Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What is Zen practice?

 I don't hold with embarrassing people or dogs (you can't embarrass a cat) so I have modified this quote from a blog, and present it without attribution:

"For me, Zen practice includes not just zazen (sitting meditation) but all of the other aspects of Buddhist practice such as chanting, prostrations, sutra study, and the like."

It's not that I disagree with the above forms of practice; I just don't think all that describes the fullness of Zen. That's because I take Zen as a form of Buddhism, a religion with an ethical code, not a personal practice.

This reminds me of something I overheard once after a sit.  The guy who said this was a regular in the sangha I practiced in then.  Talking to another Zenner, who had just spent a week at Zen Mountain in New York state, he said "Don't you just wish you could go there for three months and really practice?"   I thought, He doesn't get what practice really is.  The real practice is waking up to your life. To fully live your own life compassionately is the whole thing.

This guy was married with kids, and owned a business. Like many entrepreneurs, he was charismatic and had the I Can Do That mentality that sometimes leads people to take on more than any reasonable human can do. I'd heard him talk about the impossibility of finding 20 minutes to meditate in the morning.  And it can be hard. The very act of persisting until you make that time, that is enlightening. Confronting the conditioning that says you have to be striving and useful every minute. Realizing that you don't have to hold the universe together every minute of the day. This endeavor can help us see ourselves more compassionately.

There are guidelines for life as practice in the Noble Eightfold Path, which is more than a few tips. That path, put forth by the Buddha, includes our behavior in this world of dew. It tells us how to avoid harming ourselves and others every moment.  Right speech alone can be the work of a lifetime, as it includes right listening and also, at times, keeping your thoughts to yourself.  Which I did that day.


  1. If I can't improve on the silence, I think that should be a strong indication. No one else is present in the bubbling consciousness within our brains bouncing off the walls, anyway.

    1. Yes, a fine idea. In my experience, if you really practice that kind of listening, you don't talk nearly so much. And nobody misses it, either.