(Excellent bio about the Buddha: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gautama_Buddha)
In May 544 BCE in Kushinagara, India the Buddha (“the awakened one”) whose real name was Siddhartha Gautama or Shakyamuni (the name of the family clan) was lying down peacefully waiting to die. Ananda his cousin and faithful disciple asked him to teach one more time. Around them were 500 monks and lay people already mourning. The Buddha replied without hesitation in Pali language:
“Vayadhammā sankhārā appamādena saṃpadethā”: Sanskrit phonetic translation that means:
“All conditioned things (living beings) are perishable (transient); with vigilance (concentration/mindfulness/attention) strive (work hard) to succeed (to achieve) your own salvation & to realize your enlightenment”
NOTE: Words in () are from various translations.
The Buddha’s last words summarize beautifully the core of his daily teaching during 50 years: Impermanence, salvation, vigilance and hard work.
Q1: I am new in meditation and a bit concerned if not somewhat stressed in joining a group practice. A: Our group meditation is very relax and very friendly. This is the way I want it. No worries please. Zen is not an esoteric and weird practice. On the contrary you will find it quickly.
Q2: Can I bring a friend? A: You can bring one or two. Anyone is welcome.
Q3: Do I have to read about Zen & Zen meditation before my first group class? A: No but it is preferable. If you send us your email address prior your first visit I will send you a few short documents regarding Zen history and Zen meditation. Also you can have a pick at our web site www.oakvillezenmeditation.ca which is quite comprehensive.
Q4: What is Zen? A: Zen is the Japanese word for meditation. Imagine Zen as our “spiritual tool” bringing us to our self-realization. Self-realization is simply the discovery of our “True self” which is very different from our “I, Me, Myself, Mine” or ego in short. Zen calls it “little self”. Our mind is, above all, very self-centered and according to Zen teaching thoughts and actions from our ego-centered mind are the main cause of our on going dissatisfactions, sufferings and negative emotions such as craving, anger, fear, jealousy, resentment, anxiety and misunderstanding. Meditation is helping us to relax and control our mind and our thoughts. You will learn more about Zen philosophy and practice by joining regularly our meditation classes. See schedule.
Q5: What is Zen meditation? A: Also called zazen, Zen meditation is the simplest form of meditation. Beside the initial introduction by the teacher it is not a guided meditation and no outside helpers is required. Zen meditation is a physical & mental focusing practice aiming at relaxing then controlling our body and mind. Daily meditation and weekly group practice are by far the core of Zen practice and therefore essential for your progress. Reading hundred books on Zen will make you a good Zen scholar but a lousy Zen practitioner.
Q6: Can you describe Zen meditation? A: 1) Appropriate posture (cushion or chair) 2) Focusing on your exhale as mind anchor 3) Being mindful to incoming thoughts (they will always pop-in even after years of practice) 4) Let your thoughts go by going back to your focusing point. Nothing more nothing less. An ongoing repetition of 1-2-3-4 til the end of the session.
Q7: Why do we use our own breathing? A: Because it is here, with us anytime and easy to focus on. No external or internal artificial tool is used. Focusing on breathing is also very relaxing by itself especially when we exhale slowly. After becoming a good meditator you will be able to pick another focus point as guided by your teacher.
Q8: Does meditation can be used as therapy? A: Absolutely. In fact meditation is now recognized as an important therapeutic tool for many medical conditions such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, poor self-image, chronic pain, etc. Many health care centres around the world are now providing meditation classes to their staff, inside and outside patients. For more information please contact me for references.
Q9: Why meditation is so important? A: As we mentioned earlier most of our dissatisfactions in life are fueled by our ego and our mind is very ego-centered. By controlling your mind & thoughts you will be able to manage your negative emotions. Meditation is not a quick fix and requires understanding, practice, time, patience, perseverance, trust and above all a non-judgmental approach about your practice. Never judge the quality – bad or good- of your meditation, just do it. One day you meditate well. It’s OK. Next day you meditate poorly. It’s OK too. Weird isn’t! To have a non-judgmental attitude is very difficult to achieve for Westerners who learned to have an analytic mind.
Q10: Do I have to meditate at home? A: Absolutely! Practicing only once a week will bring you nowhere. At least 20 minutes of daily practice is recommended. I will tell you how to proceed.
Q11: What should I do if I cannot find time to meditate during the day? A: We always find time for priorities and never for non-priorities. If you cannot find 20minutes/day at least 5-times/week meditation is not perceived as important for you. You should quit and say bye bye to the group.
Q12: Is weekly group practice important? A: Yes for many reasons. 1) Group meditation is at least twice more effective than the solo one. 2) Meditation is more formal helping you to “reboot” your solo practice. 3) It is an occasion to share experience with others. 4) The Dharma talk (teaching) may/will help you to progress. 5) Tea at the end is a good way to socialize. Our classes are very relaxed and friendly.
Q13: Is reading Zen books useful? A: Venerable Yansing Sunim my Korean Zen Master for many years told me 2 years ago that I was reading too much and becoming too intellectual about Zen. He also said that more knowledge is only good for the ego! I am recommending only 2 books: Buddhism for dummies (excellent) and What is Zen by Allan Watts. For other books please ask me. Some web sites and YouTube are OK, others are dangerous. Again contact me for assistance.
Q14: How long are the sessions? A: The session lasts around 1h30 min. Sitting- walking- sitting meditation followed by 5-10 minutes Dharma talk during the tea break. Questions are always welcome. Handouts of the Dharma talk will be provided during the session to the participants if requested. Classes always start on time. If after your first session you find that you cannot meditate so long you have the option to come one hour later to attend the second shorter meditation period and the Dharma talk. As you progress in meditation our group meditation time will increased. As you progress in meditation our group meditation time will increased. Please refrain from wearing fragrances, exchanging business card during session and turn off your cell phone before.
Q15: What is the role of the teacher? A: Teaching Zen is somewhat a pretentious word. The teacher is mainly your GSP showing you the directions. You are the driver. I will help you and assess your progress if the request is made. Even as a Zen Master I still go to my weekly class to practice and listen to my teacher.
Q16: What do you teach? A: We review the key points of Zen Buddhism and mindfulness meditation as taught by the Buddha (nickname for “the awakened one”) and how to apply them in our daily life. (See also the first question: What is Zen?). Between the 2 sets of meditation I’ll will try to answer any question after the Dharma talk (Zen teaching). Beside meditation Zen implies a way of life and thinking. Details will be given during class.
Q17: How much is the session? A: The sessions are free. Please arrive on time i.e. 5 minutes before or 20 minutes before if you are new in meditation.
Q18: How should I dress? A: Casual, non-tight pants. Please dress accordingly. AND avoid using any fragrance to respect other participants with allergy.
Q19: Can I practice Zen Meditation without becoming a Buddhist? A: Absolutely. There is no commitment to become one.
Q20: Can I practice Zen Meditation even if I belong to another religion or if I do not believe in anything? A: Yes. Zen Buddhism does not discriminate and recognizes all religions and denominations.
Q21: How long will it take to meditate properly? A: Few weeks to few years if you have the understanding, will, discipline, time to practice daily, patience and if you do not judge yourself. Like for everything in life practice makes perfect. If you are looking for a quick fix meditation is not the solution. Coming regularly to the class will make your progress faster.
Q22: How do I know that I am progressing in Zen practice if I should not judge the quality of my meditation? A: Zen is an intuitive experience. There is no exam, no test, and no mark. Few clues can help you here. 1) If you are able to meditate every day without finding the excuse – such as lack of time – for not doing it. 2) When you become more mindful re yours senses, actions, and thoughts. 3) From the feedback of your teacher as long you are requesting it. 4) and a few more.
Q23: Can I email you question(s) or concern(s) any time? A: Of course. You will get a reply within 48h. That’s my job as teacher and also I may learn from you.
Q24: Is it possible that, after few weeks the practice feels like routine? A: Yes. It means that the initial “excitement” is phasing out. Nothing wrong here as long you do not give up because it feels somewhat boring. When meditation becomes routine it is a good sign.
Q25: When I am going to feel the benefits of meditation? A: The more you practice the sooner the benefits. Also group meditation is twice as effective as solo meditation: 40min. in group = ~ 80min. alone. If you practice at least 20min./day + one weekly group within 5 weeks you should appreciate the difference. It may vary from member to member. Again and again the practice is cumulative. There is no other way and no miracle.
When Zen literature speaks about the “walls or gates” blocking access to our inner serenity and happiness it uses the words “poison” since these walls are, most of the time, like poison pills that we swallow without being fully conscious of their effects. Of course many sources of our suffering, sadness, sorrow, grief come from outside self such as loss of a loved one or a job, accident, war, verbal/emotional aggression, disasters, etc. However we shall see that most of our hindrances against achieving serenity and happiness are self inflected. The Buddha 2500 year ago talked about causes of human suffering many times during his 50 years teaching. The term “suffering” is now better translated as dissatisfactions. You will see that the main source of our suffering and dissatisfaction is our ego-self controlling our mind. This list of “poisons” is by no mean exhaustive and in fact cannot be.
Zen Buddhism has an interesting way to describe the various components of a human being and in fact of all living beings. It calls them: the 5 aggregates.
The classification is very practical and includes:
1) Form.= Matter Form is our body from head to toes including 5 senses
2) Perception= Our sensorial recognition of our surrounding .
3) Feelings = Sensations Our emotional brain/mind* which always reacts 10 times faster than our mental one. This is why we usually react emotionally before reacting rationally.
4) Mental formations =Volition= Our mind storage and actions: thoughts, ideas, opinions,prejudices,
5) Consciousness: our individual consciousness is part of a global one shared by all living beings called Collective or Global or Streaming consciousness.
* Brain and mind are viewed as a single unit a bit similar to a computer where the hardware is the brain and the software is the mind.
Our death includes the death of the first four aggregates (Form, Perception, Mental, Feelings). Only our consciousness leaves us to reintegrate the global one. Details of birth and death are not discussed here.
2000 years of recorded Zen dialogues between Zen students and their teachers are often bizarre, cranky, weird, paradoxical and very often without any sense. They are in fact somewhat similar to Koans in their content and purpose that is “the awakening”. Zen literature is full of them. Here are some of them. They will be added periodically.
ALSO GO TO THIS POST : The 7 pillars of a Zen Mind march 10th 2015
What is a Zen mind ? Quick sum-up: Having a Zen Mind is being mindful moment to moment to what is REAL and being indifferent to what is not. What is REAL is what we see, hear, touch, smell and taste …with no though, no judgment, no concept, no idea, no opinion attached since most of them are either an illusion or a deceptive trap created by our ego-centered mind.
“The stillness of the lake reflects perfectly well the beauty of the moon”. Old Zen saying.
Zen mind is also called “beginner mind”, “don’t know mind”, “no mind “, “empty mind”. But what is exactly the meaning of these 2 words: “Zen mind”? Probably the best way to describe Zen mind is to compare it to a mirror (see above quote). With diligent Zen meditation practice our mind becomes like a mirror reflecting mindfully moment to moment and without any preconceived idea, concept, opinion and judgment (that is the “don’t know mind” or “empty mind” or “no mind”).
The following 8 very important points defines the mirror mind.
We think and communicate through words. Words carry our thoughts, concepts, ideas and opinions. However, the basic building blocks to proper communication are our concepts, ideas and opinions. We have here a perfect catch 22 dilemma: words are the basic tools of communication but also they are the impediments to efficient communication. Words facilitate our daily life but there is a significant cost. The use of words to express concepts, idea and opinions may distort our reality, making us unable to see and perceive things as they really are.
The French painter Monet said, “To see is to forget the name of what one is seeing”.
The sound made by a Korean cat is “nyaong”, by an American cat it is “meow”, by a French cat it is “mi-a-ou”. So what is the sound of a cat? Based on these different words its seem that cats speak different languages like humans….crazy…maybe.
One of the most important goal of Zen is to teach us how to overcome and get rid off our detrimental and deceptive ego-self or ” I, my and myself “ also called “little self” in Zen.
Why Zen talks about detrimental & deceptive self?
Our ego-self which controlling and manipulating so well our monkey mind and thoughts 24/7 is the main source of:
Our dissatisfactions, craving, negative emotions (desire, anger, fear, jealousy, anxiety, resentment, illusions, etc). Others dissatisfactions and suffering come from the outside such as lost of a love one, accident, being fired, natural disaster, etc…
Misunderstanding from ideas, opinions and concepts.
Our mind produces around 30,000 thoughts/day! Most of them are self-centered and useless, that is without any specific purpose. We are thinking all the time even without been aware of it. It is like talking to ourselves without listening. Zen talks about “sleep walking mind”.
I am receiving many questions such as “What does Zen practice mean”? This is a very good, practical down to earth question different from the usual “What is Zen”? which is somewhat more cerebral.
Here are the 6 pillars that define our daily Zen practice. To apply all of them every day is difficult. Hope this reading will help you. For any question please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The core of Zen. Meditation is a physical & mental focusing practice aiming at relaxing & controlling body & mind.
Schedule: solo daily (20 to 30minutes) + at least weekly group practice as “rebooting”.
Dialogue between a little dog named Zap and myself or Zen Buddhism in a nutshell.
Zap is our adorable 8 years old sixteen pounds male Shih Tzu dog. Zap is a very smart and very happy little dog wagging his tail almost all the time even during the night (probably having nice dog dreams).
One may wonder why this little animal is always so happy despite the fact that Zap does not have money, a 10,000 sq ft house and 2 luxuries SUV’s. He does not have a lovely spouse, kids, family, friends, girlfriend, powerful job and a lot of control, fame and material wealth. Zap does not have a Rolex watch, a health club, a golf club, four platinum credit cards, two computers, one Smartphone, $3,000 suits, thirty two ties, two 110 in flat TV’s with 1,200 channels, a condo in Florida and a cottage somewhere. Zap never goes to a five stars restaurant; he always eats the same thing at the same place. He never travels first class around the world three times a year to get excited about new surroundings and to avoid boredom.