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Standing Buddha, Tokyo National Museum, adapted from Wikipedia

Standing Buddha


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since 01.01.07

Eastern Philosophy

Zen Overview

Abstract: Zen Buddhism is a way of life seeking direct insight into one's own nature, disdaining intellectual understanding, and assuming a natural way of noneffort.

  1. Zen Buddhism is a way of life seeking direct insight into your nature.
    1. The practice stresses intuition and distains intellectual or formalistic methods, dogmas, and institutions.
    2. In a sense, practicing Zen transcends the relativities of cultural conditioning.
    3. The origins of Zen are as much in Taoism as they are in Buddhism. Zen derives historically from within Mahayana Buddhism where the yoga of Hinduism became melded with the Taoist meditative techniques of breathing and visualization.
    4. Presumably, the first occasion of the transmission of the mastery of Zen was the "Flower Sermon," where the Buddha, instead of verbal instruction to his disciples, simply held up a lotus, muddy roots and all. Only one signaled insight, not through discourse, but through his smile.
  2. Seek the deepest expression of your own nature; seek "original mind." Our self-nature is change, itself.
    1. There is no connection between the "I" of yesterday and today.
    2. You don't exist for the sake of something else—just yourself. There is no need to justify your existence through works, though daily work is integral to Zen practice.
    3. Whenever you hope, wish, or desire, you are distracted from the path.
    4. Express your own nature in being and doing—in all things be a beginner.
    5. If there is a right way, it is an unhurried natural way. Everything has a Buddha-nature, which may be initially viewed as a kind of logos of impermanence in Zen (rather than an essence or a World Soul or Ultimate Self (Atman).
    6. You may begin by listening to yourself as a first step.
  3. In practicing zazen (i.e., Zen meditation), you lose sense of time and space.
    1. Zazen is the meditative discipline of sitting quietly with arms and legs folded and focusing the concentration on the process of breathing, focusing on a koan (a puzzling problem realized only through intuition), or becoming fully aware without discrimination of "being here now."
    2. The mind can just accept things as they are, for, in Zen, everything in the world is "perfect" just as it is.
    3. When faced with problems, ask yourself which is more important—the problem or you? Any answer to such a questions misses the point: unless the awareness that you are here is accepted with gentle surprise, you become lost in the world.
    4. In the end, there is no difference between zazen and activity.
  4. When you think, "I do x," the "I" is extra. There is no "I," just "x," the doing.
    1. If anything, the quality of the state of mind is the activity.
    2. Life is lived with a similar kind of awareness of experiencing a movie at a second viewing. The awareness is like the meaning of enthusiasm: "god within."
  5. Things just are: there is no good or bad in the world.
    1. Ethical judgments are irrelevant; everything is as it is.
    2. The way to act is "not to act or do." Everything is the way it is, in accordance with its Buddha-nature.
    3. In waking Zen, there is no waiting in life; even no-action is practice or engagement.
  6. Leave your mind as it is; "large mind" is open and receptive without distinguishing or judging the value of things.
    1. With absolute calmness of mind, there is no subjectivity or objectivity.
    2. The innate ability to act properly is trusted; in living, there is no evaluation, no judgment, no pride, and no encouragement.
    3. The way of noneffort is the natural way.
    4. Because of the nonverbal character of Zen, significance of experience is inaccessible by intellectual or scholarly means.
  7. What is done is not done for the sake of something else. Whatever occurs is of intrinsically worth.
    1. Everyday life is practice—practice is not preparation for the future but living in the now.
    2. Joyfulness of mind is living without expectations and living with calmness in activity.
    3. When working (e.g., daily labor or engagement with a job), worry is unnecessary for the results will take care of themselves. One may well say, "Buddha will take care of it."
    4. The popular Zen story of the monk and the scorpion illustrates this aspect well in this lesson:

      As two monks were washing their bowls by the river, one monk reached into the river to save a drowning scorpion. Just as he placed it on land, the scorpion stung him and fell back into the river. The monk once again scooped the scorpion out, and the scorpion again stung the monk and fell back into the river. As the monk saved the scorpion a third time, the second monk cried out, "Why are you saving that scorpion when you get every time?" The second monk replied, "It is the nature of a scorpion to sting; it is the nature of a monk to be compassionate."
    5. The sting of the scorpion is the tanha (dislocation) of in life.
  8. Action without traces implies no attachment to what is done. ("Pride" and other attendant emotions are unnecessary "extras'" and lead to unexpected and unintended problems.)
    1. Practice total involvement without anything "extra," even such apparently noble goals as these: seeking goodness, truth, or beauty. Goals are, in a sense, already bound up in awareness independently of any attempt to "add them" onto activities.
    2. In the West, we have the idiomatic phrase of "gilding the lily." As the Earl of Salisbury states in Shakespeare's King John,

      To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
      To throw a perfume on the violet,
      To smooth the ice, or add another hue
      Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light
      To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
      Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.

      Shakespeare, King John, Act IV. Sc. 2, in A. L. Rowse, ed., The Annotated Shakespeare, (New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1978), Vol. 2, 385.
    3. A "finished" project has no more worth than the beginning of the project
    4. Realize nonattachment: possessions are a drag; seek simplicity. Lines from a Buddhist poem express this notion well:

      Above, not a tile to cover the head.
      Below, not an inch of ground for the feet.

      Compare the Christian verse:
      Foxes have holes. Birds have nests. But the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.
      Luke 9:57-62.
    5. The Buddhist principle of the Great Void: there are no absolutes or firm principles. With rapid historical, social, and technological change, absolutists lose their bearings.
    6. Do not try to make or expect things to be different from what they are.
  9. There is no difference between perfection and imperfection; if "mistakes" occur, just continue with your practice.
    1. There is no difference between practice and activity; forget yourself in whatever is done.
    2. There's no point in seeking to make your practice perfect, for the world is "perfect" just as it is.
    3. Limit your activity, simplify, practice nonjudgment.
    4. Zen denies Idealism: Ideals just create new ideals.
      1. In idealism, your attainment is always be ahead of you. Frustration is may be defined as your expectations in the present for living in the future.
      2. You would be sacrificing yourself for the ideal and end up with nothing at the time you live.
      3. Practice nonjudgment when listening to friends—see things as they are and accept what is.
      4. Seek the infinite patience of Emptiness: there's no need to work at patience. This Emptiness leads to freedom from all natural encumbrances such as anger, annoyance and uneasiness.
      5. Consider in the regard the popular story of the Ferryman:

        When an old man and a boy were carrying books to the city, they took a ferry to cross the river. The old man asked the ferryman if they would make it to the city at the top of the mountain before the city gates closed. The ferryman replied, "You have time, if you don't hurry." Even so, upon landing, the old man told the boy, "Hurry, or we will not get to the city gates in time." As they rushed up the mountain, the old man stumbled, spilled the books, and then, by the time the books were collected, the gates closed.
    5. Discouragement results while seeking ideals.
  10. Cultivate your own spirit—seek nothing outside of yourself.
    1. Copying, following, or emulating others is slavery.
    2. Accept knowing as if you already know, recognize change as you recognize an old friend.
    3. Whatever happens, accept what is with gentle surprise and appreciation. Take nothing for granted.
    4. Hence, "If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him!" for the authentic Buddha is your own nature.
  11. Satori: (enlightenment) is an intuitive looking into the nature of things (in contrast to the analytical or logical way of understanding things).
    1. The Koan, as a nonverbal or verbal problem, may be assigned which, upon solution, shatters the logical way of understanding the world. Koans are often stories or anecdotes which upon initial reflection appear to be nonsense or incongruous.
      1. E.g., What happens to my lap when I stand? Where does my fist go when I open my hand? What is the sound of one hand clapping? Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable?
      2. Intellectual, scientific, or grammatical conventions are shown to be just arbitrary and misleading conventions.
    2. The solution to such a confounding nature of a koan lies in irrationality. The intuitive insight or sudden flash of recognition is in a sense an impersonal affirmation of all things. Such comprehension can demonstrate progress to a Zen teacher.
    3. Within the momentariness of the blinding insight occasioned by seeing a solution to a koan, the Zen student can achieve satori—a kind of sudden realization of a exalted state of being.
  12. Summation of Zen "Precepts":
    1. Words or letters (i.e., language) cannot be depended upon. Personal intuitive insight trumps the study of religious scripture.
    2. Seek the "direct pointing" at the "Buddha nature" of all things.
    3. Become what you are; find your nature and realize your Buddhahood through direct experience.
Further Reading:
  • How to Do Zazen. A summary of what is involved in doing zazen with emphasis on the mechanics of sitting, including how to prepare, what should be worn, how to attain proper posture, and suggestions on breathing from the perspective of the Soto Zen School.
  • The International Research Institute for Zen Buddhism. The self-description of this site at Hanazono University, Japan, states, "The IRIZ was established to promote basic research on Zen Buddhism, support interdisciplinary research in related fields, train scholars in Zen studies, issue publications relating to Zen, organize research materials, and encourage international scholarly exchange.
  • Zen Buddhism WWW Virtual Library. An Internet guide to Zen resources maintained by Dr T. Matthew Ciolek from Australian National University. The site updated often and includes links to Zen schools, persons, journals, scriptures, and organizations.
  • Zen Guide. This useful site administered by Alan Do provides access to Zen books, media, FAQ, koans, a discussion forum, and other online resources.
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