Why Do I Practice Zen?

Earlier this month, as I was catching up with an old friend, he asked me why I practice zen. My first reaction was to catalog all of the changes I’ve seen in my life and changes ib the way I exist in the world since I first began meditating five years ago. As I though about it further, I realized that all my examples came down to one thing: to reduce suffering, both my own and that of others. I would but forward that the reduction of suffering, in one way or another, is the reason anyone would engage in any spiritual or religious endeavor.

In his first public talk after becoming enlightened, the Buddha was reported to have said, “I teach one thing and one thing only, suffering and the end of suffering.” The most basic and essential teachings in Buddhism are known as the four noble truths, or as the Big Lebowski himself calls them, The Four Noble Opinions.

The first noble opinion is that all existence is suffering (dukkha). This is not a cynical emo take on life where everything sucks and nothing has meaning, but rather that suffering is an inescapable fact of life. Dukkha can range from simply not getting what you want to the extremes of physical or emotional agony.

The second noble opinion is that the cause of dukkha is craving. Put simply this means that suffering isn’t caused by external circumstances, it’s caused by our thoughts and desires and how we relate to those circumstances.

The third noble opinion is that there is a way to end suffering.

And last but not least, the fourth noble opinion is that the way to end suffering is by following the eightfold path.

I’m not going to go into the eightfold path in detail here (maybe some other day, with some other post), but if you look at the name of some of the aspects of the path like “right speech”, “right action”, and “right livelihood” you might think that sounds moralistic and preachy, good vs. evil stuff.

That’s really not what the eightfold path is about. Instead of equating right with good and inferring that on the other side we have wrong == evil, the eightfold path is more about skillful vs. unskillful. If we recall that the the eightfold path is the way to end suffering, it becomes clear that skillful can be interpreted as “reducing suffering” and unskillful means “increasing suffering”.

To wrap up, I’m going to reference another of the Buddha’s teachings. The gist of Kālāma Sutta is that one should should not believe that a spiritual teaching is true just because people say it is true, rather one should test said teaching out for themselves. If the teaching leads to welfare and happiness (among other criteria, which I won’t dive into here) only then should one accept the teaching as true.

If this post resonates with you, I would encourage you to look a little deeper into the eightfold path, try it out for yourself and see if following the guidance therein lessens your suffering.

-Keith/Meizen (明禅)

Contrast

Imagine yourself as the universally accepted radiant immortal angel bodhisattva bright-eyed yoga-butt-endowed all-loving one-with-the-universe perpetually mindful perfectly healthy emotionally perfected psychologically pure unimpededly altruistic non-thinking desire-free psychic-superhero starchild of love and light, and then notice how this image may be in some contrast with your current life.

–Daniel  Ingram, MCTB2

Social Mindfulness

In mindfulness, you focus on your breathing and you’re noticing your thoughts as they come and go. What I’m suggesting is that we expand on this and begin to identify where those thoughts are coming from.

How are we conditioned by certain troublesome patterns rooted in dominant society? What are the forces or structures perpetuating those patterns? In this way, we’re using our attention to really pay attention to the sources of our unhappiness and then the next step to work to overturn those sources.

-David Forbes

David Forbes

The River of Suchness

The mind wants to create ‘safety’ and ‘security’ by imagining itself to be an entity apart form the whole, from Nature, or reality. It is overwhelmed by the continual flux of this energy stream bringing forth myriad upon myriad of forms into creation. It imagines itself able to ‘observe’ this energy flow from the safe vantage point on the bank of the immense River of Suchness. “Let me just step out of all of this and take a good look and ‘figure it out’. I want to ‘get my bearings’ before I continue with this movement.” It is this activity of grasping for security that actually makes its world unsafe and insecure. Once it ‘gets’ that, this changes its movement.
“Stop thinking about it and start swimming with all of your senses awake, on high alert, alive, aware, sensitive, capable, fresh and new! Trust your innate ability to swim in any kind of water. The river IS carrying you. When you try to understand it, you create distance and step out of the flow. Stop inhibiting the free movement of this intelligent and alive energy by acting like an old tree stump bogged down by its past, washed into the stream by the last rain. Be alive, be the fish, be the water, be free.”
~ Nisargadatta

2 years

A couple of weeks ago I hit the milestone of two consecutive years of daily meditation. I look back at myself two years ago and I can honestly say that I am a better person, and I’ve got my daily practice to thank for that.

I’ve gone through a lot in the past two years. Four different jobs, two moves, and one divorce. Through it all I have been able to use my practice as a small piece of solid ground in a tumultuous life. Returning to the breath over and over again has given me a sense of peace and equanimity that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

I may be no closer to stream-entry than I was two years ago, but I don’t meditate to achieve a goal, I meditate for the sake of meditating.

Zen Story

“Two monks were washing their bowls in the river when they noticed a scorpion that was drowning. One monk immediately scooped it up and set it upon the bank. In the process he was stung. He went back to washing his bowl and again the scorpion fell in. The monk saved the scorpion and was again stung.

The other monk asked him, “Friend, why do you continue to save the scorpion when you know it’s nature is to sting?” “Because,” the monk replied, “to save it is my nature.””

Hatred

We’re living in an age when information technologies make it easy for relatively small numbers of people bound by a common enmity to find each other, no matter where on earth they are, and then coordinate to deploy violence. Hatred, even when diffuse and far flung, has increasingly lethal potential.

What causes all the hatred? At some level, it’s always the same thing: human beings operating under the influence of human brains whose design presupposed their specialness. That is, human beings operating under the influence of the reality-distortion fields that control us in many subtle ways, convincing us that we and ours are in the right, that we are by nature good, and that, when we do the occasional bad thing, it’s not a reflection of the “real us”; whereas they and theirs aren’t by nature good, and when they do the occasional good thing, it’s not a reflection of the “real them”.  And it doesn’t help matters that these reality-distortion fields often magnify, even out-and-out fabricate, the threat posed by them and theirs.

So, yes, we need to reject the core evolutionary value of specialness of self. Indeed, there’s probably never been a time in human history when this rejection was more vital.

–Robert Wright

Lonliness 

When you wake up in the morning and out of nowhere comes the heartache of alienation and loneliness, could you use that as a golden opportunity? Rather than persecuting yourself or feeling that something terribly wrong is happening, right there in the moment if sadness and longing, could you relax and touch the limitless space of the human heart? The next time you get a chance, experiment with this. 


Excerpt from The Pocket Pema Chodron