This is a frequent question and the answer is simple: Zen practice is not a warm, cozy and fuzzy practice generating a “feeling good” state. The practice requires rigorous commitment, patience and discipline. It is designed, first, to help practitioners realize their genuine Self or True Self different from our social mind- controlled self. This so called realization should not mean achieving salvation or daylong happiness or a perfect, magical and holly state. This conception of Zen achievement is totally wrong despite what one can read in books and on Internet.
Student: “When some sort of awakening appears, do practitioners feel good or feel better?”
The number one goal of Zen Buddhism practice is to relieve all living beings from suffering and not to gratify ourselves with personal achievements such awakening or realization that our own practice may or may not produce. These personal goals, achievements and contentment are pure egotistic complacency and self-gratification. They are in total contradiction to Zen teaching.
Yes, after long practice, some sort of personal serenity does appear but it is not associated with any “feeling good enjoyment”. If such feeling exists the teacher must question the objectives and practice of the student and the value of the teaching. The goal of Zen practice is not to be different from others, to sit on a mountaintop in eternal bliss nor to meditate formally 10 hours a day but to share with others personal experience in order to help them control if not to end suffering. However, this lofty and somewhat pretentious goal cannot be conceived and achieved without initial self-discovery. If I can control my mind and suffering and you are still suffering, I am only half way there, which means I am nowhere at all. The trap and danger is to remain focused on ourselves without moving forward in assisting others.
Student: “How do you assist others?”
Again, it is important to practice with the objective of going beyond ourselves. There are two main ways to provide assistance to others.
- The first way is the direct approach, which includes formal teaching of Zen Buddhist philosophy, practice of meditation and one-on-one counseling.
- Zen philosophy is very simple, down to earth and straight to the point. A “no-brainer” in the literal as well as in the figurative sense. This is why it is perceived, very often, as being quite weird and esoteric.
- Meditation is also simple to explain and yet very demanding requesting severe discipline, patience and commitment. Our understanding and expectations about meditation are numerous and unfortunately most of them are wrong and misleading. Many come to meditation to solve personal issues and meditation can be useful as long it is well understood with the help of the teacher. Learning not to judge the quality of our meditation is also very difficult to accept since we all want to assess our progress.
- One-on-one counseling may be provided when requested.
During this direct approach it is clear that the teacher is just a resource person using her/his own experience as simple guidance since Zen does not stick to any dogmatic value, just simple objective facts and the teacher is also a student. It is then up to the student to reach destination.
- The other way in helping others is “indirect”.
Controlling your own thoughts and emotions has positive effects on the quality of life of those living with and around you. Successful practice should also enhance your understanding, generosity, compassion and empathy towards others.
“Feeling good” is not the goal of Zen practice neither for the student nor for the teacher. Otherwise, if such goal were created it would quickly become an attachment and all attachments are potential traps and sources of disappointment. The goal is to control our mind in order to maintain ongoing serenity, which means to accept things and events as they are, and not as we want them to be especially when we do not control them and when they have no solution.