Zen Buddhism is:“A direct transmission outside tradition and outside scripture: nodependence on words, directly pointing to the human heart, seeing into one’s own nature and realizing Buddhahood”.
Zen uses everyday ideas topoint to reality, rather than religious ideas – “When walking, just walk. When sitting, just sit. Above all, don’t wobble” Ummon
I amBodhidharma, thefirst Zen patriarch – When the Chinese emperorasked me “What is this Holy religion all about”, I explained that it is “Vast emptiness, withnothing holy in it”.
What he didn’tunderstand is that ideas like “Holiness” or“Buddha” are just constructions ofthe mind – in Zen we want to go beyond these constructions, tosee things as they really are.
I don’t want you tothink about reality – I want you to experience it, sostop thinking, andstart experiencing!
When you sit and look at a tree, you don’t just see the tree, but a whole host of othermental images, youthink “That’s a nice green colour”, or “Those fruit would taste good”, but you don’t just sit and see the tree.
All humans are only a hair’sbreadth from the experience of enlightenment, which we call “Satori”. Satori isexperienced naturally as part of life, when we lose ourselves in experience of a sunset, or somethingbeautiful. The Zen approach to enlightenment is about trying to encourage those moments!
Zen says that enlightenment is like a rose – you can’t grow arose on your own, but you can make it likely that a rose will occur! Enlightenment is thesame, you can’t make yourselfenlightened, but you can make it likely that enlightenment experiences will occur!
So how can you work on therose garden of your mind?
A good way is to practice Zazen. This just means “sitting”, and is really all aboutdoing just that – as one Zen master said, “When I sit, I just sit”.Zazen is an intense and difficult form of Meditation practice.
Zazen is best practiced in a Zendo – a Zen room. Many of these are inmonasteries, buttechnically, any room whereZazen is done is a zendo.
I’ve got a really important job in the Zendo – I have to stop the monks goingto sleep. If I see someonenodding off, I give them a tap with this stick, then we bow to each other & they get on with meditating. Some harder strikes may be necessary for sleepy heads, and if Ibreak my stick on you, the tradition is that you buy me a bottle of Sake!
A good zendo is run by a Roshi – a teacher who isacknowledged to have had regular experience ofSatori, and who knows howto transmit that experience to each individual. Everyone may need a different stimulus to tip them over into enlightenment – a joke, a riddle, a slap, a plate thrown at them… Whatever it takes.
Some Zendos will have gardens attached – but Gardens that aredesigned to help the mind see past appearances How many rocks are there – are they supposed to be rocks or Islands?
In Zen we strive for Satori - the lightning flash ofenlightenment - this is an instant experience that arises spontaneously.Achieving Satori does not make you a Buddha,however, we are pursuing a different goal to otherBuddhists - one that doesnot want to abandon this world.
In Zen we teach that “You are the Buddha” - all beings have a “Buddha nature” - one does not have to become Buddha, because one has always been Buddha, we just need to wake up to it.Your own everyday mind, is the Buddha mind.
In Zen we do not see that there is a differencebetween Nirvana, and the everyday world that surrounds us - we celebrate nature in our poetry and art. Every action you perform isspiritual, provided that it is natural and spontaneous - Zen is about making life holy, not going outside it to find holiness.
A famous Zen teaching method is the Koan - aKoan is a nonsense riddle, or saying - it deliberately makes no sense, and is designed to jerk you out of normal ways ofthinking and into Satori. What is the sound of one hand clapping?
Koans may be statements - “The Buddha is a dung heap coolie”!Koans may be questionswith answers provided - “What is the Buddha? Three pounds of flax”. “Does a Dog have a Buddha nature” - “Wu” (Sounds like “Woof” & means “Nothing”)
Or maybe even a story: “The novice went to seeBodhidharma, and said “I want peace of mind”. “Bring out your mind”, said Bodhidharma, “and I’ll give it peace!”
The practice ofZen has had an enormous influence of Japanese culture!
The Discipline and simplicity of Zen appealed to us Samurai! Yeah, Zen is just like a Japanese sword fight – youspend a long time staring your opponent in the eye, both ofyou totally immobile, and then suddenly, “swish”, the fight is over, and you are walking away, cleaning your sword, before his body has hit the ground.
The point of Karate is not to be able to killyour opponent, but to train your body and mind so that you lose yourself in the experience of the moment – when youwatch your body acting without thought – that is a kind of SatoriYeah, but this still hurts!
Zen influences everything - From calligraphy to flower arranging…