My Experiences of Zen Practice.


Zen is certainly not for everyone. It's rewards are hard-won, and almost possible to define with words, yet words are all we have to communicate across the internet. Zen communicates through experiential practices.

Buddha Sitting Zazen
Zazen: Body, Mind, No-Mind
Whilst there are many wonderful books available to help those starting out in Zen practice, if there is one book that I would say is a ‘must read’ for anyone taking up  Zen discipline is would be the late Rosho Philip Kapleaus’s, The Three Pillars of Zen.  Zazen (Zen meditation) is the foundation of Zen practice and Roshi Kapleau give clear instructions on its practice and explains the value of zazen over other forms of meditation thus...

"[In zazen]the mind is freed from bondage to all thought forms, visions, objects and imaginings and brought to a state of absolute emptiness, from which alone it may one day perceive its own true nature, or the nature of the universe." He goes on to say... "zazen is like a silent missile to penetrate the barriers of the five senses and the discursive intellect".

Penetrate the barriers of the five senses and discursive intellect? When I first came across that statement, I had to ask myself If that was something that I wanted or if it was it even wise to pursue? But something other than my discursive mind led me into a daily practice of zazen. My doubts may have been there, but it was happening to me anyway!

Looking back over the 38+ years I have been a Zen practitioner, speaking for myself I would say 'yes, Zen is both wanted and wise', but it has been a great challenge of penetrating barriers thrown up by my conditioned intellect.

Many times I transcended the intellectual mind and realised that at a higher state of awareness, there was a different type of intelligence - an intelligence beyond mere knowledge. In fact there came a realisation of 'knowing nothing' which was extremely liberating. As a result of the daily practice of sitting zazen, my focus improved in general life activity. I began to become more mindful in the simple and mundane tasks. In fact the realisation that there was no ‘mundane’, as in universal terms, all was equal and ultimately, all was One.

Many people think Zen is a religion. Well, if awareness of life and all that goes with it is considered to be a religion, then yes, it is a religion but not in the conventional sense. To me, Zen is a 'way' and it can be applied to any religion if religion is something that you want to pursue, not just Zen Buddhism but for instance, Zen Catholicism, Zen Judaism and others.

Putting religion aside though, Zen can be applied to ordinary daily living and tasks like keeping house. Doing household chores in a mindful or meditative way, can bring calmness, and those tasks that one may detest doing, can suddenly feel quite nurturing. This is because focusing on the present moment, like for instance, each sweep of a broom, or wipe of a cloth, has a tranquillising effect on the mind and body. In Zen, one is then being with the task, and not so much ‘doing’ the task. In fact, a realisation happened with me one day whilst working in the garden, that I was no longer ‘doing’ a task, but the task was sort of happening in my awareness, and I was just a witness. This I would describe as ‘experiencing and/or witnessing’ which once it had happened, continued to happen at random times whilst I was applying mindfulness. It is not a seeking thing though, for to try and get it to happen, would always fail. I have read that seeking does not work in many Zen books, but experiencing the 'allowing it to happen', is not the same as reading about it. It is like a very difficult balancing act on a very thin wire. Of course I want experience it, yet it cannot be pursued, and then when I am not seeking, there I am, in the midst of pure experiencing... mindful and yet mind-empty.

I am a lone practitioner of Zen as I prefer it to be that way. I would say that as a book, The Three Pillars of Zen, has been an invaluable guide and inspiration for me. If you are interested then a search on Amazon will bring up many copies, both new and second hand.

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