Zen Meditation in Plain English - Introduction

INTRODUCTION

Zen Buddhism, according to various authorities, is a religion, or a philosophy, or a way of life, or a mental and physical discipline. Some say it is all of the above; others say it is none.

Fundamentally, Zen is a way of seeing clearly who we are and what our life is, and a way of living based on that clear vision.

Many people wonder what Zen is all about, and how it works. They find much of the literature about Zen confusing and are unclear about how it applies to daily living.

This book is in large measure directed to those people. Its aim is to give enough information to get them started in Zen practice, especially in the form of seated meditation called zazen or just “sitting.” The assumption is that this practice will do more for the inquiring individual than reading any number of books or articles. Once actual practice has begun, then books (carefully chosen for their relevance and reliability) can enrich and broaden one’s understanding. But if there is not a sound foundation of experience, then the books will remain undigested in the domain of intellect, and not be of much use.

After all, cookbooks are fun to read, but they aren’t very nutritious. They are most helpful to somebody who is actually involved in cooking.

So once you’ve read this book, the next step is to start practice. If your community has a Zen teacher, so much the better. If not, then you are on your own until you find one, and encouraging you to do that is another of the aims of this book. It is intended to give you enough information to get you started and keep you going until you can find and begin practice with a qualified teacher, either of Zen or of one of the related practices, such as Insight Meditation or Tibetan Buddhism.

Keep this in mind, though: sooner or later, you really must study with a teacher, for the practice is long and not easy, and there are many opportunities to become discouraged or confused along the way.

Also, as you progress you will have experiences you’ll want to discuss and questions that should be reliably answered. This process should be addressed on a personal basis by a qualified teacher who knows you and can deal with you directly. But this book can keep you going until you and your teacher meet.

Using This Book

Beyond reading this book and thinking about it, there is another way to use it.

I’ve written it as conversationally as possible, so that you can imagine you’re at a Zen center receiving the kind of introductory instruction commonly offered to new sitters. One good way to use the book is to get together with a group of your friends who share your interest in beginning to meditate, and to take turns reading the instructions aloud while the entire group actually follows them step by step.

Somehow even though you may have read the words silently to yourself, they make more of an impact if you can also absorb them through the sense of hearing. Go slowly enough so that everyone in the group has plenty of time to follow each step. Pause often, and don’t rush. Allow plenty of time to cover the material, and don’t hesitate to repeat a section until it is clear to everyone. You’ll often find that hearing a passage for the fifth or even the tenth time will give you new information.

If you’re alone, you may find it helpful to make a recording of these instructions, so that you can instruct yourself as you go.

This book is divided into three main sections, followed by answers to some frequently asked questions, and some useful appendices. The three main sections are: “Buddhas,” “Sitting,” and “Community.”

The first section deals with the experiences and teaching career of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, as well as briefly discussing the unbroken line of teachers who have been his successors through more than eighty generations down to the present day.

The second section focuses on the practice of sitting meditation itself. It sets forth detailed instructions on how to do it and places sitting in the context of an overall practice.

The third section extends those individual practices and discoveries to a larger community, providing the vital link between the individual and the society in which he or she exists.

Hopefully, by carefully reading all three sections, you will begin to get a sense of Zen practice as a whole, and the way it functions in everyday life.

 

How to cite this document:
© Zen Center of Los Angeles, Zen Meditation in Plain English (Wisdom Publications, 2002)

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Zen Meditation in Plain English by John Daishin Buksbazen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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