195. While doing zazen or sitting meditation in the meditation hall, we are engaged in two basic practices: breath awareness and body awareness. Through these practices we gradually develop mindfulness, both while we are sitting on our cushions doing zazen and in our everyday activities. This mindfulness, and the concentration that is part and parcel of it, open up a space in our life for self-inquiry. Within this space we come to face questions about who and what we are. As Dogen, the great thirteenth century Japanese Zen master said, 'To study the Buddha Way is to study the self'.
Sunday, 28 January 2018
194. The True Self is the source of the deep yearning that the Zen practitioner comes to find stirring within himself or herself, a yearning not only for the liberation of the small, finite, separate self but also for the liberation of all beings. The distinction and interplay between the finite, conventional self and the True Self is graphically, even dramatically, displayed in many of the Zen koans. Questions like 'what is your original self?', 'who is he?', 'where is your true nature?', and 'who is this standing before me?' are all indicative of Zen's quest for the True Self, its search for what constitutes ultimate reality.
Sunday, 14 January 2018
193. Sangha, being a human institution, is never ideal. Being made up of people just like oneself, it has both strengths and weaknesses, good points and not so good. Utopian expectations of the sangha are bound to be disappointed. For some this can be a source of disillusionment, even of scandal. And yet, in spite of its shortcomings, many find in the sangha a welcoming and supportive community. Becoming acquainted with one's fellow members can be a source of great inspiration and an incentive to commit oneself more wholeheartedly to the practice. Moreover, the sangha opens one to the presence and teachings of an enlightened master.
Saturday, 13 January 2018
192. Thursday is usually designated as a 'free day ' at Bodhizendo in India. It provides wonderful opportunities to build up sangha relations. There is both time and leisure to get to know one's fellow practitioners, men and women who have been drawn here from many parts of the world. Many use the day to travel into town and mix with one another as they do so. Some shop together, explore the town, drink coffee. Some, however, stay at home, and soak up the peace and quiet of a mostly deserted zendo. Others choose to go walking in the hills with a friend or new acquaintance. And so they become intimate with the wider sangha, the ten thousand things and the men and women and children who make their home in the small villages here about.
Friday, 12 January 2018
191. The Zen practitioner is not an isolated individual. He or she belongs to a sangha, a community of fellow practitioners that is committed to the path under the guidance of a master. As sangha members practitioners are expected to contribute to the running of the community and to help build up sangha relations. An important way to do this is through the practice of samu. Samu is a form of work in the service of the sangha. In this practice members interact with one another. By cooperating on various projects they come to respect and value one another. Membership of the sangha is a great lesson in how to step from the top of the hundred foot pole.
Thursday, 11 January 2018
190. Dokusan is an opportunity to break out of an individualistic approach to Zen practice. There one goes alone into the presence of the master to make a presentation of one's understanding. The master may accept or reject one's presentation. No room for argument or egoism here. Indeed the master will jump on any indication of self importance on the part of the practitioner. And it is the master who decides when the interview is finished. This is the traditional model of Dokusan and it has its critics. Some complain that it is authoritarian and dismiss it as exhibiting something they call 'guru-ism'. Perhaps they find it an affront to their democratic sensibilities.
189. New comers to a Zen centre or monastery are sometimes surprised, even put off, by the rituals and chanting that they encounter there. It seems they imagine Zen to be a very private practice in which they turn inward to face their own consciousness. But Zen is not a private, individualistic undertaking. Rather, the Zen practitioner is part of a sangha, a community of fellow practitioners. Moreover, he or she undertakes the practice under the guidance of a Zen master. And it is to this master that a practitioner will at set times make a presentation of his or her understanding. A practitioner's realization is never complete without the master's endorsement.
Tuesday, 9 January 2018
188. Touching, collecting (re-collecting) the heart-mind, realizing and coming home to the heart-mind, this is our task in sesshin, our time of intensive practice. We are helped in doing this by our practices of concentration, of letting-be, of letting-go and being-with (in shikansaza), by the practice of mindfulness (not only in zazen but also in all our activities), by self-inquiry (especially as we face our life koan), and finally by our being directed towards the transformation of oneself and the world. By our own commitment to the practice of sesshin we can encourage one another in this transforming work.
Sunday, 7 January 2018
187. Starting the year: Let each moment be a new beginning. Let go of what is no more. Don't be anxious about what might happen next - it might not come to pass. Focus on the wonder of this present moment. Be open to what is being revealed here and now. Be filled with gratitude for the amazing reality of your being, for the extraordinary reality of all beings. Just being here now. Just breathing in. Just breathing out. Thus playing your part in the vast symphony of being. Marvel at the beauty of just this. Enter with a childlike trust into the beauty and wondrous mystery of just this. No need to be afraid.
Thursday, 4 January 2018
186. A Christian theologian has said that it is a basic law of the spiritual life that the more deeply a person is dispossessed the more deeply he or she must serve. In Zen we might express this in terms of entering into emptiness. And so we can say that the more deeply we enter into emptiness the more deeply we must serve. Of course the how and the where and the duration of our service is not for us to decide.