Tuesday, October 19, 2010

In Defense of Zazen - Part 2: Its Merit As Spiritual Practice

If you came here from HoustonBelief.com, stick around and check out the archives. Otherwise, thanks for reading and check out the other contributors for Bayou Buddhists

In Part 1, I mentioned how zazen style meditation isn't just for Zen Buddhists. It has benefits for daily life in that it can help us focus by being mindful of the present.

This utilitarian practice is refereed to by Uchiyama Roshi as ningen zen in his book on Zen practice, Opening the Hand of Thought. It is a useful way to approach zazen, but not necessarily most appropriate for a serious Zen practitioner. He mentions many other minor forms of Zen like this, none of them "pure" zazen, but each of their benefits manifest through shikantaza.

One important aspect about Zen Buddhism is that it's walks the borderline between materialism and spiritualism. Essentially, it is not a religion like other spiritual paths, but a form of realist philosophy with a practical system of employing its ideas. It's not the intellectual philosophy of Hume, Descartes, or Socrates. It's more than a world view, it is a way of life.

Zen addresses existence from both the spiritual and materialistic perspectives, and neither at the same time just as light can function as both a wave and a particle but is also neither. In some situations Zen is materialistic and in others it's spiritual.

That being said defending zazen as spiritual practice isn't in the spiritual context of practices like praying, even if at the same time it can be just as intimate with the divine. Instead the spiritual practice I'm referring to is more like the "impractical" practice of getting in touch with our true nature. It is an internal practice that is more focused on how we deal with ourselves than with others.

Zazen as Zen practice gets us in touch with ourselves. We sit with ourselves and watch our thoughts and the feelings we have about them. Eventually we come to see our thoughts as empty.

This "emptiness" is an easily misinterpreted Buddhist term. It's not a denial of existence, but recognition that our thoughts aren't as concrete as we think that they are. I wrote about this in the context of how the senses are empty and can't always be trusted here already so I won't go into it deeply here. Basically this teaching is an observation that our senses are unreliable because they are not only tainted by our own perspective but because they are also limited to the function of our sense organs.

In Buddhism the mind is considered a sense organ and thought is its sense so back to the above. Our thoughts are not the things they represent. They are like hollow forms we fill with our own associations.

Is that person we don't like at work really that bad a person? Why do we think that way? Where do these feelings come from? These are the kind of thoughts that may dissolve as we examine them. The issues and problems we have with other people only exist in ourselves.

This is the perspective that zazen can bring as we really examine how we see the world. Hopefully as our practice progresses, we not only think of others as being not separate from ourselves intellectually, but to feel that they are the same as we are with our very being.

Zazen can help us see that our fellow human beings are no separate from what we define as ourselves as our two hands are no separate from each other.

The spiritual aspects of yoga have gotten flack recently from some certain outspoken religious leaders, but it is not that different from zazen. There's no reason I can think of that believers of theistic religions can't practice zazen for spiritual benefit.

Sitting without chasing our thoughts brings up thoughts that we can't control. We acknowledge them and let them go. We open our minds to whatever comes up. If God is going to talk to us, what better time?

Seeing through our preconceptions about ourselves and others gets us in touch with the divine by showing us the interconnectedness of all of creation. How is this different than seeing the creator in everything?

Zazen, like yoga, is a tool as I mentioned in Part 1; a tool we can use to great benefit. It is not a devotional practice exclusive of other belief systems and in some form exists in the contemplative traditions of many faiths. Also like in Part 1, practicing it in this way won't make you a Buddhist. Zen Buddhism is just a belief system that utilizes zazen to actualize and deepen the beliefs of its practitioners.

No comments:

Post a Comment