Understanding Zen Practice
Understanding Zen Teachings
Over the next several weeks I would like to explore deeper and further into Zen and Zen Meditation (Zazen), as I feel the teachings from this school can profoundly impact ones life and greatly help one in their spiritual evolution. Fortunately Zen teachings have been spread far and wide by many recent Zen Masters and so are now more easily accessible to us all.
The 2 zen masters who I would certainly recommend for those looking to understand what Zen is and how to practice it, are Charlotte Joko Beck and Shunryu Suzuki. The respective books by each that are excellent sources of Zen teachings are Everyday Zen, Love and Work and the classic, Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind. On the website itself, there are many articles on Zen teachings and techniques, and you can find them in the following category: Zen Buddhism.
The key to understanding Zen, like all profound spiritual approaches, comes from practicing it for oneself, and the heart of Zen practice is Zen Meditation or Zazen. You will find video and written instructions on how to practice Zazen in the following 2 articles:
Zen Meditation Technique
How to Meditate By Yourself (Zazen Practice)
For those who are new to Zen and looking for an introduction to what this spiritual path is all about, I would like to share the following excerpt from a talk by Zen Master Sheng-yen. The full excerpt is available on the Dharma Drum Mountain Buddhist Association website.
What is Zen (Chan)?
Chan was first discovered by a prince named Siddhartha Gautama (called Shakyamuni after his enlightenment), who was born in India about 2500 years ago. After he became enlightened and was called a Buddha, he taught us the method to know Chan. This method was transmitted from India to China, and then to Japan. In India it was called dhyana, which is pronounced “Chan” in Chinese, and “Zen” in Japanese. Actually, all three are identical. Chan has universal and eternal existence. It has no need of any teacher to transmit it; what is transmitted by teachers is just the method by which one can personally experience this Chan.
Some people mistakenly understand Chan to be some kind of mysterious experience; others think that one can attain supernatural powers through the experience of Chan. Of course, the process of practicing Chan meditation may cause various kinds of strange occurrences on the level of mental and physical sensation; and also, through the practice of unifying body and mind, one may be able to attain the mental power to control or alter external things. But such phenomena, which are looked upon as mysteries of religion, are not the aim of Chan practice, because they can only satisfy one’s curiosity or megalomania, and cannot solve the actual problems of peoples lives.
Chan starts from the root of the problem. It does not start with the idea of conquering the external social and material environments, but starts with gaining thorough knowledge of one’s own self. The moment you know what your self is, this “I” that you now take to be yourself will simultaneously disappear. We call this new knowledge of the notion of self “enlightenment” or “seeing ones basic nature”. This is the beginning of helping you to thoroughly solve real problems. In the end, you will discover that you the individual, together with the whole of existence, are but one totality which cannot be divided.
What is Zen Summary:
Those who are familiar with Advaita Vedanta or the works of other non-dual masters will immediately see the parallels in the teachings. After all the Truth is the Truth. The practice is designed to help us see the false nature of dualistic reality and experience the absolute Oneness of Reality. This enlightened state requires no addition, but subtraction or removal of the false sense of separation that is due to our conditioned thinking. The approach is that of mindful living and meditation practice (Zazen). So as I mentioned I will be sharing more on Zen and Zen teachings in the near future, so we can all be free of suffering and realize our true, basic nature.