Zen Buddhist Practice & My Misconceptions

Haven’t written in a while. I’ve been procrastinating due to mainly feeling like I don’t have anything adequate to say, but also because I don’t feel like it’s my place to teach other people. So in that regard I’ve been sort of buckling down on my practice and keeping my mouth shut for a while. This post is just summarizing what I’ve been doing for the past several months relating to Zen and maybe my current view of certain things.

I’m still practicing Zen Buddhism, and that involves a few things as of late:

  1. I sit one or two times a day.
  2. I meet with a local Zen Buddhist group each week. We sit, have a service, and listen to the teacher talk.
  3. I’ve been working with a teacher from said group.
  4. Since my last post I have been to a couple of retreats and have applied to another next month.

I’m not really sure if I’d call myself a Buddhist right now, but what I’m doing in terms of practicing and studying fall into the traditional boundaries of Buddhism. One year ago I started eating vegetarian after attending a Zen retreat. Though I’m not really sure why I’m doing it – I guess it feels right for me. I suppose there are also ethical reasons of why I do it, but maybe the main reason is being aware of connectedness to other beings. I mean, it’s not that I have this special feeling or power that others don’t recognize. It’s just that since establishing a daily habit of sitting an awareness of no separate self has been made more obvious.

It’s sort of funny because I feel like since practicing Zen I’ve felt like I’m rebelling, but not sure what I’m rebelling against. That is the most interesting part of Buddhist practice because since things are constantly changing you cannot rely on fixed ideas of how to view the world. Maybe I think one way of doing something is better or more ethical, but that’s only my perception at that time. And it’s also my perception based on past actions and events which led up to this present moment in time. Zen practice is very tricky and frustrating some times in that way as it takes a lot of willpower to not get upset over things you did which you may have thought were idiotic in the past. It’s a dualistic way of viewing things – there’s no way of telling that if had I done some past action differently, my life would have turned for the better. The past doesn’t exist, so I’m only stuck with the present moment. And it’s only at this exact moment that I can do something.

So there have been many times lately where I think of why I do things in a particular way. Or why I believe certain things are right and other things are wrong. And I suppose any answer I come up with now is from looking inside of myself. I mean, basing my decisions on an idea or concept seems faulty. That’s pretty much Zen teaching at least. Zazen is just sitting, and over time you shed layers of yourself. It’s beautiful but can some times be scary. You get to really know yourself, and you will discover that fixed ideas or concepts you held in your mind are fictitious. It’s sort of like pulling the curtain on life and seeing just how absurd things really are.

But, even though there may be an absurdity to life, there is freedom and peace. That’s why I like Buddhism. And that’s why my misconception of Zen being separate from Buddhism and religion was wrong. Similarly, I went through periods of sitting without being in contact with a teacher. And while I’m glad I did not rush into finding someone, it can be confusing without one. Especially when we tell ourselves a certain narrative about our life. An experienced teacher will be sure to snap you out of your delusions.

Finding a teacher was very natural, though I overthought the process horribly. We do that a lot when trying to achieve something or solve a problem. Overthinking, grasping to ideas. Not being able to let go. And that’s been an important step in *my* practice – letting go and being okay with “not being sure” or “not knowing all the answers.” I’ve learned that everyone comes to Buddhism in different ways. People start practicing at different ages. There is no set path of how to start, which areas of study to focus, what curriculum to follow with your teacher, etc.

We are used to established ways of doing things in society. Goals are set, and outcomes are expected to be met. But from a Zen Buddhist perspective, there’s nothing to desire or achieve. In Buddhism there’s a lot of discussion regarding enlightenment. And in Zen Buddhism (Soto Zen, at least), daily practice *is* enlightenment. Sitting zazen, driving to work, chopping vegetables – that’s being a Buddha. And even if you don’t sit zazen you’re still a Buddha. We’re perfect, but could maybe use some improvement. Though while we may not actually need to achieve anything, it’s completely okay to set goals and maintain careers and such. This is maybe another weird part about Zen practice, is you can easily form dualistic ideas of how maybe quitting work and living in a monastery is a better way of life. But it’s not so black and white I don’t think.

So maybe my main misunderstanding of Zen practice was that I would finally achieve something and live in peaceful bliss without a single worry. But it’s not exactly like that – it’s why Buddhists call this whole ordeal a *practice*. We practice sitting, we practice mindfulness, we practice cooking food mindfully, or sitting a a traffic stop mindfully. It’s something we do every day, and it’s not easy. Zen practice is helps push you to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

I guess the last point I want to make before I sign off is that Buddhist practice is not just for yourself. I mean, I first got into it because I wanted to feel happier and feel more purpose in my life. And while that has been achieved, I think it’s more important to maintain practice for other people in your life. Sitting meditation helps you learn about yourself, though if you’re comfortable with yourself and can help yourself okay, then maybe helping other people is a bit easier.

Okay, that’s about all I will say for now. See you later!


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