the 13th century Chinese master, is to be believed. Master Mumon urges the Zen novice to arouse his or her entire body so as to employ every ounce of energy on this work. His advice is in keeping with the traditional slogan that has it that progress in Zen requires great faith, great doubt, and great determination. Clearly the practice of Zen has been traditionally seen as a demanding discipline. Yet when the 9th century master Joshu was a young monk he was warned that if he tried to seek after the Way he would be separated from it. Here it would seem that trying, putting in effort, would be counter-productive. So what should be done: practise hard or simply relax and take things easy? A contemporary master, who is clearly of the view that trying is necessary, has suggested that if a practitioner's effort is not supported by the universe as a whole then he or she could not make any real effort at all. On this view, what's at stake is not so much the amount of effort required but rather that the effort be real. Real effort in Zen is an intelligent discipline that works within the unity of the seeker and the sought. That is, one's effort is the work not of the isolated and limited self alone but rather of the Self that is operative at once in the practitioner and the practitioner's world. It is to the 'effort' of the True Self that the practitioner must surrender. In this way the practitioner is supported by 'the ten thousand things', that is, by the universe as a whole. It is a case of the Self that seeks and finds and knows and loves the Self. The Zen practitioner needs to surrender the empirical self to the workings of the True Self.

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