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Zen Practice

On This Page: [What is Buddhism?]   [What is Zen?]   [Etiquette]   [Mindfulness]   [Suggested Reading]

Other Pages: [Mechanics of Zazen & Kinhin]   [Glossary]   [Seiwa En (The Japanese Garden)]   [Rosan's Writings]


What is Buddhism?

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BUDDHISM means “awakened way” (Buddha Dharma, Awakened Form). Since Gotama Siddhattha became awakened (buddha) 2.5 millenia ago, Buddhism has spread all over the world. Buddhists take refuge in the three treasures of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

BUDDHA means “awakened one”. Anyone, regardless of age, sex, race, etc. can cultivate and verify buddhahood, and lead an awakened life in peace and freedom. Buddha Gotama was awakened to the dharma and taught it with complete understanding and concrete action in compassion.

DHARMA stands for forms (dharma), norms (dharma) and the teaching of them. The Buddha’s awakening and teaching lie in Dependent Origination (Dharma of all dharmas): all forms (phenomena) are dependently originated on causes and conditions. Our consciousness-world is originated on six sense organs and objects. Our self-sense/self-centeredness originates from the ignorance of this. Our suffering originates from our craving for the self and the sense world. The way to unconditioned peace (nirvana) lies in its cessation. The Four Noble Truths are suffering, origination, cessation and way.

Practice applying the Dharma consists of the Three Learnings, the Eightfold Noble Path and so on:

Eightfold Noble PathThree LearningsFive/Ten Precepts
Right view

Right thinking
Insight No killing

No stealing

No adultery

No falsehoods

No intoxicants

No reproach of faults

No praise of self/
 no censure of others

No begrudging of
 dharma/goods

No anger

No defaming of the
 Three Treasures
Right speech

Right action

Right livelihood

Right striving
Morality
Right mindfulness

Right concentration
Concentration

Concentration, meditation in calmness and clearness, stops past actions (physical, verbal, mental), embracing the Three Learnings and giving unlimited freedom (from/of the body/mind of self/other), unconditioned peace and unsurpassed awakening. Insight admits Three Marks (impermanence, suffering, and selflessness by the previous two) of all phenomena.

SANGHA, the community, is shared by buddhas extending to the whole universe in limitless interrelation and relativity. Buddhists take the Three Vows to embrace all beings, all good dharmas and all precepts, becoming familiar and wholesome with all.


What is Zen?

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Zen means meditation. Part of Zen practice is taking time every day to sit in a balanced position in which the mind and body are allowed to relax. In everyday affairs, our minds are usually cluttered with random thoughts. This is because of our desires. We strive for good things, and worry about the unpleasant. We will never be satisfied in this way because our desires are endless. New desires will quickly come to replace the old ones. We can spend our whole lives aimlessly try to satisfy these insatiable desires.

However, when we sit in a calm and balanced posture without talking or moving, we become free from our desires. We become free because our desires no longer force us into action. We can watch thoughts of greed, anger, joy, frustration, or sadness come and go without being moved physically or mentally. After some practice sitting in this way, call zazen (pronounced ZAH ZEN), we begin to see that all these thoughts have no substance. They cannot affect us if we do no act on them. Like ripples on the surface of a bottomless lake they are noticed, but the lake is not affected by them. But, it is important that you have experience watching how your own mind works. When you understand your own mind, you won’t be led astray by erroneous ideas.

Although zazen is the foundation for Zen Buddhism, anyone, regardless of his or her beliefs, can sit zazen. In zazen, we don’t learn new beliefs or ideas but rather become free from old thinking.

Please come join us at the Missouri Zen Center, a non-profit organization.

open quoteIf all people in the world strive for the Way, the Awakened Way,
of the unsurpassed awakening, there will be no more wars, no
fighting for food, no good-for nothing life which seems
to find no hobby other than competition,
and truly this earth will
totally become
paradise.
close quote
– Sawaki Kodo (1880-1965)


Zendo Etiquette

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Zendo etiquette refers to the conventions and practices observed in the zendo. Some of them have to do with common-sense practicality (if we did't all turn the same direction to exit the zendo or commence kinhin, there would be collisions and traffic jams), some with mindfulness (if I don't pay attention to replacing the sutra book at my tan in the same way as all the others, where is my mind at that moment? no doubt distracted), and all have to do with establishing and maintaining the zendo as a place of meditation—a safe, tolerant, welcoming refuge.

Please review the Mindfulness Guidelines.

GENERAL/ZAZEN

  • No shoes in the zendo.
  • Always enter the zendo mindfully and quietly. Take care not to let the door slam or make a lot of noise with the latch.
  • Always step mindfully and quietly when walking in the zendo. Notice the alignment of the zafus and zabutons (straighten if necessary) and the cleanliness (or dustiness) of the center.
  • Do NOT enter the zendo during zazen. You should be in and settled before the three bells.
  • Enter the Buddha Hall from the left side of the entrance. Do gassho with monjin (bow) there, then enter on the right foot first.
  • Walk clockwise around the edge of the room to your tan (sitting place).
  • Bow to your row, then turn (clockwise) to bow to the opposite row.
  • Sit on your zafu, first facing the center of the room, then rotate clockwise to face the wall.
  • Settle into silence before the three bells.
  • During zazen, minimize all noises: breathing (unobstructed deep breathing should be utterly silent), coughing, clearing the throat, etc.
  • During tea or other times when you are seated facing the center, when another person enters the zendo, those seated in the new person’s row should bow together with that person (when he bows to his row), and when the person has turned around (clockwise) to bow to those seated directly opposite, those people too should bow with the person. People seated elsewhere ought now bow with them.
  • Observe silence during samu (work practice). No talking, except as necessary.

KINHIN

  • When the hands are in isshu, the forearms should form a straight horizontal line.
  • The upper body should remain straight (chin tucked, eyes at 45°angle), as in zazen.
  • Take just a single half-step (half the length of the foot) with each complete breath.

DOÄN

  • Do three full bows (prostrations) before beginning.
  • Make all the bell sounds clear and clean.
  • Let the large bell resound before striking it again.
  • If someone is not yet settled at the time to begin zazen (or someone is entering the zendo), wait until everyone has become still to ring the 3 bells.
  • Be mindful of co-practitioners—adjust the volume of your voice and loudness of bells to fit the size of the group. (i.e., it needs to be louder when people are distributed in both rooms, but softer when there are only a few people.)
  • Be mindful of the level of lights in the Zendo, and turn off unnecessary lights (such as the kitchen).
  • Time the run-down on the inkihn bell to signal prostration for when people are ready. If Rosan is here, you must prolong the run-down to give him enough time to lay out his prostration cloth. Other times, just give people a chance to get up (without rushing them) and find a space.
  • It’s not necessary to back up very much for prostrations. (When crowded, it’s also possible to do prostrations on the zabuton.)

For more information about Zen practice, visit Soto Zen-net, official site of the Sotoshu.

Mindfulness

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A big part of incorporate our zen practice into everyday life is practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is simply “noticing”—noticing all the sounds, sights, smell, sensations and mind objects going on in and around you. Often, our “monkey minds” are so full of distracted thinking—leaping from one thought to another to another without even noticing what’s going on around us. Mindfulness is hearing all the sounds in your environment, being aware of yourself and your (inter)relation with everything around you, and, especially, noticing your own mind.

When we sit in zazen, we can calm our body-mind so much that we can actually watch as a thought arises. In practicing mindfulness, we can extend that quiet mind into our everyday lives and watch as the whole world becomes evident to us.

Mindfulness Guidelines

Written by Dr. Yoshida and the Missouri Zen Center Board.

he Missouri Zen Center welcomes you to begin striving in the Awakened Way. The Awakened One (Buddha) said:

Wakefulness is the path to immortality;
Unwakefulness is the path to mortality.
The unawakened are like the dead;
The awakened never die indeed.

All the awakened ones taught “doing all the good; doing no evils; purifying one’s own mind.” Through sitting meditation (zazen) and other practice, we uncondition bad habits and cultivate good habits, purifying mind, mouth and body.

Doing all the good — Let us cultivate great minds and embrace all; welcoming new people and new perspectives, accepting their aspiration, allowing them to grow great and to settle in peace. Let us be mindful that:

The zendo is a safe place. We must maintain a physically and emotionally safe place to practice. The choice to explore Buddhist practice may come at a time of personal vulnerability for new practitioners. We respect this vulnerability and seek to allay it by creating a secure environment.

The zendo is a welcoming place. Each visitor represents a new and unique opportunity to allow the Awakened Way to flourish inestimably. The cultivation of each Beginner’s Mind should be given high priority whenever it is encountered.

The zendo is a place of refuge. We take refuge in the Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha) but a place of practice is quite literally a refuge from the unsettling realities we must regularly face. While we don’t seek escape from the world, we do all need refuge from time to time to center ourselves to more positively face these realities.

The zendo is a place of tolerance. Practitioners come from a variety of ethnicities, religious and social backgrounds, political leanings, sexual orientations, etc. All sincere practitioners bring into the zendo the gift of their unique perspective on the Dharma. We value these perspectives.

The zendo is a place of good intention. We all bring into the zendo our conditioned preferences for the way things should be. Our practice brings us awareness of these conditionings. We strive to recognize that each of us is motivated by the best intentions no matter how different such preferences may be.

Doing no evils — Let us cultivate mature minds and eliminate all evils; avoiding attachment, aversion and delusion, becoming mindful of physical, verbal and mental behaviors. Let us be mindful that:

The zendo is a place of humanness. Individual friendships will form. Differences will arise. Attractions will occur. Mistakes will be made. Tempers will flare. We value humanness. However, we should each strive to keep our humanness from disrupting the practice of others. Consider how a romantic overture could potentially disrupt someone’s practice if it places the other person in an awkward position. Consider how a display of anger may play out within the group. Consider how a friendship with one may cause another to feel excluded.

Purifying the mind — Let us cultivate joyful minds and enrich all; purifying mind, mouth and body, inside and outside, sharing unsurpassed awakening and unconditioned peace, in limitless light, love and life.

The zendo is a place to purify the mind while practicing many aspects of the Awakened Way. Meditation, work practice, Buddhist studies and fellowship are each important to the sangha. We value variety in the expression of practice.

The zendo is a place for the serious practice of zazen. Zazen is integral to the Awakened Way. Ideally, periods of zazen should be preceded by a suitable period of silence so that those who wish to settle their minds prior to meditation may do so. Likewise, some practitioners may benefit from being allowed to carry the silence of the zendo with them into the world. We should respect this wish by allowing time for those practitioners to exit who may prefer not to enter into discussion so quickly after zazen.

Doans (those responsible for the zendo for the period of meditation) have a special responsibility to convey the spirit of these guidelines through their actions. However, let us all accept responsibility. The success with which we do so is dependent upon the diligence and sincerity of our practice. Let us make ourselves and others limitlessly awakened and activated in truth, beauty, goodness, peace and harmony with all — in cleaning, candle-lighting, beautifying, bell-ringing, and in all of our efforts.


Suggested Reading

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Gerald O. Barney
Threshold 2000, Critical Issues and Spiritual Values for a Global Age The Millenium Institute, 1999.
Robert Aitken
A Zen Wave Basho’s Haiku & Zen, Weatherhill, New York & Tokyo, 1978.
Robert Aitken
Encouraging Words; Zen Buddhist teachings for western students, Pantheon Books, New York, 1993.
Robert Aitken
Taking the Path of Zen, North Point Press, New York, 1982.
Robert Aitken
The Mind of Clover essays in Zen Buddhist ethics, North Point Press, San Francisco, 1984.
Shundo Aoyama
Zen Seeds; reflections of a female priest, Kosei Publishing, Tokyo, 1990.
Anne Bancroft
Zen directly pointing to reality, Thames and Hudson, New York, 1979.
Charlotte Joko Beck
Everyday Zen; love & work, Harper Collins, San Francisco, 1989.
Charlotte Joko Beck
Nothing Special; living Zen, Harper Collins Publishers, San Francisco, 1993.
Pema Chödrön
Start Where You Are; a guide to compassionate living, Shambala, Boston & London, 1994.
Thomas Cleary
Timeless Spring, a Soto Zen anthology, Weatherhill, New York & Tokyo, 1979.
Thomas Cleary, trans.
Book of Serenity; one hundred Zen dialogues, Lindisfarne Press, Hudson, NY, 1990.
Thomas Cleary, trans.
Instant Zen; waking up in the present, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA, 1994.
Thomas Cleary, trans. & ed.
The Original Face: an anthology of Rinzai Zen, Grove Press, Inc., New York, 1978.
Edward Conze
A Short History of Buddhism, Unwin Paperbacks, London, 1982.
Edward Conze
Buddhism: its essence and development, Harper & Row, Publishers, New York, 1959.
Edward Conze
Buddhist Meditation, Harper & Row, New York, 1956.
Edward Conze
Buddhist Thought in India three phases of Buddhist philosophy, The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, MI, 1967.
Council on Economic Priorities
Shopping for a Better World, 1991 Edition, Ballatine Books, New York, 1991.
Alexandra David-Neel
Buddhism: its doctrines and its methods, Avon Books, New York, 1977.
Garrett De Bell, ed.
The Environmental Handbook, prepared for the first national environmental teach-in, Ballantine Books, New York, 1970.
Joe Domingues & Vicki Robin
Your Money or Your Life; tranforming your relationship with money & achieving financial independence, Penguin, New York, 1992.
Heinrich Dumoulin, ed.
Buddhism in the Modern World the cultural, political and religious significance of, Collier Books, New York, 1976.
Earthworks Group
50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth, Earthworks Press, Berkeley, 1989.
Mark Epstein, M.D.
Thoughts Without a Thinker psychotherapy from a Buddhist perspective, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 1995.
Risieri Frondizi
The Nature of the Self a funtional interpretation, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1953.
Bernard Glassman & Rick Fields
Instructions to the Cook a Zen master’s lessons in living a life that matters, Bell Tower, New York, 1996.
Natalie Goldberg
Long Quiet Highway; waking up in America, Bantam Books, New York, 1993.
Eugene Herrigel
Zen in the Art of Archery, Random House, New York, 1971.
Philip Kapleau
Zen: Dawn in the West, Anchor Press/ Doubleday, Garden City, NY, 1979.
Philip Kapleau, comp., ed., trans. & comm.
The Three Pillars of Zen; teaching, practice, and enlightenment, Doubleday, Garden City, NY, 1980.
Dainin Katagiri
Returning to Silence Zen practice in daily life, Shambala, Boston & London, 1988.
Hans Küng and Karl-Josef Kuschel, eds.,
A Global Ethic; the declaration of the Parliament of the world’s religions, Continuum, New York, 1993.
Marjorie Lamb
2 Minutes a Day for a Greener Planet; quick & simple things you can do to save the Earth, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 1990.
Janet Luhrs
The Simple Living Guide; a sourcebook for less stressfull, more joyful living, Broadway Books, New York, 1997.
Diane MacEachern
Save Our Planet; 750 everyday ways you can help clean up the Earth, Dell, New York, 1990.
Thomas Merton
Zen and the Birds of Appetite, New Direction, New York, 1968.
Norman Myers
Ultimate Security; the environmental basis of political stability, W.W. Norton & Co., New York & London, 1993.
Thich Nhat Hanh
Breathe! You Are Alive; sutra on the full awareness of breathing, Parallax Press, Berkeley, CA, 1990.
Thich Nhat Hanh
Living Buddha, Living Christ, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1995.
Thich Nhat Hanh
Our Appointment with Life; the Buddha’s teaching on living in the present, Parallax Press, Berkeley, CA, 1990.
Thich Nhat Hanh
Peace is Every Step; the path of mindfulness in everyday life, Bantam Books, New York, Toronto, 1991.
Thich Nhat Hanh
Present Moment, Wonderful Moment; mindfulness verses for daily living, Parallax Press, Berkeley, CA, 1990.
Thich Nhat Hanh
The Blooming of a Lotus; guided meditation exercises for healing and transformation, Beacon Press, Boston, 1993.
Thich Nhat Hanh
The Heart of Understanding; commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra, Parallax Press, Berkeley, 1988.
Thich Nhat Hanh
The Miracle of Being Awake; a manual on meditation for the use of young activists, Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Sri Lanka, 1976.
Thich Nhat Hanh
The Sutra on the Eight Realizations of the Great Beings; a Buddhist scripture on simplicity, generosity and compassion, Parallax Press, Berkeley, CA, 1987.
Thich Nhat Hanh
Zen Keys; a guide to Zen practice, Doubleday, New York, 1994.
Maura “Soshin” O’Halloran
Pure Heart, Enlightened Mind; the Zen journal and letters of Maura “Soshin” O’Halloran Charles A. Tuttle, Boston, Rutland & Tokyo, 1994.
Shohaku Okumura, trans.
Dogen Zen, Kyoto Soto Zen Center, Kyoto, 1988.
Shohaku Okumura, trans.
Shobogenzo-zuimonki; sayings of Eihei Dogen Zenji recorded by Koun Ejo, Kyoto Soto Zen Center, Kyoto-shi, 1987.
Shohaku Okumura, trans. & comm. & Taigen Dan Leighton, trans.
Bendowa talk on wholehearted practice of the Way by Eihei Dogen Zenji, Kyoto Soto Zen Center, Kyoto, 1993.
Peter Singer
Animal Liberation a new ethics for our treatment of animals, Avon Books, New York, 1975.
Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki
An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, Grove Press, Inc., New York, 1964.
Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki
Introduction to Zen Buddhism including “a manual of Zen Buddhism”, Causeway Books, New York, 1974.
Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki
The Awakening of Zen, Prajña Press, Boulder, CO, 1980.
D.T. Suzuki
The Zen Doctrine of No-Mind; the significance of the Sutra of Hui-neng (Wei-lang), Samuel Weiser, Inc., York Beach, ME, 1972.
Daisetz T. Suzuki
Zen and Japanese Culture, Bollingen Series LXIV, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1959.
Shunryu Suzuki
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind Informal Talks on Zen meditation and practice, Weatherhill, Inc., New York & Tokyo.
Kosho Uchiyama
Approach to Zen the reality of Zazen/modern civilization and Zen, Japan Publications, Inc., Tokyo, 1975.
Kosho Uchiyama
The Zen Teaching of “Homeless” Kodo, Kyoto Soto Zen Center, Kyoto, 1990.
Kosho Uchiyama & Dogen
Refining Your Life From the Zen Kitchen to Enlightenment, Weatherhill, New York & Tokyo, 1983.
Claude Whitmyer, ed.
Mindfulness and Meaningful Work; explorations in right livelihood, Parallax Press, Berkeley, 1994.
Osamu Rosan Yoshida
No Self; a systematic interpretation of Buddhism, The World Sacred Text Publishing Society, Tokyo, 1994.
Rosan Yoshida, trans.
Dogen’s Poems, Missouri Zen Center, St. Louis, 1987.
Rosan Yoshida, trans. & comm.
Limitless Life; Dogen’s World: Translation of Shushogi, Goroku & Doei, The Missouri Zen Center, St. Louis, 1999.
Northwest Earth Institute
Voluntary Simplicity dicussion course, Northwest Earth Institute, Portland, OR, 1997.

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