Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Friday, 10 February 2017

What is Zen practice? What is the highest teaching of Buddhism?

Zen practice is about developing the whole person, it's not about learning a meditation technique to reduce stress and anxiety, nor is it about learning Buddhist doctrine or bowing, or posting cliches with colourful backgrounds on Facebook.

It’s also not yoga, vipassana or mindfulness meditation. These can all be helpful and can guide the body and mind to a certain stillness and flow, but Zen is not about generating a particular state experience. It's much more than that! Yes, freedom from anxiety, stress and our own particular form of personal suffering truly happens with Zen practice, but it also leads us to discover something even more helpful and profound - who we are truly are and what the world around us actually is. When we know both of these things from the bottom of our heart, we are free to move in the world in a way that benefits everyone and everything. This is the highest teaching of Buddhism.

So what does Zen practice actually look like, then? Well, its slow, handcrafted and looks rather like your life. The time required for this work is measured in decades, the effort brings a thousand mistakes, the joy discovered is endless.

How is this done? It starts by walking into a Zen Centre and bringing the whole world with you*, connecting with an authentic Zen teacher and learning the tools of this work (zazen and koans) that our ancestors kindly passed down to us. Then we step into our life just as it is, not the way we want it to be. This is the gateway - this is Zen practice.

* Zen Master Yunmen said to the assembly, Within heaven and earth, in the midst of the cosmos, there is one treasure, hidden in the body. Holding a lantern, it goes toward the Buddha hall (meditation all). It brings the great triple gate and puts it on the lantern.

Guy Gaudry

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Smouldering - a koan process

Recently a friend who feels very close, although we are separated by the width of a continent, sent me a short note about his work with a koan.

"When I went through this koan originally, I 'passed' it but had no friggin idea what the hell it meant. For me, a sign of danger for the koan tradition.”

Good point. It could be a point of danger - if we don’t continue our koan work. I have found that, especially at the beginning of koan work, people can step into a koan almost unconsciously. Basically, our body (our somatic intelligence) responds before the mind can make sense of what just happened. It takes time for our cognitive processes to catch up and offer an explanation that our intellect can make sense of. 

The thing is we grow in biological time, not at the speed of thought. We may have an intuitive leap of understanding or our unconsciousness may suddenly and often somatically, release something that we were previously blind to. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean we grow and are able to hold this new insight. Growth takes time and continuous practice. This is the embedding and integrating phase of koan work.  

A volcano may spew something from the depths into the air and make it visible. That doesn’t mean its work is finished, it may never be. Koan work is like this.