When people are happy and contented, they tend to take life for granted. It is when they suffer, when they find life difficult, that they begin to search for a reason and a way out of their difficulty. They may ask why some are born in poverty and suffering, while others are born in fortunate circumstances. Some people believe that it is due to fate, chance, or an invisible power beyond their control. They feel that they are unable to live the life they desire so as to experience happiness always. Consequently, they become confused and desperate. However, the Buddha was able to explain why people differ in their circumstances and why some are more fortunate in life than others. The Buddha taught that one’s present condition, whether of happiness or suffering, is the result of the accumulated force of all past actions or karma.DEFINITION OF KARMA
Karma is intentional action, that is, a deed done deliberately through body, speech or mind. Karma means good and bad volition (kusala Akusala Centana). Every volitional action (except that of a Buddha or of an Arahant) is called Karma. The Buddhas and Arahants do not accumulate fresh Karma as they have destroyed all their passions.In other words, Karma is the law of moral causation. It is action and reaction in the ethical realm. It is natural law that every action produces a certain effect. So if one performs wholesome actions such as donating money to charitable organizations, happiness will ensue. On the other hand, if one performs unwholesome actions, such as killing a living being, the result will be suffering. This is the law of cause and effect at work. In this way, the effect of past karma determines the nature of one’s present situation in life.The Buddha said,
“According to the seed that is sown, So is the fruit you reap The door of good of will gather good results The door of evil reaps evil results. If you plant a good seed well, Then you will enjoy the good fruits.”
Karma is a law itself. But it does not follow that there should be a lawgiver. The law of Karma, too, demands no lawgiver. It operates in its own field without the intervention of an external, independent agency.
History: Buddhism was created around 2500 years ago following the 50 years long teaching of The Buddha (meaning the “awakened one”). Zen, a branch of Buddhism, was born in China 500 years later. Zen is the Japanese word for meditation. The Buddha meditated 6 years almost continuously before being “awaken” meaning 1) He realized the origins of human suffering, unhappiness and dissatisfaction. 2) How to reduce/ control them.
Meditation is the core training and practice of Zen Buddhism. Nothing even the readings, Buddhist rituals and even teaching (see Zen Tips: “Is Zen teaching necessary?”) are more important than daily solo and weekly group meditation. Meditation will help you to discover what we call your True self or True Nature, to experience inner peace, enjoy the beauty of life and appreciate the value of being patient, generous compassionate with people, surroundings and Nature. Finally and not the least meditation is also the only way to learn how to control our ego-centered mind main source of our dissatisfaction and unhappiness caused by our negative thoughts and feelings such as anger, frustration, resentment, anxiety, jealousy, illusion, expectations and many more.
If you hold a bottle of muddy water with shaky hands the water will remain muddy and you will not be able to see through. If your hands are still the water becomes clear.
In this metaphor the bottle is your mind, the mud is your thoughts and your still hands is meditation. This will help you to understand meditation. The words medicine and meditation come from the same Latin root “meditatio” meaning “physical and mental exercise of concentration”. Brain and mind are one single entity a bit like a computer where the brain is the hardware and the mind the software.
This is a very legitimate question since Zen is a personal experience to achieve a
” don’t know mind” that is 1) To be able to scan and control the thoughts of our ego-centered mind and main source of discomfort and dissatisfaction and 2) To be free of concepts, preconceived ideas, opinions and judgment. If the goal is “Don’t know mind” why would one teach for hours or read zillions of books to fill up this mind? A contradiction isn’t it?
In a perfect world Zen teaching is probably totally unnecessary. Then why over the last 2000 years all Zen teachers have been teaching and writing books and will continue do so?
The reason is simple:
Students and more specifically Westerners want to understand the basics of Zen Buddhist philosophy, for example its complex terminology such as: “No self, impermanence, empty mind, nirvana, no form, awakening, karma, rebirth, reincarnation, monkey mind, no time, mindfulness, just be, no birth/no death, Middle Way, mirror thinking, Samsara, no beginning no end”. Asking many more questions like “When do I know that I am progressing?”, “How & why to meditate”.
The perfect student may ask: “What is don’t know mind?”
The perfect teacher may reply: “Just sit and meditate and you will find out!”
This is a perfect mind-to-mind teaching for perfect people. Unfortunately few students and teachers are perfect and this type of teaching attitude will go nowhere especially in our Western World where we are more demanding for knowledge.
The #1 duty of the teacher is to help students in answering properly their questions. The #2 duty is to assist and assess their progress. Questions are important not only for the student but also for the teacher who will assess students and…..her/his teaching.
Academic Zen vs. Zen practice.
One may know the Bible or the Koran or the Sutras by heart but this knowledge will not make them better Christians or Muslims or Buddhist. Same thing for Zen practitioners.
One may know very well the mechanics of a car engine but it will not make her/him a better driver. Same thing for Zen practitioners.
Knowing and understanding Zen very well will not make a good practitioner.
Academia and experience should not be seen as opposite but complementary.
Zen Buddhism loves the concept of the Middle Way and it should be apply regarding
Zen teaching and practice. Some academic teaching including discussion is necessary and will always be to help and maintain students on the right tract.
Talking about esoteric dialogue is judgmental and unfortunate.
As far our classes our current format is ~ 15% of teaching + Q&A and ~85% meditation. This is a good ratio for beginners. It will be modulated towards more meditation as progress in Zen practice is confirmed among our members.
Zen Buddhism is full of paradoxes in its literature, in its thinking and teaching. Here is an example: Question from a teacher: “Who are you? In your answer you cannot talk about yourself!”. Does not make sense isn’t it?
Why such an attraction for paradoxes.?
The existence of paradoxes does not mean that Zen is confused. In fact Zen paradoxes have been created with the unique purpose to create a “short circuit ” in our analytic and logical thinking mind when facing 2 opposites and contradictory statements.
Here is a simple way, but not the only one, to seek some serenity, comfort and security in our hectic and stressful life.
Our body is living now but our mind is usually either in the past or future. They are not synchronized. This lack of being together is a main source of stress and unhappiness.
Whatever you are doing, don’t let the past and the future move, disturb and control your mind. Instead try to synchronize your mind and body to be both at the same time. It will bring instant serenity.
The past is no more, and the future is not yet. To live in your memories and to live in your expectations and dreams is to live in a non-existential virtual reality, like watching a movie in a theater. Past and future are virtual reality and are used as a powerful tools by our deceptive mind to control us.
When we think of the past we always go back to the good and bad times and never the routine day-to-day time. This is how our mind is tricking us in order to create attachments. When we think about the future we have the tendency to see it far more “rosy” than it will be. This is also how the mind is fooling us. To be attached to the good/bad of the past and to the expectations/dreams of the future can be an ongoing source of frustration, sadness, resentment, unhappiness and false hope.
When you are living in this fictional past and future world you are missing your true life. You will become nostalgic, anxious, worried or too wishful, because you will miss what you can enjoy now.
Having said this it is obvious that proper planning cannot be ignored and should be done.
What can we do or use to stay away from these virtual worlds (past and future) as much as possible?
In this “Zen Mind Equation”, the main positive attributes are in the numerator and their opposites in the denominator.
Reality Mindfulness Now Meditation Others Letting go
ZEN MIND = ———– + —————- + ———- + ———– + ———— + ————
Illusion Distraction Past Thinking Ego Opinion
Delusion Future zombie Judgment
1. Reality (opposite of illusion, delusion)
Things are what they are and not what we want them to be. (the mirror mind)
Mindfulness (opposite of distraction)
To pay attention to something, moment to moment, in a non-judgmental way.
Now (opposite of past and future)
Our body is in the “now”. Trying to keep our mind synchronized to our body is one key to relaxation and serenity. Past & future are virtual. Don’t get trapped in their nets unless absolute necessity such as planning.
Meditation (opposite of thinking zombie)
Physical & mental individual exercises aiming at taming the mind in order to control our ego-centered thoughts, which are the main sources of our unhappiness. Taming our mind is the only way to achieve long lasting serenity, happiness and relaxation and not the reverse. Group meditation is twice as effective as solo one. By definition meditation does not use audiovisual tools nor any external guidance.
Others (opposite of ego)
The paramount duty of a Zen mind is to help others. It can only be achieved effectively by first knowing self that is controlling our ego-centered mind source of our unhappiness and dissatisfaction caused by our ongoing desire, anger, fear, jealousy, illusion, delusion, anxiety, resentment, stress, etc. Once this first stage is achieved helping others become natural.
Letting go (opposite of opinion and judgment)
Back to Reality. Learning to let go our opinions, concepts, ideas and judgments unless they are necessary such as:
Our mind loves to think…all the time even when we sleep. Latest neurological research estimates that we have around 45,000 thoughts/day and most of them are just “mental noise” or “mental spam”. We are thinking zombies on mind autopilot without too much control unless we learn a tool to reverse it. Zen calls this state “day sleep walking”.
In fact our mind hates to be quiet: “If I am not thinking, I am failing my job in analyzing, judging, deciding, reasoning and… controlling this human being.” However when our mind becomes overactive or wandering too much the effect can be very detrimental to us. Its thoughts may become alienating, obsessive and deceptive feeding us with endless anxiety, fear, anger, resentment, future expectation, illusion, deception and stress. You got the picture. (more…)
(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.