Allowing the fog to lift.
Over the years, I’ve seen tremendous misunderstandings about what Zen is and isn’t.
People often have ideas which are not rooted in practice. Different resources and bad translation can often make Zen seem mysterious, paradoxical and at times wishy-washy—frequently leaving out context and key information that is vital to coming to self-awakening. The result is something hard to wrap our arms around.
The most common association people seem to have with “Zen Buddhism” is “Enlightenment.” I can empathize with this notion—I used to be in that particular camp. With years of practice, I’ve come to recognize that rather than people attaining so-called “Enlightenment,” what actually happens along the path is that we cease to be “Deluded.” That perspective can be extremely helpful. People have actually told me, “When you put it that way, Zen seems much more doable.” It is, but we have to practice for ourselves to come this understanding.
Zen itself is often translated as “Meditation.” Though often used, that’s not what it actually is. My personal translation for Zen is, “Unification.” The practice of Zazen then carries the meaning, “Sitting in unification.” This understanding is another helpful handhold, because we can ask a better question of ourselves: “What is it about us that is not unified or that doesn’t feel right and has us looking for an answer to this feeling?”
Shakyamuni Buddha’s solution to this question, after years of trying pretty much everything else, was simply to stop, sit in the traditional full lotus posture taught in yoga and face himself. Placing his hands in his lap, he sat in a position that is called the “cosmic mudra,” which very much looks as though you are holding your hands in the shape of an egg. Pushing his breath down, two inches below his belly button, helping his brain chatter to slow, he focused his mind on his practice. This effort resulted in his ceasing to be deluded and seeing Life not as the projection of a self-centered ego, but well past that point, by dropping all the baggage.
Modern Zen Buddhist practice closely follows the model established by Shakyamuni Buddha, which he taught to his own students. Immobilizing our body, sitting down on a cushion or chair, straightening our spine, holding our head in a way that it feels like we are supporting the sky, putting our hands in our lap and start counting our breath, one to ten, and repeating that activity for about 10 to 20 minutes can be our starting point.
This effort can be an interesting way of meeting ourselves, face to face. For many, meeting ourselves directly is an incredibly tough process. We might see and feel some things we didn’t realize that we were carrying. Often, the first thing we realize is that we don’t have control of our mind. It blabs a lot. What we find out is that our brain is a wandering distraction factory. Living in our distraction factory, manufacturing any number of story-lines and narratives, we come to realize living life through our mind is like sitting in a fog bank. As we sit with our mind focused on a practice, we slowly develop the conditions for allowing the fog to lift.
What I describe here is not some hyper-intellectual philosophy, but rather a communion with our life that is genuinely seamless. There can be moments when the gaps and fragmentation are reduced to Zero.
Please practice your life well.
He has been practicing in the Rinzai Zen for more 18 years. His practice is described as “A Policy of Caring,” which entails sharing Zen in a straightforward, down-to-earth manner that is accessible and digestible, connecting heart and mind.He currently practices and trains under the direction of Genjo Marinello Osho, Abbot of Daibaizan -Chobozenji.
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