On Zazen

As I mentioned in my last post, I was reading some texts on Zen Buddhism to acquaint myself with how a well-known practice of 'meditation' (Zen being more than just the English word of 'meditation') could be used in a ritual landscape. As I quickly found out, Zazen (the practice of Zen) can be done anywhere and is not a practice to be done as a hermit in a remote location. Thus, Zazen's role in a ritual landscape is diminished, but the theory behind it bolsters my thesis as I will now make note.

1. The Spirit of Zen by Alan W. Watts (1960)

Frequently the Zen Masters used to refer to each other as 'old rice-bags' and with other uncomplimentary terms, not out of any professional jealousy, but because it amused them to think that they and their wise and venerated brothers were supposed by ordinary standards to be especially holy, whereas they had all realized that everything was holy, even cooking-pots and odd leaves blown about by the wind, and that there was nothing particularly venerable about themselves at all. (34-35)

Sudden vs gradual realization (Hui Neng):
Life is moving too swiftly to be approached tentatively and gradually, for while one makes elaborate preparations for enlightenment the immediate truth is slipping away all the time. (41)

For man's apparent humility in thinking that wisdom is something too sublime to reveal itself in the ordinary affairs of life is a subtle form of pride... and nobody could expect to find enlightenment in a hermitage unless he was capable of finding it in the life of the world. (47) But I haven't thought of the site and its rituals as a hermitage...

...To hear the whole symphony one must concentrate on the flow of notes and harmonies as they come into being and pass away, keeping one's mind continuously in the same rhythm. To think over what has passed, to wonder what is about to come, or to analyse the effect upon oneself is to interrupt the symphony and to lose the reality. The whole attention must be directed to the symphony and oneself must be forgotten. (54)

...The Zen Masters have always insisted on a severe training as a prelimnary to the practice of Zen... There is a remarkable series of pictures known as the 'Ten Stages of Spiritual Cow-Herding' which demonstrate this point particularly well.' (62-63) These ten illustrations can be found in Suzuki's Essays in Buddhism.

Satori - sudden realization of truth (65) though the oppressiveness of the outer world had suddenly melted like a vast mountain of ice, for satori is release from one's habitual state of tenseness, of clinging to false ideas of possession. (68)

Koan - a puzzle with no intellectual solution meant to baffle the intellect (69)
...For the koan is not a means of inducing trance as if some kind of trance were the highest possible attainment for human beings; it is simply a means of breaking through a barrier, or as the Zen Masters describe it, it is a brick with which to knock at a door; when the door is opened, the brick may be thrown away, and this door is the rigid barrier which man erects between himself and spiritual freedom. When the door is opened at the moment of satori, the disciple passes not into trance but into a new attitude towards life which reflects itself in a character of remarkable beauty. (71)

...thus when the disciple comes to the final point where the koan absolutely refuses to be grasped, he comes also to the realization that life can be never grasped, never possessed or made to stay still. (75)

There are some 1,700 koans. (76)

There is a famous Zen parable which fitly sums up this particular attitude to life. It is said to those who know nothing of Zen mountains are just mountains, trees are just trees, and men are just men. After one has studied Zen for a little time, the emptiness and transcience [sic] of all forms is perceived, and mountains are no longer mountains, trees are no longer trees, and men no longer men, for while ignorant people believe in the reality of objective things, the partially enlightened see that they are only appearances, that they have no abiding reality and pass away like drifting clouds. But, the parable concludes, to him who has a full understanding of Zen mountains are once again mountains, trees are treees, and men are men. (79)

The Five Meditations on Eating:
Firstly, let us reflect on our own work, let us see whence comes this offering of food;
Secondly, let us reflect how imperfect our virtue is, whether we deserve this offering;
Thirdly, what is most essential is to hold our minds in control and be detached from the various faults;
Fourthly, that this is medicinal and is taken to keep our bodies in good health;
Fifthyl, in order to accomplish the task of Enlightenment, we accept this food. (89)

A man may be free to travel where he likes, but there is no place on earth where he can escape his own karma and whether he lives on a mountain or in a city he may still be the victim of an uncontrolled mind. For man's karma travels with him, like his shadow. Indeed, it is shadow, for it has been said, 'Man stands in his down shadow and wonders why it is dark.' (97)

2. Tao Te Ching by Lao-Tzu (revised translation Ma Wang Tui 1989, originally 6th century BCE)

I picked up this volume because I really appreciated the (faded) quality of its foil stamping. Only one passage, number 71, was the most accessible to me:

One who is good at traveling leaves no wheel tracks;
One who is good at speech has no flaws;
One who is good at reckoning uses no counting rods;
One who is good at shutting uses neither bolt nor lock yet what he has shut cannot be opened;
One who is good at tying uses no cords yet what he has tied cannot be undone.
Hence the sage is always good at saving people, and so abandons no one; nor does he abandon any useful material where things are concerned.
This is called following one's discernment.
Hence the good man is the teacher of the good man
While the bad man is the material for the good man.
Not to value the teacher
Nor to love the material
May, perhaps, be clever, but it betrays great bewilderment.
This is called the subtle and the essential. (71, Tao Ching; p75)

3. Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki (1970)

I didn't derive anything substantial from this text as it was mostly about the practice of Zazen; posture, breathing, bowing and not-thinking being the focus. It was still a good read; it's just that the prior readings covered what I have already understood of Zazen so this seemed to be duplicate knowledge to me.

I am now left with two more books to read and another thought on my structure of ritual. Next post! (Lately my posts have been averaging 1,000 words: why is that?)