Practice Beyond Zazen

Fair warning: I wrote this post (again) while slightly jet-lagged from a flight. Please excuse typos and mistakes.

One thing that’s been on my mind lately is the notion of blurring the line between Zen practice and daily life. By Zen practice I’m mostly referring to sitting zazen. When I’m not doing zazen I go to work, pay rent, brush my teeth. However, the longer I do zazen each day, the more I experience emptiness outside of sitting.

While I may sit most days, and while I may make the occasional visit to a sangha or retreat, a true Zen practice must continue indefinitely. Whenever I visit a sangha I remain open for an important teaching to be received. But to extend my practice outside of the sangha, outside of sitting and bowing, I must allow myself to remain open to all things.

To remain open is to look for teachings in all beings, all activities, and all experiences. Buddhism teaches that all beings are interdependent. To put this teaching into practice we must look at other begins as our own self. What I do impacts others. That’s just how it is.

So this idea of remaining open applies outside of the sangha and sitting zazen. In the sangha we may have a teacher to learn from. But outside of the sangha we must look to all things for teaching. However, this forces us to ask two questions: Who is the teacher? Who is the student?

Zen focuses heavily on a student-teacher relationship. The teacher has practiced Zen for a long time, and the student learns from the teacher to develop his or her own path. But if beings are really interdendent, shouldn’t it work both ways? The teacher is the student. And the student is the teacher. Seeing otherwise is surely dualistic thought.

To be open is to be aware. To be aware is to experience emptiness. This connectedness to all beings – what we experience during zazen – it doesn’t end when the bell rings. It continues no matter what. If we remain aware, every action can be done with compassion.

By sitting zazen, we turn the great wheel of Dharma. We express the ultimate profound wisdom. But it is just the foundation. If we carry compassion into our own daily actions we can become the student – we can become the teacher. At least that’s my perspective right now if it makes sense.

I’ve made a huge accomplishment of doing near-daily zazen for over a year. Developing this habit has surprised me and demonstrates to where a small amount of work each day can lead. While the benefits have been great, I do feel that I’m at the point where sitting at home is not enough – I need to find a teacher. I may have discussed this in previous posts, but this time I’m certain and ready. As a first step I plan to attend my local sangha more regularly.

I flew to Amsterdam recently for an event and was able to visit the local Zen center for zazen one night. After zazen there was a dharma talk given in Dutch. The teacher (I’m not sure what her title was – I also didn’t catch her name) was kind enough to translate the main points to me in English. And she touched on the themes of what I described earlier: Interdependence, remaining open, student-teacher relationship.

The teacher’s point of remaining open past formal practice struck a chord with me. I told her how I’ve been sitting for a while now, but not sure how to deal with the feeling of burning out / feeling repetitive. And she told me I’ve got to find a teacher, even if the teacher is a bad one. She said it’s normal to feel bored of practice, but when this happens we should press our teacher for an answer to help direct us. She told me that even long-time sangha members can burn out. But this is why Dokusan exists: To let the student “vent” problems they may face during practice in a private interview. At least that’s one of the reasons.

So that’s where I’m at right now in my practice. I feel it’s going well for the most part. I just need to get more involved in my community and start talking to others who practice Zen.

In other news, I’ve been picking away at a new read by Shinshu Roberts: Being-Time: A Practitioner’s Guide to Dogen’s Shobogenzo Uji. It’s a dense read, but overall not too bad and very rewarding. It dissects Dogen’s Uij (Being-Time) line by line. It’s a trippy read and has changed my perspective on a few things. Maybe I’ll write about all this in more detail later.

I’m back in California and will be pushing through work until the holidays. Being busy and maintaining my practice is always challenging. But after the Amsterdam visit I’ve got enough of a spark to keep me going. I’ll report back when I visit my local Zen center.

One thought on “Practice Beyond Zazen

  1. Thanks for sharing. I’d be interested to know how you progress after your boost of inspiration wears off. It’s good to know the boredom is a normal challenge of the path. I was thinking I must be doing something wrong all of a sudden.

    Liked by 1 person

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