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Why Practice Zazen?

Discussions of Zen stemming from the Sanbyo Kyodan School founded by Yatsutani Roshi.

Why Practice Zazen?

Postby Carol on Wed Aug 27, 2014 6:23 pm

Megan Rundel is the practice leader at the Crimson Gate Meditation Community. This community comes through the lineage of John Tarrant and Joan Sutherland, from Robert Aitken, back to the Sanbo Kyodan school.

Megan writes in a very grounded way and what she says is in accord with my experience in this practice.

Why Practice Zazen?

In previous blog posts, I've outlined the beginning meditation practice instructions in the Zen tradition. However, anyone who has tried to meditate for more than five minutes knows that it is not easy. And anyone who takes up the path of regular practice will find difficulties as well as joys along the way. This brings up the important question, Why practice? What are the benefits of regular meditation, what are the pitfalls, and what can we expect to change in a life of practice?


What Will I Get Out of Practice?
The popular media these days seems to promise meditation as a cure to all that ails you, from stress to illness to low productivity. And indeed, many people are motivated to take up meditation in response to suffering of one sort or another. But the truth is, real practice won't give you anything you don't already have. We want to make meditation into a self-improvement project. We want to become calmer, wiser, more compassionate, more focused. Over time, we do tend to stumble into these qualities. But we can't just focus on what we want to gain from meditation.

The word "meditation" sounds very spiritual, but really all we are doing is sitting still and attending to our breathing. Lots of thoughts and feelings come and go, but at the core we are just sitting there. In this sense, practice is very physical, and very simple. We are just being with things as they are.

Often we set out with an understandable wish to gain something from our practice. But meditation is much more about stripping away the workings of our minds that get in the way of seeing things as they are. In the course of this work, we find that we relinquish our opinions, judgments, stories about ourselves and the world, even the self-improvement project. We have to give up all our ideas about how we should be and how other people should be. We even give up our much cherished identity. This can be frightening, but it's also incredibly liberating.

Mature Practice
What might we hope for as spiritual practice ripens and matures? Here are a few thoughts; I'm interested in other points of view.

After a year of regular practice, you will probably find that you are more compassionate toward yourself and others. You will be less emotionally reactive. And you will be more tolerant of all kinds of difficulty, in yourself and in the world.

After five years of practice, you will likely be experiencing more clarity about who you are and what's important in life. You should have less angst about yourself, and more inclination to see how you can realistically be of help in the world.

After a decade or two of practice, you won't struggle much with life. Your main orientation will be how to best respond to any situation you are in. Not that you will be a perfect person, personality and rough spots endure, but you will be clear and resolved enough about yourself to work with internal and external suffering skillfully.

Practice Beyond Meditation: Stepping into Tradition
While meditation is central to Zen, it is only one part of its method of transformation. In order to mature in our practice, we must take up other aspects of the tradition. When we enter the path of Zen, we become a part of a very old path that has many ways of teaching and supporting us. By becoming a part of a sangha (spiritual community), we find that we support each others' practice, and vividly experience the truth of interdependence. And when we take a spiritual teacher, we are able to form an intimate relationship devoted to cultivating our realization, finding our blind spots, and working with difficulties along the way. And by studying the teachings of Zen, we learn from the wisdom of our ancestors.

In my experience, over years of practice I have been indelibly shaped by taking the precepts and putting them at the center of my life. I've also been fortunate to enlarge the view of practice in the midst of life by immersion in the koan tradition. These are more advanced aspects of practice for those who commit to the Way. But my experience is that the precepts and the koans are a powerful technology for challenging our habits of mind and body, and for waking us up. In order to truly reach mature stages of practice, we are best served by taking on the wisdom of the whole lineage and tradition, and allowing it to work on us.
Practitioners who cultivate the personal realization of buddha knowledge dwell in the bliss of whatever is present and do not abandon their practice.
~Lankavatara Sutra
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Re: Why Practice Zazen?

Postby desert_woodworker on Sun Feb 22, 2015 3:12 am

Carol,

Yeah, not too bad.

But koan practice is a ploy and play for those who have no better option, I guess, through no fault of their own, as far as they can be, or need to be, aware... . And their teachers evidently agree, ...and know how to dispense the inevitable stuffies.

We recall from Ch'an and Zen history that gung-an or koan practice was invented to help the duller of the people among the monastics. So be it! There is no judgement in this. Just as there is no judgement in helping people with dire medical conditions who cannot be helped by a simple swig of the right Oolong or Ginseng Tea. Thankfully -- from their point of view -- there's good stuff awaiting in this other odd modality... provided they have FAITH in it (and, it TAKES that, to be sure).

I'm no stranger to it: and I jumped-ship as soon as it was natural to do so, with encouragement from my teacher (WHAT a lucky guy, and WHAT a great teacher).

Practitioners!, don't be "cowed". There are options in Zen practice, no matter which school you find yourself in.

"Find" yourself in one, though, I hope, please. I mean it. Not figuratively or literally. Join one; and find your true self. It's a matter of uncovering.

"Koans" have nothing to do with it (unless they do; kudos! "Go for it".).

yours,

--Joe

Carol wrote:Megan Rundel is the practice leader at the Crimson Gate Meditation Community. This community comes through the lineage of John Tarrant and Joan Sutherland, from Robert Aitken, back to the Sanbo Kyodan school.
"The abundance of Nature is not a matter of its 'providing' ". -- William James, c. 1901.
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Re: Why Practice Zazen?

Postby Linda Anderson on Sun Feb 22, 2015 3:53 am

WHOA!
Flower Ornament Scripture: Formation of Worlds:
(Avatamsaka Sutra)
"Children of Buddha, the oceans of worlds have various different forms and characteristics. That is to say, some are round, some square, some neither round nor square. There are infinite distinctions. Some are shaped like whirlpools, some like mountains of flames, some like trees, some like flowers, some like palaces, some like living creatures, some like Buddhas. There are as many forms such as these as there are atoms in an ocean of worlds."
Last edited by Linda Anderson on Sun Feb 22, 2015 6:39 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Melon flowers bloomed.
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Re: Why Practice Zazen?

Postby Michaeljc on Sun Feb 22, 2015 5:12 am

But koan practice is a ploy and play for those who have no better option, I guess, through no fault of their own, as far as they can be, or need to be, aware... . And their teachers evidently agree, ...and know how to dispense the inevitable stuffies.

We recall from Ch'an and Zen history that gung-an or koan practice was invented to help the duller of the people among the monastics


:blush:

Gee Joe - where did you dredge this up from? :lol2:
Last edited by Michaeljc on Sun Feb 22, 2015 5:50 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Why Practice Zazen?

Postby partofit22 on Sun Feb 22, 2015 6:08 am

In other words, bah! And humbug- :) Or too much cactus juice .. :lol2:

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Re: Why Practice Zazen?

Postby Linda Anderson on Sun Feb 22, 2015 6:29 am

It's not the cactus juice Teresa... I have high marks for Arizona Cactus Juice, aka prickly pear. I order it whenever I can.
Not last night,
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Melon flowers bloomed.
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Re: Why Practice Zazen?

Postby Chrisd on Sun Feb 22, 2015 12:11 pm

We recall from Ch'an and Zen history that gung-an or koan practice was invented to help the duller of the people among the monastics

Michaeljc wrote:Gee Joe - where did you dredge thus up from? :lol2:

Jeff on the subject>
Jeff Shore wrote: It’s a simplification, but basically koans developed because people were no longer coming with their own living problem. For example, according to the legend, the second patriarch came and stated: I am not at peace – master, please give me peace! He didn’t need a whole lot explained to him. But eventually Chan , that is, Chinese Zen Buddhism, became more or less the state religion, so all kinds of people were coming to practice this religion for all kinds of reasons. They were rarely coming anymore with that burning question. So what did the masters do? They could have just thrown them out – on occasion they did! But the standard Rinzai explanation is that when someone came without a
real problem-question or doubt, out of “grandmotherly kindness” the master had them take up a traditional koan to help them plumb the depths. So a master might guide the disciple by saying that when asked whether or not a dog had Buddha nature, J ōshū responded “Mu!” Now
be that.


To continue, I think Ted Biringer from this forum said in one of his post that the oldies invented regular periods of sitting meditation because most people were too dull to focus on the fundamental point without it. This was also grandmotherly kindness.

You can take these points all the way :lol2:
On further examination it was diagnosed that the affliction was a case of osteosarcoma, an extremely painful form of bone cancer. The doctors suggested amputating the arm above the affected part. Ramana replied with a smile: “There is no need for alarm. The body is itself a disease. Let it have its natural end. Why mutilate it? Simple dressing of the affected part will do.”


Some discussion here and there may be useful though.
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Re: Why Practice Zazen?

Postby Linda Anderson on Sun Feb 22, 2015 5:38 pm

Well, that's one side of koan practice. As Jeff also mentioned, Bernadette had touched the ultimate koan of self. I'm not an avid student of koans but appreciate their direct simplicity and clarity. Some of them can pitch me into the well. They give us an opportunity to grok (get) the ancestors in a flash, without thinking. most intimate and embodied...

the OP is not particularly addressing koans ;)
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Melon flowers bloomed.
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Re: Why Practice Zazen?

Postby partofit22 on Sun Feb 22, 2015 7:58 pm

Linda Anderson wrote:They give us an opportunity to grok (get) the ancestors in a flash, without thinking.


I am Groot :)
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Re: Why Practice Zazen?

Postby desert_woodworker on Mon Feb 23, 2015 3:16 pm

Michael,

Why, Ch'an history.

Evidently, people of earlier times had "sharper roots", or so we're told. Then, the onset of Dharma-Ending times dulled the roots of new postulants and neophytes, and fresh expedients had to be developed from the compassionate hearts and wisdom of monastic teachers. Gung-an practice was one of the new expedients.

--Joe

Michaeljc wrote:
But koan practice is a ploy and play for those who have no better option, I guess, through no fault of their own, as far as they can be, or need to be, aware... . And their teachers evidently agree, ...and know how to dispense the inevitable stuffies.

We recall from Ch'an and Zen history that gung-an or koan practice was invented to help the duller of the people among the monastics


Gee Joe - where did you dredge this up from?
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Re: Why Practice Zazen?

Postby desert_woodworker on Mon Feb 23, 2015 3:29 pm

Linda,

Right; neither was my reply.

At least not the second or third half of it. :peace:

--Joe

Linda Anderson wrote:the OP is not particularly addressing koans ;)
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Re: Why Practice Zazen?

Postby desert_woodworker on Mon Feb 23, 2015 4:13 pm

P., Teresa,

Neat! Thanks, thinking of me.

But if it's not from Arizona, it's not real cactus juice... . ;)

I don't discard punky blanks: I seek them out! Some turnings come apart on the lathe: all the more interesting result (sometimes!). But I turn those projects at slower speeds. And wear the full face-shield, and keep fully clothed (even in the heat-season), when turning: one needs one's "armor" if / when wood blows-up.

--Joe

partofit22 wrote:In other words, bah! And humbug- :) Or too much cactus juice ..
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Re: Why Practice Zazen?

Postby desert_woodworker on Fri Mar 20, 2015 9:09 pm

"Gee", Michael!

Have a feast... .

(And please don't come at me like that again about "dredging". Capiche? It's unseemly. Emotograms, or no. Whereas, a civil question is anytime most welcome. Teresa, "partofit", ditto. And Linda. Thank you).

Master Hsu Yün is my Great-Grandfather in the Dharma; he is my teacher Sheng Yen's Grandfather in the Dharma. --Joe

from: Garma C. C. Chang; THE PRACTICE OF ZEN (1959); p. 75:

Section: "Discourses of Four Zen Masters"

Sub-Section I: "Discourses of Master Hsu Yün" (Aug. 1840 - Oct. 1959; aged 119 years)

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

""..... The work of our "Ch'an" has no gradual processes or successive stages. This Ch'an is the supreme Ch'an of seeing one's Buddha-nature instantly. But if this is so, why should one bother to practice the so-called Seven Days' Meditation? [We must understand that ] people's capacity to practice the Dharma is deteriorating all the time. Nowadays people have too many distracting thoughts in their minds. Therefore, the Patriarchs have designed special methods and techniques, such as the Seven Days' Meditation Practice, the koan exercises, the circle-running exercise, and so forth, to cope with this condition, and to help persons of lesser capacity." [etc.]

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Michaeljc wrote:
desert_woodworker wrote:But koan practice is a ploy and play for those who have no better option, I guess, through no fault of their own, as far as they can be, or need to be, aware... . And their teachers evidently agree, ...and know how to dispense the inevitable stuffies.

We recall from Ch'an and Zen history that gung-an or koan practice was invented to help the duller of the people among the monastics

:blush:
Gee Joe - where did you dredge this up from? :lol2:
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Re: Why Practice Zazen?

Postby littletsu on Sun Mar 22, 2015 1:52 pm

demystifying koans is a capital sin!! :)X
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Re: Why Practice Zazen?

Postby desert_woodworker on Sun Mar 22, 2015 3:54 pm

L.,

"Guilty as charged!"

I freely admit my guilt. :tongueincheek: --Joe

:Namaste:

littletsu wrote:demystifying koans is a capital sin!! :)X
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Re: Why Practice Zazen?

Postby partofit22 on Sun Mar 22, 2015 4:15 pm

desert_woodworker wrote:"Gee", Michael!

Have a feast... .

(And please don't come at me like that again about "dredging". Capiche? It's unseemly. Emotograms, or no. Whereas, a civil question is anytime most welcome. Teresa, "partofit", ditto. And Linda. Thank you).

Master Hsu Yün is my Great-Grandfather in the Dharma; he is my teacher Sheng Yen's Grandfather in the Dharma. --Joe

from: Garma C. C. Chang; THE PRACTICE OF ZEN (1959); p. 75:

Section: "Discourses of Four Zen Masters"

Sub-Section I: "Discourses of Master Hsu Yün" (Aug. 1840 - Oct. 1959; aged 119 years)

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

""..... The work of our "Ch'an" has no gradual processes or successive stages. This Ch'an is the supreme Ch'an of seeing one's Buddha-nature instantly. But if this is so, why should one bother to practice the so-called Seven Days' Meditation? [We must understand that ] people's capacity to practice the Dharma is deteriorating all the time. Nowadays people have too many distracting thoughts in their minds. Therefore, the Patriarchs have designed special methods and techniques, such as the Seven Days' Meditation Practice, the koan exercises, the circle-running exercise, and so forth, to cope with this condition, and to help persons of lesser capacity." [etc.]

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Michaeljc wrote:
desert_woodworker wrote:But koan practice is a ploy and play for those who have no better option, I guess, through no fault of their own, as far as they can be, or need to be, aware... . And their teachers evidently agree, ...and know how to dispense the inevitable stuffies.

We recall from Ch'an and Zen history that gung-an or koan practice was invented to help the duller of the people among the monastics

:blush:
Gee Joe - where did you dredge this up from? :lol2:


I'm going to go out on a limb here- Maybe setting ideas of "coming at" and intent aside we can discuss impact and or areas that perhaps aren't clear- Here or in PM-
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Re: Why Practice Zazen?

Postby desert_woodworker on Sun Mar 22, 2015 4:34 pm

P., Teresa,

Did you miss the opportunity in your post?

In general, though, I understand that "meta-discussion" is frowned on in threads, as it dilutes or hijacks them. As for myself, I never "met a discussion" that I didn't like. And Will Rogers never met ME, but likewise.

Pardon the meta-.

Metta,

--Joe

partofit22 wrote:
I'm going to go out on a limb here- Maybe setting ideas of "coming at" and intent aside we can discuss impact and or areas that perhaps aren't clear- Here or in PM-
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Re: Why Practice Zazen?

Postby partofit22 on Mon Mar 23, 2015 3:00 am

desert_woodworker wrote:P., Teresa,

Did you miss the opportunity in your post?



Nope-

Metta

;)
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Re: Why Practice Zazen?

Postby Chrisd on Mon Mar 23, 2015 12:14 pm

Nice hearing you speaking and expressing yourself Teresa, if I may say so :Namaste: nice meeting you.
you have some gems there! metta :daisy:
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