Entering the Zen Path

All things related to beginning Zen Practice. Here is where to exchange information between those that have already started Zen training and those planning to do so.
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Wayfarer
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Entering the Zen Path

Post by Wayfarer » Fri Feb 16, 2018 5:33 am

Introduction

Many of those who become interested in Buddhism nowadays, through books, or through the Internet, will spend some time studying the subject at home. They might spend some time on retreats, or become associated with a teacher if they are fortunate enough to find one in their vicinity with whom they form a rapport.

Zen, in particular, does benefit from instruction by a teacher, and association with a group. It is easy to go off on a tangent, or think you understand something when you actually don't. A teacher and a sangha group are invaluable for this reason and it is always recommended to seek one out.

However, all that said, one may find periods of time when you need to study and practice by yourself. So this thread is aimed at providing resources for exploration of the Buddhist path. It will be complemented by further posts on other aspects of Buddhist practice and discipline.

Connection

To practice Buddhist teachings, it is important to have a sense of connection to them. Again, nowadays with the Internet, there are many information sources available. But it's possible to read or browse all kinds of information about a topic, without really connecting with it. The key thing is, find some fundamental Buddhist teaching, saying or principle - something that really speaks to you - and really internalise it. (In my case, that was The Dhammapada and Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki.)

If the opportunity arises, discuss or ask questions about the Buddhist text or principle that interests you with a teacher and your sangha. Again you don't necessarily need to know huge numbers of verses - the Buddhist sacred literature is vast in extent. But don't be put off by the number of texts and the long Buddhist titles - generally speaking, one's practice is centred around one or two of the key scriptures.

Meditation

Of course, many urban Westerners are mainly interested in Buddhism because of the teachings of mindfulness meditation. Actually in many traditional Buddhist cultures, meditation is not so strongly emphasized. But Buddhism in the West has been focussed on meditation as a means of self-transformation and insight.

The key with meditation is, like the Nike advertisement: Just Do It. Start small, like one or two sessions daily. Try and make it at the same time. Set up a place for it. Tell loved ones and housemates that you're going offline for a little while, 'just sitting now'. Then commit to sit. You will find that you learn something great from it. It takes commitment and dedication but the result is greater insight and peace of mind.

When beginning to learn meditation, is recommended to seek instruction from an experienced teacher if possible, to discuss posture, attitude, and to help frame your intentions. It is also good to check in regularly with a teacher and/or sangha group.

As for online instructions, see How to Sit Zazen, or How to Practice Zen Meditation.

Principles and Precepts

The guiding behavioural principles of Buddhism are expressed as precepts. Precepts are not the same as commandments - there is not so much of a sense of 'do it, or else!' Buddhism puts more emphasis on individual understanding of the precepts and learning to practice and abide in them. Of course they are not simply there to be flouted or ignored, but 'taming the monkey mind' is something that requires patience, dedication and also a realistic understanding of yourself. Think of them as guidelines.

The Five Precepts are:
  • *Not harming living things.
    * Not taking what is not given.
    * Not to engage in sexual misconduct.
    * Avoid lying, gossip or harsh speech
    * Abstain from intoxicants e.g. drugs and drink.
There is a good explanation of the five precepts here.

Sila, Prajñā, Samadhi

Overall, the precepts concern the aspect of the Buddhist path called sila, meaning ethical behaviour.

The other components are wisdom (Prajñā) and meditation (samadhi). These principles together form the ‘tripod’ which supports the practice of meditation. The simile is that, without the three legs of the tripod, the structure won’t stand up! So together the principles of sila-prajna-samadhi - morality, wisdom and meditation - are the basis of Buddhist meditation practice.

So, to sum up, for those interested in learning Buddhist meditation:

Form a connection with the teaching by becoming familiar with some Buddhist texts and principles.
Seek out a teacher and/or sangha group
Understand the precepts and principles behind the practice
And 'commit to sit'
_______________

Further posts on resources and reading will be posted from time to time.

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Re: Entering the Zen Path

Post by Wayfarer » Sat Feb 17, 2018 2:22 am

I wanted to provide some general info threads for the benefit of members and visitors. So the first draft got negative feedback on the basis of the title - D-I-Y. Practice - so I deleted that version and created a new draft. It’s intended as a kind of ‘sticky thread’, so I might seek some advice on how best to present such ‘info’ type threads in future, rather than just adding them as regular threads. (I’ve joined as a Mod now, but am still on L plates :-) )
The most important thing is not at all important.

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Re: Entering the Zen Path

Post by jundocohen » Sat Feb 17, 2018 1:25 pm

A lovely post, Wayfarer.

If I may drop in my usual quibble to some of these introductory "How To Zazen" sites ...
As for online instructions, see How to Sit Zazen, or How to Practice Zen Meditation.
Boy, they present Zazen as just some kind of sitting "letting thoughts go," or breath Practice. It is a shame that they miss "Just Sitting" Zazen as a Whole and Complete, Sacred Act.

The Soto-shu page just says:
Do not concentrate on any particular object or control your thought. When you maintain a proper posture and your breathing settles down, your mind will naturally become tranquil. When various thoughts arise in your mind, do not become caught up by them or struggle with them; neither pursue nor try to escape from them. Just leave thoughts alone, allowing them to come up and go away freely. The essential thing in doing zazen is to awaken (kakusoku) from distraction and dullness, and return to the right posture moment by moment.
The Deshimaru Sangha instructions are a little better:
As Zen master, Taisen Deshimaru said: “By simply sitting, without looking for any goal or any personal benefit, if your posture, your breathing and your state of mind are in harmony, you will understand the true Zen; you will understand the Buddha's nature.”
For anyone who cares what I feel about this issue ...
Almost all experienced teachers agree on the basics: One should sit in the Lotus Posture (or, these days, some other balanced way such as Burmese or Seiza or in a chair), focus on the breath or the body or just be openly aware, letting one’s thoughts go without grabbing onto them. If finding oneself caught in trains of thought, return to the breath or posture or spaciousness. Sit daily for a certain length of time, but without objective or demanded pay-off. Do not seek anything from your Zazen, whether “enlightenment” or to become “Buddha” or anything at all. Just Sit!

That’s all correct. But by leaving out the vital ingredient, such explanations can miss the mark too. The description can leave students thinking of Zazen as just some relaxation technique or place to sit quietly without purpose. One may assume that “Just Sitting” is to sit like a bump on a log, the joined fingers but thumb twiddling. Talk of “nothing to attain” or that “Zazen is useless” may falsely lead hearers to the conclusion that there is no great value and treasure in sitting, that it is a silly waste of time rather than a state beyond all time and measure. Or, the student may fail to distinguish Shikantaza sufficiently from other meditation forms, which seek some gold ring as their prize. Failing to understand how and why Shikantaza is a taste of the end of all searching, the student eventually gives up, running hungrily to the next method or guru or self-help book. The point is missed that, in not seeking to obtain “enlightenment” nor grabbing after “peace” or “joy”, a certain Peace, Joy and, yes, Enlightenment is obtained which can only come in the freedom of not seeking.

Maybe the reason that the message was lost is that many practitioners (and even some teachers) cannot get beyond the belief that “Shikantaza” is just a way to get untangled from thoughts, or to feel some balance, or develop some concentration, or realize some peace and clarity. (It is all those things, but so much more.) Some may take too literally the admonition that “just sitting is all there is” without sufficient understanding of the fact that the body must resonate with energy and an awareness that “JUST SITTING HERE IS ALL THAT EVER COULD BE!”
Anyway, sorry to drop in my little pet (non)peeve. :hatsoff:

Gassho, Jundo
Teacher at Treeleaf Zendo, a Soto Zen Sangha, an online practice place for folks who cannot commute to a Zen Center due to health, living in remote areas, work or family needs. The focus is Shikantaza 'Just Sitting' Zazen http://www.treeleaf.org

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Re: Entering the Zen Path

Post by fuki » Sun Feb 18, 2018 4:45 pm

Again you don't necessarily need to know huge numbers of verses - the Buddhist sacred literature is vast in extent. But don't be put off by the number of texts and the long Buddhist titles - generally speaking, one's practice is centred around one or two of the key scriptures.
For those who start to read about Emptiness I suggest to just enter "Sheng Yen emptiness" in youtube/google videos, instead of hurting one's brain with the inevitable personal interpretations of emptiness which can lead to all sorts of problems obstructing daily life and practise. There are several videos with talks regarding Emptiness by Sheng Yen. (sure there are others from different teachers but I havent seen them)
meldpunt seksueel misbruik in boeddhistische gemeenschappen.
https://meldpuntbg.nl/

IZIhttp://www.zeninstitute.org/en/iziae/main.html

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Re: Entering the Zen Path

Post by fuki » Sun Feb 18, 2018 8:07 pm

jundocohen wrote:
Sat Feb 17, 2018 1:25 pm

Anyway, sorry to drop in my little pet (non)peeve. :hatsoff:
Perhaps it is an idea to post instructions as you would teach your students Jundo. Meido, Guo Gu could do the same (instead of copying existing info on the internet) and in the OP thread we could link them (a new subforum for practise instructions could be made)

I also like to see instructions for Hua Tou, I could paste them from how I use them according to Sheng Yen/Guo Gu but I prefer that teachers do it. This thread is a great idea (if we dont leave room for confusion/misunderstanding) but mods could edit the OP (with links to subforums regarding instructions) for a complete picture or a picture affirmed by the teachers on this forum.

Teachers input make a forum like this stand out IMV
meldpunt seksueel misbruik in boeddhistische gemeenschappen.
https://meldpuntbg.nl/

IZIhttp://www.zeninstitute.org/en/iziae/main.html

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Re: Entering the Zen Path

Post by jundocohen » Mon Feb 19, 2018 12:17 am

fuki wrote:
Sun Feb 18, 2018 8:07 pm
jundocohen wrote:
Sat Feb 17, 2018 1:25 pm

Anyway, sorry to drop in my little pet (non)peeve. :hatsoff:
Perhaps it is an idea to post instructions as you would teach your students Jundo. Meido, Guo Gu could do the same (instead of copying existing info on the internet) and in the OP thread we could link them (a new subforum for practise instructions could be made)

I also like to see instructions for Hua Tou, I could paste them from how I use them according to Sheng Yen/Guo Gu but I prefer that teachers do it. This thread is a great idea (if we dont leave room for confusion/misunderstanding) but mods could edit the OP (with links to subforums regarding instructions) for a complete picture or a picture affirmed by the teachers on this forum.

Teachers input make a forum like this stand out IMV
A very good suggestion. :jump: :jump: :jump:

(no idea what the smilie means, but seems to fit)

Gassho, J
Teacher at Treeleaf Zendo, a Soto Zen Sangha, an online practice place for folks who cannot commute to a Zen Center due to health, living in remote areas, work or family needs. The focus is Shikantaza 'Just Sitting' Zazen http://www.treeleaf.org

Caodemarte
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Re: Entering the Zen Path

Post by Caodemarte » Mon Feb 19, 2018 1:37 am

fuki wrote:
Sun Feb 18, 2018 8:07 pm
[
.....Perhaps it is an idea to post instructions as you would teach your students Jundo. Meido, Guo Gu could do the same (instead of copying existing info on the internet) and in the OP thread we could link them (a new subforum for practise instructions could be made),,,Teachers input make a forum like this stand out
Good idea!

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