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Dear friends, The essay below was written by one of our Zen students “behind the fence.” He has been a long time student and friend of mine.  I hope you will be enlightened by Jakuho’s writing, passion, and understanding of the teachings of Zen Buddhism.  I hope, as well, that you will take his sage advice in the last paragraph it could change your life forever.

In gassho, Shokai

gassho

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I am reading from the book you sent me, titled, “What is Zen?.”   My simple answer is that Zen is Zen Buddhism, an Asian religion now practiced all over the world.  Broadly, there are three forms of Buddhism: Theravada, which emphasizes the earliest scriptures that seems be mostly about individual liberation; Mahayana Buddhism, which emphasizes compassion and social concern as much or more than individual liberation; and Vajrayana Buddhism (the Buddhism of Tibet), which adds detailed, esoteric, ritualistic practices.   

Zazen is very much a physical practice: the body is never an insignificant detail, as if meditation were a matter of mind and spirit apart from body.  Why do we walk so slowly during kinhin?  So slow that I often feel I will lose my balance?  The point is to pay close attention to body, breath, and mind when you are walking just as when you are sitting.    

Can you tell when a person is “more spiritually developed”?   Does it show?   I guess I have just defined an enlightened person as someone with wisdom and a good heart.   Wisdom in Zen means the capacity to see that “form is emptiness, emptiness is form,” as the Heart Sutra teaches.   What would this “wisdom ad good heart” look like?   Probably like the spiritual qualities that all our great traditions have always prized: humility, kindness love, patience, forgiveness, understanding.  

The important thing about the teaching of rebirth, the part that seems true and that matters a great deal is that life continues.   That is, there is more to our lives than the little span of time between birth and death.   The teaching of rebirth tells us that our life and death are significant beyond their appearances, more significant than we know. 

To most Zen students, at first the teachings might seem odd or nonsensical though also at the same time intriguing, because you sense that there is something to them, but after you have practiced and studied a while, they do make sense, and you can discuss and think about them reasonably.   Our lives include many paradoxical and contradictory elements.   Things are usually not just one way, they are many ways at once.

How will Zen practice affect my family relationship?  My work relationships?   The effectiveness of your practice will show up at home.  I believe and have seen much corroborating evidence, that Zen practice makes you a better husband or wife, father, or mother.   It makes you more attuned emotionally, kinder, more patient, more caring and loving, more able to be present, even when the going gets tough, even when you have an impulse not to be.

Why does Zen have such a close connection to various art forms, like haiku and flower arranging, for example?   As Zen developed in China, it co-evolved with Taoism and the Chinese arts, most notably calligraphy, painting, and poetry.   Zen priests always wrote poetry and did calligraphy.   Some experts claim that in the West, art depicts the external, while in Asia, art evokes the inner sense of things, their spirit or soul.

Doshin, I am finishing this book.   There is much work to do about the tremendous suffering in this world: poverty, social injustice, war, environmental destruction.   Isn’t it selfish to spend a lot of time just sitting and staring at the wall without helping anybody else?    Thank you for sending me this book and for your compassion, kindness, and love.   

In gassho, Jakuho

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“The sacred dimension is not something that you can know through words and ideas any more than you can learn what an apple pie tastes like by eating the recipe. (pg. 25)” writes Adyashanti in his e-book The Way of Liberation: A Practical Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment.  Yet we continue to look for the answer to this question throughout our lives partaking in religious services in all faiths and traditions, in reading books, taking workshops and classes, and reading blogs like mine.  We ponder questions like:  Why am I here? What is life all about? Is there a God?  What is enlightenment?  Why are there wars?   .  .  .and more!

Adyashanti goes on to write, “The modern age has forgotten that facts and information, for all their usefulness, are not the same as wisdom—and certainly not the same as direct experience of reality.  We have lost touch with the intuitive wisdom born of silence and stillness, and we are left stranded in a sea of information that cannot deliver on its promise of ever-increasing happiness and fulfillment (pages 30-31).”

Wisdom is not the same thing as knowledge and much of the “knowledge” we share and seek, and create  is found through books, websites, YouTube, lectures, workshops, famous speakers, preachers, rabbis, and imams, and not through personal experience, inquiry, meditation, contemplation, or inner discovery.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a college professor and so I love all of those things and suggest that my students use them during their studies and courses, but I do not consider the results acquired “wisdom.”

In the Bible we call the book of Proverbs the Wisdom book its purpose is stated in the first seven verses:

“Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise.  Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them do what is right, just, and fair.  These proverbs will give insight to the simple, knowledge, and discernment to the young.  Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become wiser.  Let those with understanding receive guidance by exploring the meaning in these proverbs and parables the words of the wise and their riddles.”

Notice the words do not say anything about facts and information, but wisdom gives “insight to knowledge.”  Maybe that is the problem with our lives and our world.  We are relying upon knowledge instead of wisdom and insight and therefore screwing everything up—our environment, our government, our educational system, our healthcare system, our drone wars, our obesity dilemma, and our neglect of the poor, hungry, and homeless around the world.

Adyashanti goes on to write, “. . . you are not the thoughts in your mind.  By removing the false belief that any thought can tell you what you are, you make space for a deeper understanding to reveal itself (page 29).” That “deeper understanding” is wisdom.   So how do we get to that “deeper understanding” or wisdom?  He suggests and so do I: meditation or sitting as we call it in Zen Buddhism.  Some of you may be thinking I’ve tried it and it didn’t work.  I did it once some years back and nothing happened.  Others may be thinking, “I don’t have the time in my busy schedule to take a leak no less meditate!”  Others may be thinking, “I have ADHD—meditate—you must be nuts!”

Adyashanti says, “Meditation is more a form of silent prayer than a technique to master.  . . . it is the highest form of prayer, a naked act of love and effortless surrender into silent abyss beyond all knowing.  Meditation is the art of ‘allowing everything to simply be’ in the deepest possible way. (pages 20-21).”

When you do this for one minute or one hour or one day or one year without any expectation of knowledge or wisdom, or peace and love, you will find the taste of apple pie to be something like nothing you have ever tasted before.  The apples are crisper and tarter and sweeter, the cinnamon and sugar is just right, the crust is light and flakey, and all is right with the world.

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