Zen 101

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


With palms together,

Good Morning Everyone,

"This was the turning point of my practice. I became free of my own practice. I became free of my teacher's teaching and the Buddha's teaching. I just settled down in the reality where I was and practiced as much as possible. This is really peaceful practice. You don't need to compete. Just settle down. If I hadn't had physical problems, I don't think my practice would have changed. I thought I was a great Zen master, but fortunately or unfortunately that didn't happen. Adverse experience gave me a broader view of the Dharma. I am really grateful for that. This is bodhisattva practice." (Okumura-roshi, Living by Vow, p.192)

Okumura makes a wonderful confession in this text. His pain, a result of years of sitting, hard physical labor, and the need to practice begging for food and money in Japan, forced him to assess his practice. He found that his determined practice was itself a desire, a goal, and that when he could no longer do it he saw it more clearly and was able to be gentler --- and more authentic --- with his practice.

We often come to the cushion with an aspiration of sorts. We will sit zazen for 25 minutes, we will practice kinhin 5 minutes, and we will sit zazen again, and so on. We do this because we are trained to do it. We are taught this is the way. I suggest It is a way, but not the only way. Moreover, such practice when come to with a sense of righteousness is no longer practice, but rather, advertisement.

My own experience with severe back pain, the result of lumbar spinal Stenosis, caused me to feel a great deal of embarrassment in the Zendo as I was unable to sit, unable to walk, unable to perform the forms required in our services. I had to sit outside where I could move freely. I had to use a cane and sometimes a walker and I simply could not stand at the altar for more than a few brief seconds. I had to examine for own feelings as a priest crippled in full view of the sangha. I thought I was a bad example. I thought, “What will people think?” as I would leave the Zendo for the back porch. All of my thoughts and feelings were a result of believing I was “supposed” to be a certain way and that if my practice were to be an example I could not actually offer, what was I?

It turns out I am a human being. I have pain. I have joy. I have flaws. I also have the ability to adjust my practice, to become more “peaceful” in my practice. As with Okumura, I am grateful for the teaching of disability.

Be well.

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