Easten Religion

Easten Religion

6/29/2018 Zen – 18.SU.REL.1111.C50 EASTERN RELIGIONS

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Wh at do yo u th in k o f w h en yo u h ear th e w o rd “Zen”?

You may think of tea, meditation, or anything related to the eastern or the


Zen originally developed in China, but is a predominately Japanese form

of Buddhism. The Japanese form comes from a mix of Ch’an Buddhism

(Chinese) and Indian Yogic Meditation (Dhyana). Zen literally means

Meditation or to Focus Down and this is the central practice for

enlightenment in this branch of Buddhism.

Zen will have an enormous impact on Japanese culture (much like Hinduism’s in�uence in India). It will

in�uence military strategy, court rulings, physical labor, landscaping, and the arts.


Bodhidharma was the First Zen M aster. He spent much of his life sitting in a cave meditating. It is said

that he was so dedicated to sitting meditation that he sat until his legs fell off. Other stories tell of his

frustration with falling asleep. As a result, he cut off his eyelids so his gaze wouldn’t falter. Legend says that

green tea leaves sprouted from his eyelids hitting the ground. And this is the origin of the popular green


His later successor was an illiterate woodcarver, a Mahayana testimony that anyone can awaken to

Buddhahood, no matter what class or vocation.


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“An in ch o f sittin g is an in ch o f Bu ddh a.”

Zazen is sitting meditation – the main practice in Zen. When asked just about any question in Zen, the

answer is usually: “Just Sit.” Focused concentration is the answer to just about anything. A traditional

meditation hall is called a Zendo.

Watch this link: Intro to Zazen

You’ve read in the Accidental Buddhist about the M onkey

M ind. This is what Buddhists call our mind chatter.

(Remember – Yogis called it “Turnings of the mind.” ) They say

our mind is like a chattering monkey, swinging from branch to

branch and we have a very dif�cult time calming it down. But

we will not be able to attain inner peace as long as this

monkey is running wild in our minds. We want an tranquil

mind, empty of thoughts and mind clutter. Zen Buddhists will

call this: Think nonthinking.

To tame the

monkey mind

takes intense


and self-reliance. Have you ever tried to sit and meditate?

How long is it before your mind starts to wander and


Zen Buddhists acknowledge this dif�culty, but we must

keep focused on our goal of a peaceful mind.

Even though zazen is at the foundation of Zen, it is important to note that the point of Zen is not to

become withdrawn or self-absorbed. On the contrary, as a Mahayana sect, many Zen Buddhists are very

involved with world. They will say that the point is to bring zazen (calm mind) into our daily life of samsara.

Physical labor will even become a form of meditation.

There are many different schools of Zen, including the Rinzai and Soto. Some are more strict than others,

even more military styled. The discipline can be so rigorous, that they are often nicknamed the “Marine

Corps” meditation because of their long, uninterrupted hours of zazen.

In some Zen sects, a Kyosaku Stick (pronounced “Chosakoo”) is used. This is not a punishing stick or used

like a ruler among nuns back in traditional Catholic school systems. Instead, after hours of meditation, Zen

Buddhists may welcome it as a way to help relieve muscle tension and to help them stay alert and not


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Go to this link and watch Zen M onks use Kyosaku Stick

Zen Buddhists also put a lot of emphasis on Group M editation. They use the example of growing trees in

a nursery. When you grow trees in groups, they tend to grow straighter and taller than when planted



The Doctrine of Emptiness is a form of monism – that

everything is interconnected, one and the same. Zen

Buddhists believe that ultimately there are no

distinctions – that separation is really an illusion.

Remember, everything is in constant change, therefore

nothing is ultimately permanent or real.

Because Buddhism teaches that there is no enduring

reality and that all is impermanent, Zen Buddhists really

emphasize that there is no distinction between you and I

and everything else in the world. Each thing/object/being is ultimately empty of individual identity. We

have a collective identity instead.

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For example, think of a �ower. It cannot exist on its own. It relies on the dirt, sun, oxygen, water, and even

perhaps the person that planted the seed in the beginning. Think of the shirt you are wearing right now. Did

you make it yourself? Chances are you didn’t… You probably bought it at a store, from a salesperson who

got it packaged from factory workers who sewed the material, who in turn got the material from other

workers who dyed the material, who received it from others who made the material itself, and they got it

from people who harvested the plants or sheared the sheep, and then from the people who raised the

sheep, to the sheep themselves, who depend on the sun, oxygen, water, etc… You get the point…It’s all


So, according to Zen, the Doctrine of Emptiness means that

everything exists in relation to other things . It’s not that

things are literally empty, but that they do not exist

independently of each other.

Think of the �lm, The M atrix, and the notion that “There is no


Because of this, in Zen, Nirvana (“Satori” in Japanese) is

rede�ned. Like the Mahayana sect it is, they believe nirvana is

found in Samsara , right here amidst daily life. Zen emphasize that nirvana isn’t something separate from

samsara. According to the Doctrine of Emptiness, it is all the same.


We can have a spontaneous awakening and see this truth if we so desire. But Zen Buddhist emphasize that

we can’t achieve satori through reason or words because they are inadequate and limited. We can’t realize

satori through books or rational analyzing, so we must stop trying to reach peace through concepts.

Bodhidharma described Zen as “A special transmission outside of the scriptures. There is no need

for dependence on words and letters… seeing into one s nature, which is identical with all

reality, leads to the attainment of Buddhahood.”

Many Zen practitioners will argue that words and scriptures are trappings, because we get too caught up in

arguing over interpretations and meanings and have too much dependence on these words. Instead, we

should (guess what?) JU ST SIT!

Some Zen monks even burned Buddhist scripture in the streets to show their nonattachment to the

words of the Buddha. It is not done in the spirit of censorship (this is not like burning Harry Potter). Instead,

Zen Buddhists are making a point that when we start to get so caught up in the teachings that we miss the

point of it all, we need to let go. Remember Buddha’s teaching about the raft?

Zen teachings often purposely defy reason so that we can have an understanding of emptiness. When

asked the meaning of Zen, a Zen teacher may respond by lifting his or her index �nger or laughing or simply

giving a friendly smack to the inquirer.

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When asked to de�ne Zazen, Zen Master Suzuki Roshi sat crossed legged and said nothing for half an hour.

Instead of teaching in words, in Zen, the teaching is in experience.


Koans are Zen riddles to get beyond rational thinking. Do any of these sound familiar?

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

When you come to the fork in the road, take it.

What was your face like before you were born?

What is the color of the wind?

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around, does it make a sound?

Once you eat the bagel, where does the hole go?

These exercises widen our doors of perception so satori can �ood everyday world. Zen works on having the

mind free and unobstructed so we can �nd inner peace without depending on anything external. Zen

teaches that the Buddha nature is within and spontaneity allows us to experience things as they truly are.

Ultimately, the truth is seeing reality as it is. “Grass is green, sky is blue, water is wet” is a famous Zen

saying. The truth is in simplicity.


You saw mindfulness as one of the branches of the Eightfold Path. According to some Zen practitioners,

there is no difference between the practice of Zen and enlightenment itself. There is no goal or purpose

beyond our present state because the only moment that really exists is the now. The Path itself is the

enlightenment. “The Journey is the Destination.” The mindfulness of the present moment is


Contemplate the following famous Zen sayings:

When walking just walk, when sitting, just sit. Above all don’t wobble.

Carry water. Chop Wood.

When you do the dishes, do the dishes.

In other words, �nd satori here and now, in daily activities. Again, this is why Zen Buddhists put so much

emphasis on meditation during physical labor. They will also have a walking meditation exercise called

kinhin, in which you focus entirely on each step and movement as you walk.

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In one well known Zen story, a disciple asked, “We

have to dress and eat every day and how can we

escape from all of that?” The master said, “We dress.

We eat.” The disciple, frustrated, replied, “I don’t

understand.” The master said, “If you don’t

understand, put on your clothes and eat your food!”

Here is another story for you: A monk was weighing a

bag of rice one day when a Zen disciple walked up

and asked, “What is the Buddha nature?”

The monk replied without hesitation: “Three pounds

of rice.”

The moral of these stories? Zen says to stay completely involved in present moment. In that moment, you

will �nd inner peace. The only place true satori can take place is in the PRESENT M OM ENT! Because the

past is the past and the future do not exist yet.

This may be why Vietnamese Zen Monk and Nobel Peace Prize winning author Thich Nhat Hanh devotes

a whole chapter to eating a tangerine in his book, The Miracle of Mindfulness. Eating slices of a tangerine or

drinking a cup of tea (as we’ll see in the Zen tea ceremony) are meditation just like anything else.


For Zen practitioners, meditation often takes form outside of traditional Zazen. The following are several

examples of Zen Art – all done for the purpose of meditation and tranquility. Your Molloy text gives a very

good explanation of these – make sure to read over his explanations as well.

Tea Ceremony

A traditional ceremony in which tea is meticulously prepared and served as ritual meditation. The

ceremony can last hours and is usually housed in a special sacred area.

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Go to this link and Watch a Tea Ceremony


The art of calligraphy is a meditation to unite with your innermost self. It is said that the calligrapher’s

artwork will “transmit the timeless essence of the universe.” The sacred power behind calligraphy is

displayed throughout the incredible �lm, Hero.

Go to this link and Watch some Calligraphy in action.

Zen Gardens

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The Japanese rock garden is a beautiful example of Zen art. The placement of rock, tree, shrub and �ower is

done with careful consideration and artful technique. The act of making the garden itself is a meditation,

raking carefully and mindfully to produce something that invokes peacefulness. The Zen garden is viewed

like a painting, and is never really �nished, always a work in progress.

Go to this link and Watch the creation of a Zen Rock circle

Flower Arranging

Called Ikebana (meaning “�ower kept alive”), there are many schools and styles of Zen �ower arranging.

This is a mindful practice of arranging stems and �owers to produce a work of aesthetic and mindful

perfection. It is a Buddhist expression of the beauty of nature. It can be a very complex process, utilizing

each �ower and the way it’s arranged as a symbolism of various elements in nature (mountain, lake, air, etc.)


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Haiku (called Kensho) is a form of Japanese poetry. Traditionally, it was done in a 5-7-5 meter (5 syllables,

7 syllables, 5 syllables). But it can also be free verse as well. In Japanese, haikus are usually printed in a

single vertical line. In English, they are often printed in 3 lines. Haiku is often called a “little moment of

enlightenment.” Often with themes of nature, haikus are meant to capture a single moment in time, like a

photograph. It is an artistic way to encourage mindfulness and meditating on this present moment.

On famous example of a Haiku is by Matsuo Basho:

Old pond;

A frog jumps in.

Sound of water.

Here are some more examples:

Bursting in bright hues

Splashing colors all about

Autumn leaves must fall

Awakened at midnight

by the sound of the water jar

cracking from the ice

A pattering of rain

on the new eaves

brings me awake

Deep within the stream

the huge �sh lie motionless

facing the current

Now, try to write your own haiku! You can follow the traditional 5-7-5 pattern or follow a more free

verse style if you wish.

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We’ll end this section with a Zen poem written by a former 1111 student in this course. Read it and re�ect

on the inherent Zen nature within it (and within yourself!)

“For this is Zen”

Question all that is and is not

Kill the concepts in your mind

Look the gift horse in the mouth, you may �nd it a cow

Trust the written word not much, it is good, but it is not all

Open your skull, reach inside, and scoop out the Buddha

He is hiding there in all of you

Remember, my friends, a cup is a cup, but not all the time

For this, little children, is Zen…

– By Ian Snapp

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