Zen Buddhism : History & Synopsis

buddha-meditate-under-a-bodhi-tree

TABLE OF CONTENT

  1. PREAMBLE
  2. WHO IS BUDDHA?
  3. HOW DID BUDDHA TEACH?
  4. HOW DID BUDDHISM GROW?
  5. BUDDHISM AS RELIGION
  6. THE BASICS OF BUDDHA’S TEACHING
  7. WHAT IS ZEN?
  8. WHAT IS A ZEN MIND?
  9. ZEN IN ACTION
  10. FEW ZEN STORIES, QUOTES, SAYINGS, PROVERBS & KOANS
  11. MEDITATION, KARMA, BIRTH/DEATH/REINCARNATION

“The secret of health for both your Mind and Body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly”. Siddharta Gautama aka “The Buddha” or “the awakened one”

“We are not human beings on spiritual journey, we are spiritual beings on human journey” . Buddhist saying? No! Christian saying (Teilhard de Chardin)

1. PREAMBLE

If you are just curious about Zen Buddhism or seriously interested about it you will probably go on your search engine, type Buddhism, Zen and click “enter”. Thousand of sites will pop-up! Few are excellent, many are very bad and some are simply wrong and even dangerous. Or you went on Amazon then click “books” then “Buddhism”: thousand of titles will pop-up. You will be overwhelmed by information.

Up until few years ago our western civilization and occidental minds have perceived Zen Buddhism as an esoteric, alien and ritualistic religion practiced mostly, if not mainly, by monks. Buddhism has also been criticized as being pessimistic, intellectual, self centered and contemplative. Zen Buddhism is, in fact, just the opposite.

Another way to approach Zen Buddhism is to go to our local Zen Buddhist Temple. Chatting with Buddhist members of the Temple will be also very useful.

2. WHO WAS BUDDHA?

Siddharta Gautama –his real name- was born in Lumbini (actual Nepal) in 563 BCE. Later he will be called “Buddha” meaning “the awakened one” in Pali language and “Sakyamuni” meaning “the sage of Shakya”. Shakya being the name of the family’s clan. The family’s members were kshatriyas, member of a warrior high caste, and his father, Shuddhodama, was one of the supreme chefs of the Shakya clan with the power of a local king.

Trapped in his palace for many years his life was made of pleasures, material abundance and tutorial education from the best teachers. He had everything. However at the age of 19, driven by curiosity, he left his palace one night with his servant to explore and witness what real life was all about outside his golden castle. He came back home the next morning traumatized after seeing so such poverty, suffering, diseases and even death. Even as a young man he was already overwhelmed by the need to know the purpose of life, why beings are born, suffer and died. It all seems to him pointless, empty and meaningless. His father could not answer the questions that the son, eager to know, was asking repeatedly.

The question of suffering was haunting him continuously. Finally at the young age of 29 or 30 the future king left his luxurious life, his family, wife and young son to explore, understand and hopefully solve the problem of human suffering. What a task!

His second experience in the real world will be again a very traumatic long one. Penniless now Siddhartha became a beggar lived in forests and quiet places, relying totally on the goodwill and compassion of the local people for food and shelter. Again he witnessed all components of human misery: poverty, suffering, sadness, diseases, aging and deaths. He saw also anger, deception, robbery, violence, crime, wars, death and many more miseries.

More puzzled and curious than ever the future Buddha decided to:

  • Find the origin of our miseries and the “why” of all sufferings and dissatisfactions.
  • Search and offer solutions to his fellow humans.
  • Share his discovery and experience with others if, indeed, he will be successful in his quest.

Siddhartha dreamed of unlocking the secrets of the inner world of the human mind. To reach his goal he sat with many great teachers, priests, scholars learning everything they knew. However he realized very quickly that none of these bright minds could help him to reach his goal of finding the end of suffering and the ultimate truth he was looking for. Eventually he decided to search his own way. For many years he tried total renunciation thru a very demanding ascetic life without success. In fact he was very close to die several times from extreme fatigue and starvation!

Since meditation was common practice in India he decided to use this approach to pursue his difficult quest to understand the causes of suffering and to offer solution to stop it. He meditated continuously for 6 full years and at the end, after 45 days of intense meditation and during beautiful sun rise he discovered not only the sources of all human suffering and dissatisfaction but also the solutions to prevent them and to achieve perfect state of “non-self”, internal liberation, peaceful mind and total wisdom.

He became “enlightened” or “awake” at 35 years old. The name Buddha is simply a nickname given by his followers and meaning “the awakened one”. His other nickname less frequently used was Shakyamuni (the sage of the Shakya clan).

The awakened one…awaked to what?

At this precise moment of awakening Buddha discovered and experienced his True Nature i.e. his genuine nature totally liberated from its egoself grasp (selflessness). At this point Buddha reached Nirvana (literally meaning extinction = No desire, no anger and no delusive mind).

His first goal has been reached; his second one was to share his knowledge, experience and to help others. Buddha taught with passion every day for nearly 50 years crisscrossing India over and over. Hundred, thousands then millions became his followers.

Buddha died around the age of 80 (~483 BCE) with the following last words:

 “ All things are ephemeral, work hard within yourself to achieve salvation”.

 3. HOW DID BUDDHA TEACH?

Like his personality his teaching was simple, practical, down to earth and easy to understand. However he never wrote down his discourses preferring talking directly. He spoke appropriately according to people’s needs, leading them towards realizing Truth forthemselves. Over and over Buddha made it very clear that each of us must discover and experience her/his True Nature by ourselves using only discipline, commitment, hard work and patience. Buddha will show the key and the door; up to us to unlock it. What to reach for and how to get it was his teaching. It is up to his listeners to succeed.

Departing from most religions Buddha never claimed to be a prophet, messiah, God or Son of God. He was a simple human being without having neither any divine power such as making miracle or any special link with a supreme deity controlling humans. He refused to be dogmatic, accepting questions and challenges from his listeners with pleasure. In fact having doubt was important for him refusing dogmatic true and blind faith.

Since Buddha spoke for many years without writing down anything his teachings were later written by his followers in Pali and Sanskrit. Translation in modern languages has been very challenging since many words of these very old languages simply don’t have a proper equivalent in many modern languages.

Example: the Pali word Dukkha has been translated as suffering which is probably too restrictive and should be understood also as dissatisfaction, disquietude, sorrow, affliction, fear, frustration.

 4. HOW DID BUDDHISM GROW?

Buddha, his teaching called Dharma and the Buddhist community called Sangha are the 3 pillars of Buddhism. Initially Buddhism was almost exclusively practiced by monks in temples and monasteries. Today the vast majority of members are lay members practicing under and guided by teachers who received the Dharma heritage from their elder(s) in local Temples around the world and at home.

Buddhism started in the North East part of India where Buddha was teaching. It expanded rapidly toward the East involving all Asian countries starting with China. At the end of the eighteen century and beginning of the nineteen several Buddhist and Zen monks migrated in Europe and North America to introduce Buddhism with great success.

It is interesting to note that during the same time many European scholars, academics and scientific people such as Einstein, Freud, and Schopenhauer had already expressed their interest about Buddhism.

After Buddha’s death, his followers started to express different interpretations of Buddha’s teaching, which is common to all religions. Two main Buddhist Schools emerged: Mahayana in which Zen belongs and Theravada. Going into detail of the two schools is beyond the scope of this introduction.

It is also worthwhile to note that during its long eastward migration Buddhism received some input from many other religions such as Taoism, Confucianism and Hinduism. Buddhist adaptability to local spiritualities, societal traditions and way of life is making this religion adaptable and attractive to a growing number of people. As of 2012 the Buddhist community counts around 600 million people and ranked 5th among other worldwide religions after Christians (2.1 billion), Islam (1.6b), secular/agnostic, atheist (1.1b), Hinduism (900 million), Chinese traditional religion (394 m).

5. BUDDHISM AS RELIGION:

As previously mentioned Buddha does not pretend to have any divine authority nor special power to save us. “ My way or highway” was definitely not his style.

However based on the strict definition of religion some scholars are still questioning if Buddhism is indeed a religion defined as:

“ A system of faith, doctrines, dogmatic truths and worshipping owing blind allegiance to a supernatural being(s) such as God(s) and his/their massagers in order to achieve pardon then salvation.”

What differentiates Buddhism from most current mainstream religions are:

  • Perfection and wisdom are already within us ( called True nature) and not under the will and control of some deity. Every human being has the capacity to discover her/his own    perfection.
  • The nature of all beings is pure and made of positive qualities.
  • All beings and all things are interrelated. None of them possess their own separated and independent entity.
  • The concepts of paradise, salvation, hell, sin, repentance, miracles and dogmatic truths are not part of Buddhism.
  • Buddha is neither a deity nor a saint. He does not ask his followers to obey, surrender, fear him or simply to have blind faith to his recommendations. He never threatens us of potential punishment – such as going to hell – if his advices were not followed. “ I am not an Almighty God”. On the contrary he is invited us to be critical about his words and to question him anytime.
  • Getting to know well our ordinary mind is critical since it is the source of all our miseries. Our ordinary day to day mind is our consciousness and intellectual machine; it should not be confused with our True Mind or True Nature, which is spiritual and perfect.
  • Buddhist hierarchy is very simple: from teacher to student.

As religion w/o theology (science dealing with the nature of God) Buddhism is offering spiritual, moral, philosophical and ethical tools to achieve our personal “awakening” also called “enlightment” bringing permanent internal peace, compassion and end of all suffering. Such state can be achieved only after total extinction of our egoself (selflessness). It is up to us and nobody else to work hard every day to reach this state.

Buddhism can be summarized as a personal spiritual journey to discover and experience our True Nature and to help others to achieve the same goal. Again Buddha and his current Dharma Teachers (Dharma=teaching) are only our guides showing the way.

The core of Buddhism schools and especially Zen is based on the daily practice of meditation requiring ongoing discipline, perseverance and patience. Very briefly here meditation can be described as a mind-body concentration practice using still posture and mental focusing on ongoing breathing. Its main purpose is to achieve peaceful and clear mind. We’ll come back to it later.

Studying Buddha’s teaching with the recognized teacher, ritual practice such as dressing, bowing and chanting at the temples or centers around the world are also integral parts of Buddhism.

At last but not the least personal achievement implies also:

  • Participating in Sangha (Buddhist community) activities.
  • Respect, love and compassion to our surrounding such as our Nature, human fellows and any other living species.

6. THE BASICS OF BUDDHA’S TEACHING:

A. THE 3 “JEWELS”OF BUDDHISM:

  • Buddha: “ the awakened one ‘’. Founder and teacher of Buddhism ~2500 years ago.
  •   Dharma: The teachings of Buddha. Sacred Buddhist texts are called Sutra(s).
  • Sangha: The Buddhist community: monks, teachers and lay members.

B – THE 4* SEALS OF BUDDHISM:

  • Impermanence (Anitya): nothing  (good things and bad things) exists forever including self, loved ones, wealth, power, fame, possessions,…Everything is changing all the time without interruption. Do not be attached! Everything including living beings are simply a transient manifestation of something else such as a cloud is a manifestation of water.
  • Nonself or selflessness also called “emptiness”(Anatna). Nothing has its own separate, independent self-entity. Everything is interrelated and interdependent with other things. Therefore the Buddhist term “emptiness” should not be confused with the physical term “void” but should be seen as:

– Any living being is empty of permanent , independent self entity.

– Lack of something: i.e. silence is empty since lacking of sound; space is empty since lacking matter, etc.

  •  Suffering (Dukkha): better translated as dissatisfaction. Suffering is created by our own self: ongoing desires, greed, hatred and ignorance (delusion regarding reality meaning not knowing that everything is impermanent ).

Again all of the above factors are born in our egoself mind.

  • *Nirvana: Some Buddhist schools add nirvana as 4fh seal, others don’t. Nirvana is the extinction of all desires, attachment produced by our ordinary ego-centered mind. Our ordinary mind also called “little mind” i.e. our day to day analytic and conceptual mind which is different from our True Mind, which is free from concepts, notions, discrimination, illusions and delusions.

Note: Obviously our” little mind” is still very important for our day to day activities such as making decisions, thinking, analyzing, judging, recalling, etc…

C – THE 4 NOBLE TRUTHS also translated now as THE 4 TRUE REALITIES

Beside meditation the 4 Nobles Truths represent the absolute core of Buddha teaching also called Dharma. Buddha experienced life the hard way; he understood the why of suffering and how to prevent it. Through intensive meditation he did end-up with these logical, common sense, down-to-earht findings. These statements, founding blocks of Buddhism, are called the 4 Noble Truths.

  • 1st Noble Truth: Suffering: Our life is facing recurrent suffering. Life is somewhat unsatisfactory and suffering is part of it. Suffering is the translation of the Pali/ Sanskrit word “Dukkha”. This translation is probable somewhat too restrictive. It should also encompass in its meaning dissatisfaction, disquietude, sorrow, affliction, fear, anxiety,  frustration , jealousy & resentment.  Therefore the word refers to our physical and negative emotions affecting our daily life.

We may simply summarize suffering  as: “Life is not OK… it is not right… it is not fair …how comes? why me?”

Let us face it. Better material life never ends; external pleasures are unlimited and always transient, wealth never brings pleasure. Therefore nothing that we experience can and will satisfy us forever. Many see Buddhism being pessimistic, alarmist, negativist, the “doom and gloom”. In fact Buddha says that he is simply pragmatic and realistic.

Just look around yourselves and you see diseases, aging, pain, war, death, stress, anxiety, depression, sadness, envy, violence, emotion, fear, hate, fatigue, etc…

  •  2nd Noble Truth: Causes of dissatisfaction and suffering are mostly self-generated:

– By our ongoing desires, craving, attachments and anger triggered by our ego-self. Our ego-self is a very powerful and deceptive wild beast almost impossible to control. Generated by our ordinary mind our ego-self triggers ongoing desires, attachments, anger, jealousy, fear, hate, resentment, anxiety and many more negative emotions and so on. Desires, craving and negative emotions such as anger, hatred, jealousy, resentment, fear never stop and therefore enhance our suffering and dissatisfactions.

– By our own ignorance generated by our conceptual deluding thinking mind since most of our thoughts produce misconception and misunderstanding of our surrounding reality  such as own self, people, environment, facts and events.The word ignorance means, in fact, not knowing 3 important true realities:

1. We believe that everything is permanent and will last forever. In fact, nothing is permanent and everything is ephemeral. Our own body is aging all the time, no job is secure, disease can str ke, power fame and wealth may or will disappear, love may ended, etc. Things change all the time without interruption and without our control.

2. No one has its own permanent, separated and independent self intity. We also wrongly believe that everything has its own separated and independent entity. On the contrary everything is interdependent and interconnected. The separate self is in fact unreliable, unreal and generated by our own mind. Regarding interconnectivity just think about these two simple examples. An apple cannot exist by itself independently; its true entity includes everything. To make an apple we need tree, soil, light, sun, energy, O2, CO2, water, planet Earth…the universe! A human being cannot exist by him/herself independently: our true entity/nature is also made of million of elements: parents, ancestors, energy (sun, food), air, water, O2…the universe!

3. Our perfect True Nature exists already inside everyone. It is up to us through meditation and proper behavior (see 4th Noble Truth) to find it and realize awakening and ,serenity.

Lack of permanency, lack of inherent self entity, lack of dependency plus the interconnectivity  of everything define the complex Buddhist notion of “emptiness”. Emptiness should not be understood as void or nothingness.

  • 3rd Noble Truth: Finally the good new!

Causes of suffering and dissatisfaction can be ended. The end of “suffering” brings an inner stage called Nirvana. Nirvana does not mean a continuous state of extreme pleasure and happiness in a wonderful environment with plenty of entertainment! NO Nirvana is a Pali word meaning “absolute extinction” or “blowing out” such as the flame of a candle. Nirvana is simply the cessation of all suffering and its main cause i.e. oneself.

  • 4th Noble Truth: The solution: 

8th fold pathway or moral and ethical guidelines to stop suffering. Here is the list of 8 personal and societal attributes recommended by Buddha in order to achieve awakening and Nirvana. They are the moral and ethical foundation of Buddhism.

A- Proper Wisdom:

1- Right View (our understanding). Seeing beings and things as they are: impermanent, interrelated and devoid of self entity.  Keeping our mind clear and not deluded by dualistic, conceptual, decisional thinking and judgment.Seeing you as a non-egocentric being but only a part of a whole.

2- Right Intention (our thoughts, decisions and motives). Giving-up selfishness, controlling desires, expressing compassion, etc.

B- Proper Ethical conducts while interacting with others: (See also the 8 precepts next page).

3- Right speech: do not lie; do not speak crudely, or rudely.

4- Right actions: do not steal.

5- Right livelihood: be compassionate, generous and not jealous.

C- Mental concentration or Meditation

6- Right effort in our daily life such as perseverance.

7- Right mindfulness: To pay attention to our present action, thought and moment in a non-conceptual, non-judgmental and non-delusive way

8- Right meditation or concentration: Learning and practicing meditation to sharpen, clear and quiet our mind, controlling our delusive thoughts, being focused and aware.

8 components! They are simple and quite logical but are not easy guidelines to follow. Buddhism is practice, practice, practice…. a daily commitment to yourself and to others.

D – THE 3 “POISONS” IN BUDDHISM: (see above : the First Noble Truth)

Main causes of suffering are always caused by our ego-self & our ego-centered mind & thoughts.

1- Desire, greed, craving: attraction to something we think will gratify us.

2- Anger, hatred, jealousy and other negative emotions.

3- Ignorance: = Not realizing the obvious Reality and being trapped in illusions..

E – THE 6 PERFECTIONS OR VIRTUES (called Paramitas):

  • Morality/Ethic
  • Generosity
  • Patience/Tolerance
  • Perseverance/ Energy
  • Meditation
  • Wisdom

F- THE 8 PRECEPTS TAKEN BY LAY MEMBERS BECOMING BUDDHIST:

  1. ABSTAIN FROM KILLING BUT CHERISH ALL LIFE: Buddhists are by definition tolerant, non violent, non dogmatic and very pacifist people.They respect all living species. For the last 2,500 years we never heard about religious wars  involving Buddhists! Vegetarian or not? In theory yes, practically once a while is OK.
  2.  ABSTAIN FROM STEALING and respect the belongings of others.
  3. ABSTAIN FROM SEXUAL MISCONDUCT but practice purity of mind and self-restraint
  4. ABSTAIN FROM FALSE SPEECH…but speaks the truth. Lying, tale-bearing, insult, coarse language, gossiping, back talking…. (Quiet office!)
  5. ABSTAIN FROM USING INTOXICANTS & ARMS: Street drugs, smoking, drink (except with moderation i.e. during social event)
  6. ABSTAIN FROM WASTING ENERGY & NATURAL RESOURCES: Respect Nature.
  7. ABSTAIN FROM HARBORING ENMITY AGAINST THE WRONGS OF OTHERS….
  8. ABSTAIN FROM BEING SELFISH and practice generosity and compassion.

Overall the Precepts offer a clear moral foundation, which has benefits for how we interact with others but also for our own spiritual progress.

G- THE 4 VOWS/ PLEDGES IN BECOMING A BUDDHIST:

  • Beings are numberless… I vow to save them.
  • Attachments are inexhaustible… I vow to extinguish them.
  • The Dharma (teachings) is boundless… I vow to master them.
  • The Buddha’s way is unsurpassable… I vow to attain it.

7. WHAT IS ZEN?  See also “What is Zen” in next pages.

Zen is the Japanese word for meditation. In Chinese it is Ch’an. Both came from the old Sanskrit word “Dhyana”. Over the last 2,500years many branches of Buddhism have been created and Zen is one of them. When Buddhism migrated East (China first then Korea…. Japan, etc.) it received the influence  of various schools of thoughts such as Taoism, Confucius, etc.  ZEN, born in China is one of the main branch of Buddhism and follows deeply Buddha teachings. Probably the main purpose of creating Zen was to make Buddhist practice somewhat less intellectual, less philosophical with more emphasis on its core: the practice of meditation.

HOW ZEN BEGAN? One day, on the Vulture Peak Mountain in northern India in front of a huge crowd of followers Buddha, suddenly, stops his discourse, picks a flower and holds it in silence for several long minutes. The audience was puzzled by Buddha behavior except one of his chief disciple called  Kashyapa. Kashyapa starts to smile gently…and Buddha looked at him. Kashyapa understood the meaning of holding the flower: the transmission of the Truth from master to pupil was done, pure and simple, a true golden Zen moment.

Therefore Zen has been defined as:

  • “Non attachment to words or thoughts.
  • Special one-to-one transmission, heart to heart.
  • Direct, immediate pointing to the mind.
  • Ever- presence of Buddha nature, our innate nature.”

Many great Zen Masters migrated to Europe and North-America around 1960. Coming mostly from Japan, Korea and Vietnam their mission was to bring Zen Buddhism to our Western civilization. After more than 50 years of dedication and hard work there are now hundred of Zen centers and temples in North America alone. Despite initial problems, the success of their mission is obvious and Zen Buddhism is flourishing with a growing numbers of active Zen Buddhist practitioners around the world.

8 – WHAT IS A ZEN MIND?

The first Zen Master was Chinese. His name was Bodhidarma. He is still considered as one of  the greatest Zen teachers. Why? During teaching sessions his usual response to questions from emperor, kings, monks and students  was :  “I don’t know… I don’t know”. His answer did not show ignorance, contempt, cynicism, arrogance, deceptive or modesty.  but rather expressing wisdom and peaceful mind.

A ZEN mind could described as a “beginner mind”, an open mind: non dualistic, non judgmental, non conceptual. A Zen mind is mindful to what is real and ignore what is not such as illusions, concepts just plain and clear like a “don’t know mind”. “Don’t know mind” is a “before & after thinking mind” like a mirror reflecting things as they are in front of us. Things, people, facts, events & situations are what they are; nothing more nothing less.

The unique purpose of Zen is to teach us how to overcome the detrimental illusion of self (me, I, myself) since our ego-self is the main source of our of suffering and dissatisfaction in life such as desire, anger and ignorance (not knowing that everything is impermanent). To overcome self cannot be achieve by reading or thinking but only and simply by practicing daily meditation. Meditation brings clear mind…clear mind brings no mind… no mind is no self…no self is… True Self and True Self brings inner-serenity and all around us. What am I? …There is nothing in the Universe which is not me.

9- ZEN IN ACTION: See also page ” The 6 pillars of daily Zen Practice”

Our dualistic, judgmental, conceptual and deluded mind is trapping us in permanent delusions,frustrations and numerous negative emotions such as anger, jealously, fear. Developing a clear and pure mind with, eventually, discovering our inner True nature will do the trick.

How to achieve it?

  • By practicing meditation on a daily basis.
  • By assisting to group meditation class: an excellent way to reboot your practice once a week.
  • By having a proper day-to-day life:

Experiencing and being mindful of every “NOW” since our past is dead and future is not born.  i.e. Drinking mindfully your cup of tea is Nirvana. Just as it is, nothing else. When we eat….just eat and nothing else. Just be at the present moment and nothing else. When there is nothing else then we progressively discover your True Nature also called Buddha  Nature. In Zen, any intellectual, analytic, conceptual thinking, any attempt to reach inner peace and Nirvana is non-sense and always doomed to fail. Such physical and intellectual behaviors will defeat the purpose and push us away from our True nature already inside us.

10 FEW ZEN STORIES, QUOTES, SAYINGS, PROVERBS & KOANS*:

Again, Zen loves paradoxes, illogical and irrational statements because they cannot be analyzed using our logical, dualistic and conceptual mind. The solution to these is only experience-based and intuitive.

*Koans: Written as statement, parable, story or questions koans are problems given by Zen teachers to their students to be solved.

Because they are usually illogical, bizarre, parodoxal or making no sense at all any logical and analytic thinking to answer them is frustrating and hopeless. Any such rational answer to a given koan will be rejected by the Zen teacher. Their answers in fact lie within our intuition, practice and experience of meditation.

PLEASE NOTE: In the following examples,  St = Buddhist student, Mo= ZenBuddhist monk, ZM= Zen Master/Teacher

ZM quotes:

  • How to reach the top of the mountain? Start at the top.
  • The reverse side of a coin also has a reverse side.
  • Nothing is exactly as it seems nor it is otherwise.
  • Water which is too pure has no fish.
  • No snowflake ever falls on the wrong place.
  • The tighten you squeeze, the less you have.
  • Good judgments come from experience; experience comes from bad judgments.
  • What is the sound of a single hand clapping?
  • How can you sit on a bamboo pole 200 meters tall and 1cm wide?
  • Words and water : easy to pour, impossible to retrieve.
  • A visit always brings pleasure, whether on the arrival or the departure.
  • Words and water are the same: easy to poor impossible to retrieve.
  • Emptiness is life: if your wind pipe is not empty you cannot breath.

DIALOGUE BETWEEN STUDENTS (St) AND ZEN MASTER (ZM):

St: Master: what is happening after death? Is there reincarnation?

ZM: I don’t know…I am not dead yet.

St: I want to find my inner Truth. Can you help me Master?

ZM: Do not seek truth, only cease to cherish your opinions.

St: I am a well known scholar and my knowledge is vast but I want to know about Zen; please  teach me Teacher.

ZM: The expert mind is too full to accept anything new whereas for the beginner mind the possibility to learn is endless. Your mind is full like your cut of tea in front of you. I cannot fill up your cup of tea further unless you empty it first otherwise tea will overflow and be wasted. You have to clear-up  your mind in order to grasp my teaching.

St: I am very working hard Teacher but I am not progressing. I am very discouraged. What should I do? Please help me.

ZM: Encourage others.

St: What is Matter?   ZM: Never mind

St: OK, so…what is mind? ZM: Does not matter.

St: I have a stupid question: what…

ZM: He who asks a question can be a fool for one minute. He who never asks is a fool forever.

St: My legs are hurting too much when I meditate. What should I do Teacher?

ZM: Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional.

St: Teacher please tells me what is Wisdom?

ZM: The quieter we become the more we can listen to other.

The more we listen the more we know and understand.

The more we understand the quieter we become.

This is the circle of wisdom.

St: Teacher, I am very slow in my learning and would like to progress faster. Please help me.

ZM: Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished perfectly.

St: What is Buddha main teaching?

ZM: Did you wash the dishes last night?

St: Teacher when I will find my Buddha Mind?

ZM: Quite easy. Get your sword and cut your head off.

St: Who is Buddha?

ZM: Dry shit on a stick.

St: How can I stop thinking while meditating?

ZM: You will stop thinking only when someone will cut off your head.

St: My life is too frustrating. I feel like being in jail. Please help me Teacher.

ZM: Who puts you in Jail?

St: No one!

ZM: Then only your mind is in jail.

St: OK…O.K. is not funny…. What should I do with my mind?

ZM: Kill it!

St: How?

ZM: Keep a “don’t think” mind. A mind without useless thoughts is a free mind.

St: What is Zen…teacher?

ZM is hitting the ground very hard with his hand: “Did you hear the noise I made ? he asked

St: Yes.

ZM: This is Zen….your True Nature heard it…. No thinking…. just experience.

St: What is Zen teacher?

ZM: When you pee…. just pee, when you meditate …just meditate, when you drive…just drive.

St: That’s all?

ZM: Even less: no thinking is Zen, don’t know mind is Zen Mind ….clear mind….like a mirror.

A STORY

Two Zen monks are walking toward their monastery 15 miles away. It is twelve noon.

On the bank of a river to be crossed they see a beautiful woman afraid to walk across.

The older monk tells the woman:“ Don’t worry I will carry you across”.

The younger monk is quite upset:“ It is forbidden, we cannot touch a woman”!

The elder does it anyway and they resume their walk without talking.

At sun set they arrive at destination.

“ I cannot believe that you carried this woman said the young monk still very upset”

“ I carried her for five minutes but you are still carrying her for the last 6 hours.”

11. MEDITATION, KARMA, BIRTH/DEATH/REINCARNATION
Meditation: Zen Buddhist meditation is a physical and mental focusing practice aiming at relaxing then controlling our body and mind. It is discussed in depth in other parts of the site.
Karma, Birth- Death -Reincarnation:
Karma is the law of action and consequences. That is our own good and bad actions in our previous and current lifes produce or will produce good and bad consequences on our current and future life.
Therefore karma is strongly linked to the complex concept of birth-death and reincarnation. In Buddhism life is eternal without birth and death. Only our physical body evolves through birth then death then rebirth by reincarnation and or consciousness which is part of a global one remains constant.
Each  living beings is simply a transient manifestation of something else which is beyond human understanding.
The type of reincarnation is greatly influenced by the previous karma.
Going beyond these few words is not necessary at this stage.

12                                                    ZEN BUDDHISM in a NUTSHELL 

                                

History: 2500 BCE ago Siddhartha Gautama aka “the Buddha =the awakened one” taught in the North East of India during 50 years following 6 years intensive mindfulness meditation practice trying to understand human suffering. Suffering, its causes and how to end it form became the core of his verbal teaching. Explaining how to control our ego-driven mind as our main source of suffering, he could be considered to be one of the first psychotherapist. He was just a human being without any divine power, w/o being a messiah nor a prophet. Also, he did not want to set up a new religion from Hinduism and was always asking to be challenged. Like for many religions, Buddhism became, later, a religion but, still, remained w/o hierarchy except few branches such as Tibetan. There are 3 Buddhist schools. Zen (Japanese word for meditation) is a school of Buddhism born in China in ~ 500CE following the influence of Confucianism and Taoism. Zen is aiming more at day-to-day mindful-based daily life and formal meditation practice rather than the rigid studies of the Buddhist scriptures / canons called Sutra (over 5,000!). Because of its simplicity and down-to earth approach, Zen is one of the worldwide spiritual activities with the fastest growth. especially in developing countries.

Is Buddhism a religion?

Yes since ~ 500 millions are “followers”. Stable in Asia, growing in Western countries especially Zen practice.

No. It is not a religion since there no worship to any gods or to anybody including the Buddha himself.

There is no faith, no savior, no dogmas, no original sin, no miracles and no well-defined hierarchy. It is more a spiritual & existential practice w/o religious orthodoxy. Salvation can be achieved during life by our own practice. However, Buddhism believes in “Cosmic/Streaming consciousness/ ” as source of creation, love, compassion, etc…. Buddhism considers that believing in God or not is personal matter and never turns down anyone since there are many ways to interpret the word “God”.

Principles:

1st Noble Truth/ Reality: Dukkha or Suffering: hard to define properly: Anything in life which is perceived or is affecting us negatively < physically or emotionally> can be considered as suffering . Or ”Bad stuff happens”

2nd Noble Truth: Causes of suffering: external but mostly self-generated by our ego-driven mind such as:

Ongoing desires, hatred, negative emotions (anger, fear, jealousy, unhappiness, dissatisfaction, delusions, illusions, wrong beliefs , wrong understandings such as the belief of permanency (everything is transient) .Causes of suffering cannot be prevented but can be controlled thru the practice of mindfulness meditation.

3th Noble Truth: End of suffering = Nirvana (literally: “extinction/ blowing up of the flame”) = state of mental

serenity (No bliss, no paradise, no euphoria, no ecstasy = Life is what it is with its ups and downs)

4th Noble Truth: How to achieve end of suffering?

Ethical/ Moral /behavior:

Tolerance, Generosity, Compassion, Patience, Discipline, Wisdom that is being able to differentiate what is reality and what is mind-made illusion/delusion sources of suffering.

Practice of mindfulness and meditation to learn how to be aware of our thoughts and emotions

in order to control them and therefore minimizing suffering.

Right understanding that is elimination, among others of our ego-generated illusions

Salvation is achieved by ourselves from inside and not from an outside source.

Buddhist Precepts:

Are very similar to the 10 Commandments and must be taken to become a Buddhist.

Among them, respecting all forms of life is absolutely fundamental unless self-defense.

 

Karma: Means “action”. Good/bad intention è Action è Positive/Negative effect. “We reap what we sow” Positive/ Negative effects can occur during or current life or in the next ones if one believes in successive rebirths.

Life: Most Buddhist branches consider that our current life that is from birth to death is just a transient material manifestation of a spiritual life which is universal and endless in time and common to all living beings.

Many consider that universal consciousness is incarnated in each living being in order to express itself in various ways such as material(body/mind)and immaterial ( consciousness )

Rebirth/Reincarnation/ Resurrection. Most Buddhist branches and especially Tibetans believe in successive rebirths(that is after physical death). A new living entity is created, mostly from Karma law, until death occurs and so on endlessly. There is no resurrection per se that is coming from the same person.

Zen Master: In order to teach Zen, the student, lay person or Monck, must receive “ Spiritual Transmission” from her/own his teacher. There is no academic requirement before. It is somehow a mind-to mind trust.

Living beings: No living being is a permanent, independent, unique, separate self-entity with a self-intrinsic existence. We are all interconnected and interdependent (Examples given).

Body and mind function as a single unit and each of them is affecting the other.

Meditation: Mental workout based on the practice of awareness of our body/mind in order to control our ego-based sources of unhappiness, dissatisfaction & other negative emotions to achieve serenity. Serenity is different from happiness which is a transient emotional state from outside sources.

Mindfulness: Means to be aware, to pay attention, to observe intensively something without any analysis, judgment and actions. This fundamental practice is helping us to experience reality without having the mind in control as usual. Mindful = Not to be fool by the mind.

Time: Only the present moment that is now exists and is real. Past and future are useful for planning but don’t exist per se. You are alive only now. Past you and future you are virtual.

Salvation: Exists in each of us. It is up to us to discover it.

True Self: This is our perfect, genuine, inner self, different from our “little conditioned self”