Spiritual Test & Spiritual Growth – The Zen Way

Spiritual Growth – The Zen Way

Spiritual Test – The Zen Way

To approach something as complex as life it is important to keep things simple.  Zen Teacher Joko Beck does exactly that in how she describes what Zen considers to be spiritual living, spiritual growth and spiritual tests.

Below you will find an excerpt from her excellent book, Everyday Zen, which I think clearly explains how to gauge and grow your spirituality.

Title:       Everyday Zen – Love & Work

Author:  Charlotte Joko Beck

Pages:   51-52

We can talk about “oneness” until the cows come home.  But how do we actually separate ourselves from others?  How?  The pride out of which anger is born is what separates us.  And the solution is a practice in which we experience this separating emotion as a definite body state.  When we do, A Bigger Container is created.

What is created, what grows, is the amount of life I can hold without it upsetting me, dominating me.  At first this space is quite restricted, then it’s a bit bigger, and then it’s bigger still.  It need never cease to grow.  And the enlightened state is that enormous and compassionate space.  And how do we know where this cut-off point is?  We are at that point when we feel any degree of upset, of anger.  It’s no mystery at all.  And the strength of our practice is how big that container gets.


This practice of making A Bigger Container is essentially spiritual because it is essentially nothing at all.  A Bigger Container isn’t a thing; awareness is not a thing; the witness is not a thing or a person.  There is not somebody witnessing.  Nevertheless that which can witness my mind and body must be other than my mind and body.  If I can observe my mind and body in an angry state, who is this “I” who observes?  It shows me that I am other than my anger, bigger than my anger, and this knowledge enables me to build A Bigger Container, to grow.  So what must be increased is the ability to observe.  What we observe is always secondary.  It isn’t important that we are upset; what is important is the ability to observe the upset.

As the ability grows first to observe, and second to experience, two factors simultaneously increase: wisdom, the ability to see life as it is (not the way I want it to be) and compassion, the natural action which comes from seeing life as it is.  We can’t have compassion for anyone or anything if our encounter with them is ensnarled in pride and anger; it’s impossible.  Compassion grows as we create A Bigger Container.

Zen Approach to Spiritual Test & Spiritual Growth:

Following are the points that I would like to highlight from the excerpt:

1. Spiritual Growth:

The art of observation is the way to spiritual growth and freedom.  This is the heart of conscious living.  Live with as much moment to moment awareness as you can.  The more you are able to remember to witness, to observe, to be aware, the more you will grow spiritually.  As Joko puts it, the enlightened state is simply a vast quiet space, from where there is just witnessing.

2. Spiritual Test:

According to Zen, an upset is an opportunity and a test.  It is an opportunity to practice awareness and grow your ability to observe.  Awareness of your mental, emotional and physical states.  The upset is also an indication of where you are on your spiritual journey.  It is an excellent spiritual test.  The more easily you are upset, the more it indicates that you have spiritual work that needs to be done.

3. Rewards of Spiritual Living:

Finally, Joko points out the rewards of Zen practice and spiritual living.  Wisdom and compassion.  I will add to that joy.  The deeper your practice goes, the more access you have to the vast silence within, the more wisdom, compassion and joy you will have.

The following article details Zazen, Zen Meditation Technique, for those looking to learn zen meditation.  This technique is part of the free online meditation classes we run here on Mastery of Meditation.  The Beginner’s Meditation Class | Learn How to Meditate uses this meditation technique and is a great place to start.

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2 replies
  1. axel g
    axel g says:

    I find both soto and rinzai zen valid approaches. My recommendation is to practice zen full-time in a community if at all possible.

    By living and breathing the practice, over time, it becomes second nature to be mindful even during samu…

  2. shobha
    shobha says:

    I am enjoying yoga for abdominal muscles. It ached for a few days , but is getting better. “Live consciously” is a great practice to love by. I like Zoko,s book “Everyday Zen”, I am going to read it again.


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