Zen and Everyday Life

July 21, 2011

I just uploaded a new page under my zen heading at the Cities of Light blog and i thought i’d give it a mention. It is a copy of the orientation notes, or beginner’s guide, used by the Melbourne Zen Group, where i’m a member. When i joined in the early noughties i found the existing notes really clunky to read, and if there’s one thing i can’t stand it’s bad literature. So i rewrote them, with a bit of help from the earlier version as well as some of the classics like Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki (a favourite) and The Three Pillars of Zen by Philip Kapleau. The more senior group of students then edited them into shape and the guide is now published on the MZG site at http://mzg.org.au/zen-practice/
Anyway. My question about practicing zen meditation always was: It’s all very well to sit around listening to yourself breathe, but what happens when you walk out the door? Even if you can find some measure of peace with your thoughts on the cushion, how does this state continue when running for a bus, cursing some pesky human for whatever they just did to pis you off (this list could go on for some time…) etc? (Quick way of ending the pain…)
It was nice to reread the old manual. For one reason and another, i have been able to find time to meditate more lately and this question has risen up again. So i returned to the beginner’s guide (like Suzuki, btw, the MZG’s zen teachers are always happy to remind you that all practice is beginner’s practice and leads to don’t know mind… argh – how frustrating huh?) – and here’s the bits that jumped out at me:
“The fundamental point of all these exercises is the concentration of attention and mindfulness. This is necessary to keep ourselves from wandering off, blown about in our awareness.” OK, that sounds helpful. So how do i do it again? Two other parts of the guide stood out in regards to this question and i thought they deserved mention:
“This mindfulness and concentration in the midst of everyday life is explored in regular sitting and deepened at sesshin (meditation retreats). As it is strengthened, our way of life in the world can be transformed, attuning the mind to a contemplative awareness of our Buddha nature.” Cool, so, meditate, get better at it, then keep walking, with that extra meditation power right? (It should be said here that i don’t actually identify myself as a Buddhist, but i do like the Buddha nature stuff. You know, nonattachment, residing in unabidingness, all that.) Anyway. The next bit was:

“Finding your own way
The practice of zen is designed to help us to find our own way to enlightenment. “Zazen teaches zazen,” we are told. The idea of zen is that you are not learning a path or way to enlightenment by rote, but are instead inspired and guided by both a historical record of teachings as well as by qualified zen teachers to discover your own truths.”
Like the student who is being shown the full moon by the master, we look for ourselves, not to fulfill some idea of what we think we are supposed to see or do or be or find when we are all enlightened and stuff. Not to make anyone happy or proud. Just to be closer to that way of being we know resides beneath all that “make it” business the world is so fixated on.
Just thought i’d pop in a few words on zen enlightenment. Coz of the whole light thing. I remember being a little kid and feeling this really warm glow within. I always looked on the adult/social world as a kind of dumb pantomime, where everyone made out they cared about lots of stuff very much. I wondered what they were all missing. That’d probably seem condescending from an adult. But it’s how i felt. With lots of love and compassion. That’s probably my favourite kind of light.


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