Sitting meditation or zazen forms an important part of Zen practice. Zen means meditation and meditation means keeping a not-moving mind from moment to moment. It is very simple. When we meditate, we are using certain techniques to control our body, breathing and mind so that we can cut off all attachment to thinking and realize true nature. Many people think that in order to do this, we must be sitting rigidly on the floor with both legs tightly crossed in a half- or full-lotus position, completely unmoving. But true meditation is not just dependent on how you keep your body: from moment to moment how do you keep your mind? How do you keep a not-moving mind in every situation? Thus, true meditation means mind-sitting. Keeping a not-moving mind in any situation or condition is the true meaning of meditation.
Traditionally, in China, Japan and Korea, only monks did Zen practice. But Zen has come to the west and lay people practice Zen here. This has changed the character of Zen. Sitting Zen all the time is not possible for lay people. Our teaching is about Zen in everyday life. Everyday-life Zen means learning mind sitting. Mind-sitting means not-moving mind. How do you keep a not-moving mind? Put down your opinion, condition and situation moment-to-moment. When you are doing something, just do it. This is everyday Zen, There are various forms of meditation. Each technique has a certain effect on the mind. The suitable style of meditation for you is best discussed with a teacher.
Chanting meditation means keeping a not-moving mind and perceiving the sound of your own voice. Perceiving your voice means perceiving your true self or true nature. Then you and the sound are never separate, which means that you and the whole universe are never separate. With regular chanting, our sense of being centered gets stronger and stronger. For many people chanting meditation is not easy: much confused thinking, many likes, many dislikes and so on. However chanting helps our minds to become clear and enables the practice to penetrate through to those more literal parts of our personality. Those parts that are like a crust that has hardened! In clear mind, there is no like or dislike, only the sound of the voice.
Bowing practise or prostrations are an extension of formal practice and yet another way to cut off all attachment to thinking and “just do it”. Prostrations could be likened to the ’emergency measure’ for clearing the mind. They are a very powerful technique for seeing the karma of a situation because both the body and the mind are involved. Apart from being an energetic and dynamic form of meditation, prostrations also bring great health benefits.
Bows are a gesture of humility. We do not bow to another, but rather in the face of the ‘other’. On the Buddhist altar is a figure of Buddha, this is the other. Bowing acknowledges the other, but not as something separate. The bow, and prostration come from the most profound depths of our aliveness.
Kong-an practise (Jap. Koan) is one unique teaching tool that the Rinzai tradition of Zen uses. Kong-an practice is an ancient form of question and answer. The actual word means public record. So these are the public records of past Zen Masters. The answers are based in the reality that is beyond time and space, likes and dislikes. Kong-an practice is also known as “looking into words,” or using words to cut off all thinking. In a private interview your teacher will ask you a question that cannot be answered by rational thought. To use such a kong-an as a teaching tool you must perceive what it is pointing at. It is like a finger pointing at the moon. You don’t examine the finger, the point is, do you see the moon or not? Because the teacher has already worked with the Kong-an, a special kind of relationship is able to develop in which the Kong-an is the bridge, whilst the result of the practitioner’s practice is that which crosses over the bridge.
Form and ritual play a vital role in Zen practice. They help us to deepen our spirit and to extend its vigor to our daily lives. Applying our practice of mindfulness to ritual and form is an opening for the experience of forgetting the self as the words or the action become one with you, and there is nothing else. Wearing our robes in the Dharma room, eating a meal in traditional temple style during a retreat or bowing to the sangha at the end of a meditation session can all become powerful tools for awakening when viewed in this light.
The 4 Vows
At the start and end of daily practice we recite the following 4 vows:
Sentient beings are numberless, we vow to save them all
Delusions are endless, we vow to cut through them all
The teachings are infinite, we vow to learn them all
The Buddha’s way is inconceivable, we vow to attain it
Taking precepts is a strong statement of our intention that right now we will cut through our ambivalence in order to live with clarity and generosity. As such, the precepts are not strict moral rules but signs pointing toward how to keep just-now mind.
In order to take the five precepts, you must have participated in at least four days of retreat with the guiding teacher. If you would you like more information on the precepts, please refer to our separate pamphlet which is available from the centres.
The five precepts are:
I vow to abstain from taking life.
I vow to abstain from taking things not given.
I vow to abstain from misconduct done in lust.
I vow to abstain from lying.
I vow to abstain from intoxicants, taken to induce heedlessness.
Dana or generosity is intrinsic to the 2500 year old Buddhist tradition. Since the time of Buddha, the teachings were considered priceless and thus offered freely. In keeping with this spirit, the teachers (resident and visiting) do not receive any payment for leading retreats even though they give generously of their time, energy and understanding. The daily accommodation tariff for retreats is set to cover expenses without profit. As the teachers receive no remuneration, they rely on the generosity of retreatants and friends who, appreciating the guidance that they receive, wish that this valuable work may continue.
There is a tendency in our culture to view giving as a personal loss or sacrifice. We sometimes give from a superior position to help those ‘below’ us in various ways. It is another perspective to see giving as an opportunity to cultivate the generous heart, and as a way of connecting with that which is good. In the Buddhist teachings the practice of dana is the foundation for awakening. There is no “right” amount that can be calculated in this spirit of giving. It is a response of heart, a personal choice that is entirely voluntary according to one’s wishes and means.
By becoming a member of your local sangha and giving a small monthly membership fee, you will be entitled to a discount on all retreats as well as a free copy of our tri-annual newsletter Shuza.