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What is Zen ?

 

Origins
The Posture of Buddha's Awakening
History
Master Deshimaru's Arrival in Europe
A Living Experience
The Interior Revolution
Normal Condition--Hishiryo Consciousness

Embracing Contradictions
Mushotoku--Without Goal or Object
The Way of the Bodhisattva
Non-Fear
Ki--Cosmic Activity

kyosaku

 

Origins

The Posture of Buddha's Awakening

Zen finds its source in the experience of Shakyamuni Buddha, who, two thousand five hundred years ago, while sitting in zazen posture , achieved awakening. This zazen practice contains the essence of his teaching, which carries a message of universal import: Zazen is nothing other than the return to the normal condition of body and mind.

Buddha's teaching does not fall under the heading of philosophy, and even less of metaphysics. It is based on lived experience. One could compare it to medicine that offers a cure for the ills of human nature. Buddha did not intend to create a new religion, but rather to help human beings understand the cause of their suffering, and to free them from it. This liberation is called the awakening of Buddha, supreme wisdom and true freedom, achieved through zazen.

 

History

Buddha's experience was transmitted without interruption from master to disciple, thus forming a continuous lineage.

After a thousand-year establishment in India, this teaching was brought to China by the monk Bodhidharma in the fifth century A.D. Zen, called Ch'an, found fertile ground for its development in China, and blossomed there. It was during this period that Zen confirmed its originality and purity of practice.

In the thirteenth century, after a stay in China with Master Nyojo, the Japanese monk Dogen brought Soto Zen to Japan. Master Dogen is considered the greatest Buddhist philosopher (along with Nagarjuna in India in the third century). Zen has since profoundly affected Japanese culture: Today, more than 20,000 temples attest to its influence.

 

Arrival of Master Deshimaru in Europe

In the twentieth century, the West began to be interested in the philosophical aspect of Zen; meanwhile, in Japan, Master Kodo Sawaki was giving new strength to a very weakened practice. At the death of Kodo Sawaki, his succcessor, Taisen Deshimaru, came to France to bring Westerners the essence of this teaching, just as Bodhidharma went to China fifteen hundred years earlier.

During the fifteen years of his mission, Master Taisen Deshimaru created over one hundred dojos and zazen groups spread across four continents, including the Paris dojo, and founded the great Western Zen Temple of La Gendronniere (near Blois, France), as well as the International Zen Association. His disciples continue his mission today, practicing zazen and spreading his teaching across many European countries, Africa and America.

 

A Living Experience

Although Zen developed in the heart of one of the oldest traditions known to humanity--Buddhism--it is neither a religion nor a philosophy. Master Deshimaru said it is "the religion before religion," meaning that zazen awakens the natural human religious spirit, without relying on dogma. Zazen is "the essence of religion."

Zen is beyond religion and philosophy, beyond all systems and ideologies, beyond all the "isms," even beyond Buddhism. It speaks directly to the human heart. It is the living experience and the creative force before all formalism. The essence of its message has universal significance. Zen is at the root of self-knowledge, beyond the differences of systems, values, nations or races.

Zazen is the experience of unity before all duality. That is why it is difficult to talk about it, because language separates, makes a division in the reality of what is. And so Zen is not transmitted through writings, but rather from person to person, from master to disciple, from my soul to your soul.

All social or physical sciences observe the human race from a particular angle. But the sum of all these viewpoints will never reconstitute a living human being, because human life is beyond all possible analysis. This "beyond" is life, and it is Zen. And so Master Deshimaru said, "If you want to give Zen another name, call it Life."

 

The Interior Revolution

The Return to the Normal Condition--Hishiryo- Consciousness

 

Zen practice is not special, mysterious, or esoteric. It is not separate from the world and everyday life. Zen is nothing other than the return to the normal condition of body and mind.

Normal condition, as Master Deshimaru taught it, is not a norm, nor a special state. It means rediscovering a mind that is vast, free, beyond categories and fearless. It means harmonizing with the cosmic system and with others, and becoming less selfish. Normal condition is a mind which is not limited by concepts, a mind which is not stagnant. In zazen, this is called hishiryo-consciousness: beyond thought and non-thought.

The modern world, society and education have programmed our behavior, our vision of things and our way of life. The practice of zazen, which does away with duality and rebalances our bodies and our brains, brings us back to the normal condition and to unity with all things. Our bodies become naturally strong, our breathing deep, our minds vast, open.

 

Embracing Contradictions: The Middle Way

 

To penetrate the Way is not difficult, but one needs neither love nor hate, neither choice nor rejection.
One needs only that there be neither love nor hate for understanding to appear spontaneously, clear as daylight in a cavern.

Sosan

 

Zen is neither spiritual nor material, but includes both these aspects. Certain people follow only the social world, others seek only the spiritual one, without any link between the two. The essential thing is to find the Middle Way, without preference for one aspect over the other.

From our individual viewpoints, we distinguish time, life and death. But from the cosmic view of life, time, space, life and death are not separate. Zen is outside of the dualism produced by our minds, which are locked-in to space-time. Zen returns to the unity of all things. In our consciousness, the battle between true and false leads to a sickness of the spirit. We tend to categorize--good or bad, nice or not nice--without understanding that by these divisions we limit ourselves and produce disharmony and chaos in the world.

Master Taisen Deshimaru said, "Harmonizing opposites by going back to their source is the distinctive quality of the Zen attitude, the Middle Way: embracing contradictions, making a synthesis of them, achieving balance."

 

Mushotoku: Without Goal or Object

 

If you keep your fists closed, you will obtain only a few grains of sand.
But if you open your hands, you will obtain all the sand in the desert.

Dogen Kigen

 

Mushotoku means "the mind that does not seek to obtain." The mind attaches to no object and seeks neither profit nor result. Without this state of mind, zazen is not authentic.

In modern society, profit is the motivation for all our actions. But this search for profit is the source of tension and complications; it separates us from others and distances us from true freedom.

Human beings always want to obtain more and are afraid of loss. But the highest wisdom is neither goal-oriented nor self-conscious. It is said that, "Hands open, you can receive everything; hands closed, nothing can be obtained."

The right attitude consists of letting everything pass and concentrating on immediate action, without selfishness. Abandoning becomes the highest success. Mushotoku means to obtain the entire cosmos.

 

The Way of the Bodhisattva

 

Sitting, standing, in my verdant retreat, whatever I do, I have but one prayer: to help all beings pass ahead of me.

Dogen Kigen

 

The ideal of Zen is not to attain Buddhahood or awakening for oneself, but to reject the narrow limits of personal gain and to be open to the good of all beings. This is the action of the bodhisattva. Bodhi: awakening, satori, understanding of the universal law. Sattva: to dive into the world of phenomena, to work with other living beings. A bodhisattva is someone who understands suffering beings, helps them, and guides them on the right path with compassion.

Kodo Sawaki said, "Men are afraid, because they depend only on their own individuality. To do zazen is to be a person in unity with heaven and earth."

For the bodhisattva, life, far from being an obstacle or burden, is the path by which satori is realized. The bodhisattva directs his life rather than being directed by it. Even if he dives into the middle of demons, he is not afraid and can save all beings. Thus, the ideal of the bodhisattva is to guide all beings toward the truth, to bring them onto the Path of Awakening.

 

Non-Fear

 

What is the sense of our life?
It is to resolve the problem of our existence.
Even though we possess Buddha-nature, we have, until now, only groped in the darkness. Being hindered by neither society nor the ego is, I believe, true freedom.
This freedom is to understand non-fear.

Master Kodo Sawaki

 

 

We live in a world of fear: fear of the future, fear of others, fear of the exterior world. In this era, fear is an ever-present anxiety that destroys our vital force. It is the cause of many sicknesses.

At the root of fear and anguish is the attachment to oneself and to things in life. By practicing zazen regularly, by abandoning attachment, this anxious state disappears. If the mind is tranquil, everything becomes tranquil.

In zazen, it is possible to observe emotions and fears like bubbles that come up to the surface of a river. The mind is brought back to the present moment; it becomes like the vast ocean which, deep down, cannot be troubled.

Most fears are imaginary and correspond to no real or immediate danger. Non-fear is the consciousness that lets emotions come, without identifying with them. The consciousness then frees itself and attains a state of stability which manifests as non-fear.

 

Ki--Cosmic Activity

 

It is because we are in continuum with the universe that we have life. It is a question of acting in continuum with the universe.

Master Kodo Sawaki

 

Current civilization diminishes the spirit, the vital force that each of us possesses. The artificial lifestyles we lead-- processed food, overheated living conditions, synthetic clothes, modern comforts that demand no effort--all these artifices cause us regress into passivity.

True spiritual help means communicating this vital force to others. The entire cosmos is filled with it; our lives are waves in its ocean. Ki is the manifestantion of universal energy. It sets things in motion, propels them. It makes the blood flow through our veins, stimulates nervous impulses, regenerates cells and creates vital movement. A strong ki makes life intense.

In zazen, we are immobile. When we concentrate on a deep exhalation, a very strong ki develops. How do we use it? By concentrating, putting our vital energy in just one action at a time. Zazen teaches us to live this way.

In modern civilization, dispersion, mental agitation, disordered thoughts and anxiety cause us to lose ki. We must rediscover this fundamental force, because the destiny of humanity is to accomplish its cosmic function.