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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.
- Zen Buddhism is a way of life seeking direct insight into your nature.
- The practice stresses intuition and distains intellectual or formalistic
methods, dogmas, and institutions.
- In a sense, practicing Zen transcends the relativities of cultural
- 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.
- 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.
- Seek the deepest expression of your own nature; seek "original mind." Our
self-nature is change, itself.
- There is no connection between the "I" of yesterday and today.
- 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.
- Whenever you hope, wish, or desire, you are distracted from the path.
- Express your own nature in being and doing—in all things
be a beginner.
- 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).
- You may begin by listening to yourself as a first step.
- In practicing zazen (i.e., Zen meditation),
you lose sense of time and space.
- 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
(a puzzling problem realized only through intuition), or becoming fully aware
without discrimination of "being here now."
- The mind can just accept things as they are, for, in Zen, everything
in the world is "perfect" just as it is.
- 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.
- In the end, there is no difference between zazen and activity.
- When you think, "I do x," the "I" is extra. There is no "I,"
just "x," the doing.
- If anything, the quality of the state of mind is the activity.
- 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."
- Things just are: there is no good or bad in the world.
- Ethical judgments are irrelevant; everything is as it is.
- The way to act is "not to act or do." Everything is the way it is, in
accordance with its Buddha-nature.
- In waking Zen, there is no waiting in life; even no-action is
practice or engagement.
- Leave your mind as it is; "large mind" is open and receptive without
distinguishing or judging the value of things.
- With absolute calmness of mind, there is no subjectivity or objectivity.
- The innate ability to act properly is trusted; in living, there is
no evaluation, no judgment, no pride, and no encouragement.
- The way of noneffort is the natural way.
- Because of the nonverbal character of Zen, significance of
experience is inaccessible by intellectual or scholarly means.
- What is done is not done for the sake of something else. Whatever
occurs is of intrinsically worth.
- Everyday life is practice—practice is not preparation
for the future but living in the now.
- Joyfulness of mind is living without expectations and living
with calmness in activity.
- 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."
- 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."
- The sting of the scorpion is the tanha (dislocation) of in life.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- A "finished" project has no more worth than the beginning of
- 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.
- 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.
- Do not try to make or expect things to be different from what
- There is no difference between perfection and imperfection; if
"mistakes" occur, just continue with your practice.
- There is no difference between practice and activity; forget
yourself in whatever is done.
- There's no point in seeking to make your practice perfect, for
the world is "perfect" just as it is.
- Limit your activity, simplify, practice nonjudgment.
- Zen denies Idealism: Ideals just create new ideals.
- 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.
- You would be sacrificing yourself for the ideal and
end up with nothing at the time you live.
- Practice nonjudgment when listening to friends—see things
as they are and accept what is.
- 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
- 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.
- Discouragement results while seeking ideals.
- Cultivate your own spirit—seek nothing outside of yourself.
- Copying, following, or emulating others is slavery.
- Accept knowing as if you already know, recognize change as you
recognize an old friend.
- Whatever happens, accept what is with gentle surprise and
appreciation. Take nothing for granted.
- Hence, "If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him!" for the
authentic Buddha is your own nature.
- Satori: (enlightenment) is an intuitive looking into the nature of
things (in contrast to the analytical or logical way of understanding
- 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.
- 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?
- Intellectual, scientific, or grammatical conventions are shown
to be just arbitrary and misleading conventions.
- 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.
- 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.
- Summation of Zen "Precepts":
- Words or letters (i.e., language) cannot be depended upon.
Personal intuitive insight trumps the study of religious scripture.
- Seek the "direct pointing" at the "Buddha nature" of all things.
- Become what you are; find your nature and realize your Buddhahood
through direct experience.
- 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
- 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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This page last updated 05/06/07
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