• Zen Buddhism


    Zen is a stripped-down, meditation-based form of Buddhism that has no interest in dogma. Zen is personal, direct experience of life passed on from master to disciple, teacher to student.


    Zazen ( Zen meditation ) is the most important practice in Zen. Emphasis on personal direct experience is fundamental, we practice our lives just sat in meditation. Shikan taza ( Just Sitting ) is an incredibly simple practice to do, but also the most difficult. All the teacher says is "Just Sit". It is not something that is done in stages but a full awareness of the present, of the present body and breath; nothing more than this. We are aware of the posture. We sit like this is the last moment of our lives, nothing more to do than fully live this moment. But zazen is more than this sitting. It is a state of mind that extends into all activities. Work is zazen; eating is zazen; sleeping, walking, standing, going to the toilet — all are zazen practice.


    Koans are a contemplation practice. The practitioner comes to harmony with body and breath and then brings up the koan almost as a physical object, repeating it over and over again until words and meaning dissolve and the koan is lived. The student then presents their understanding of the koan to the teacher. Eventually, with help from the teacher, the koan’s essence is penetrated. Most students start with the koan MU, but "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" and "What was your face before your parents were born?" are also used. The curriculum consists of a few hundred koans. Although the Zen teacher must embody Zen and express it in all their words and actions, a Zen teacher is not exactly a guru. A Zen teacher is also an ordinary, conditioned human being, simply a person, however much they have realized of Zen. This is one of the paradoxes of Zen.


    First find the location and schedule of a Zen Centre or Zen meditation group nearest to you, show up, and keep showing up (thats the important bit!). Eventually you will learn the formalities of the local Zen meditation hall; you can sign up for dokusan (private, intense, formal interview with a teacher). You can try a one-day sesshin (meditation retreat). After some time you’ll be ready to attend a seven-day sesshin. Sesshin is a life-transforming experience, no matter what happens or how many koans that you pass. As time goes on you will establish a relationship with a  Zen teacher, and you will find this relationship increasingly warm and important in your life, so much so that perhaps some day you will want to take vows as a lay Zen practitioner, joining the lineage family. It is also possible that you do not ever want to go to a week sesshin, and that Zen classes, one-day retreats, meetings with the teacher from time to time, and the peace that comes from a daily meditation practice is all that you need and that nothing more is necessary. What will all this effort do for you? Everything and nothing. You will become a Zen student, devoted to your ongoing practice, to kindness and peacefulness, and to the ongoing endless effort to understand the meaning of time why you were born and that you will die. You will still have plenty of challenges in your life, you will still feel emotion, possibly more now than ever, but the emotion will be sweet, even if it is grief or sadness. Many things, good and bad, happen in a lifetime, but you won’t mind. You will see your life and your death as a gift, a possibility. This is the essential point of Zen.