Showing posts from February, 2011

Now, In Entering Into Zen

I’m borrowing the title of this post from a passage of Dogen Zenji’s Fukanzazengi – A Universal Recommendation for True Zazen (as translated in Yoshida, 2008). Fukanzazengi (pronounced foo-kahn-zah-zen-ghee) is a work that ranges from the seemingly mundane physical aspects of seated meditation, to the paradoxical nature of thinking of not thinking, to the ineffable quality of the ultimate reality that seated meditation allows us to experience – all within the confines of two very dense but quite accessible pages. Please check the related links section of this blog for Rosan Yoshida roshi’s translation of Fukanzazengi if you would like to have it available as you read on. I’ll be spending the rest of this post elaborating on some of those seemingly mundane physical aspects of seated meditation – zazen. Before I do, though, let me introduce you to a quote from Dogen’s Bendowa, which – like Fukanzazengi – affirms Dogen’s conviction in the absolute primacy of the practice of zazen: “When…

A Spectrum of Meditative Experience

I began collecting my thoughts for this post with a fairly straightforward objective in mind: provide a reasonably comprehensive review of the mechanics and usefulness of the traditional postures for seated meditation – zazen. I knew from the start that in order to achieve that objective I’d need to talk about appropriate stretching to at least some degree. Why? Well, first of all, the issue of flexibility (or lack thereof) comes up nearly every time I provide instruction to a group of beginning meditators. Stiff legs, tight hips, and sore backs just seem to be endemic in our increasingly sedentary society. Secondly, even though it is such a common issue, it doesn’t seem to be something that we in the Zen tradition are all that willing or prepared to discuss. When I think about it, though, that makes perfect sense. Japanese monks probably only rarely exhibited the difficulty that we Westerners have in molding ourselves into the full or half lotus position; and even if they did, I sus…

Mind Is What the Body Does

Each of us, I’m sure, has at least one fond recollection of something that a teacher showed us or said to us that tweaked our way of approaching meditation just enough to allow everything to fall into place with a great big “ahhh!” Maybe it was a gentle nudge that guided you into your perfect posture, or a simple turn of a phrase related to some issue that you were wrestling with. Maybe it was the first time you ever saw your teacher settle into zazen with the sense of great purpose that she did – because all of the other times you’d been facing the wall! For me it was when my teacher, Rosan Yoshida, said to us: “We become enlightened with the body – not with the mind.”
Yes, we’re all pretty focused on the mind, aren’t we? And perhaps that is to be expected given the lengths that we go to in describing its nature: Mind is like a wild ox in the forest that we need to seek out and tame. Mind is like pure, still water. Mind is like a monkey chattering and swinging from branch to branch.…


My previous post ended with a provisional definition of a spiritual journey as “any enduring spiritual practice undertaken with the intention that it bring about transformation.” At the time I left largely unexplored this thing called transformation, so that will be the focus of today’s post. I’ll provide some theoretical context later on, but for now let’s begin by diving right into the words of two of the most revered figures in their respective religious traditions: Thomas Merton, a modern day Trappist monk (now deceased), and Dogen Zenji, a 13th century Japanese monk and founder of the Soto school of Zen Buddhism.
Thomas Merton describes the Christian experience of transformation as an emptying out of personal ego from the vessel that is this human form so that God can inhabit it to the fullest. Merton (1968) writes: This dynamic of emptying and of transcendence accurately defines the transformation of the Christian consciousness in Christ. It is a kenotic transformation, an empt…

Spiritual Journey, Anyone?

While it is true that we are all spiritual beings, there are as many ways to manifest that spirituality as there are people. Some people find their spiritual home amongst the prescribed beliefs, doctrine, and rituals of an established religious tradition. For others, spirituality flourishes within the very process of opening up to experience, reflecting upon its meaning, and adjusting their lived values accordingly. Still others find their spirituality nurtured by taking part in those activities that make them feel most joyfully alive: gardening, running, engaging in the arts, doing yoga, experiencing communion with nature, etc. But, while it is true that we are all spiritual beings, is it also true that each of us is on a spiritual journey?
What exactly does it mean, anyway, to be on a spiritual journey? Does it require a pilgrimage of some sort – to Mecca, or the Holy Land, or the site of a great miracle? Does it require time spent in a monastery or in seclusion from the distractio…

Calm Abiding

The weather is lousy outside, with sleet coating the roads, trees, and windows, and a foot of snow on the way. At least, that’s what I’ve been hearing on the local news – the foot of snow that is. The sleet I can see with my very own eyes. I can hear it, too, peppering the windows when the wind picks up, first from one side of the house and then the other. Like a child home from school on a snow day, I stand at the window surveying the backyard where everything is covered with white or dripping with ice. Absent is the usual activity of squirrels dutifully managing their stashes of nuts, rabbits hopping about tentatively as if they’ve only so much energy to spare, and starlings flitting en masse from lawn to tree to who knows where. They all seem to have simply disappeared. The squirrels I know are up there in their leafy nests, huddled together and swaying with the wind. And the rabbits are down in their unseen burrows, wonderfully insulated with grass and fur. The starlings are more…