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Zen training: What it is and what it isn't

I've heard it all: Theres no true Zen in America, institutions ruin Zen, priests ruin Zen, There's true Zen at Antaiji, Hermit Zen is where it's at, T-shirt and jeans Zen is enough, just sitting is enough, just reading is enough, just looking at what the Old Men of Zen "said" is enough, robes aren't Zen, sitting isn't Zen, Zazen isn't Zen, Zen in Japan is dead, Zen never existed in India, Zen was invented in China, there are no Zen teachers in china, that teacher is not a true Zen teacher, this lineage is a true Zen lineage, that's not real Zen because you all marry, there is a lot of Zen online, this is real zen from a real awakened teacher, there is no such thing as zen, and that, that is definitely not zen. And ya mama, she ain't Zen.

All of that ribbin' makes me want to take a nap! But it also inspires me to look up during a ceremony; is this Zen we're droning on about through the Dai Hi Shin Darani? Are these black robes helping me? How many stiches did I really put in this blue rakusu? How did I end up memorizing all these chants? Does it really matter if the spoon or the chopsticks come out first? Who the hell are the 7 Buddhas before Buddha? What and where is the warm hand of my teacher and the wordless transmission? As I sit on the tan and rest my eyes where the wood meets the plaster wall, what is zazen?

Everyday the temple comes to life. I put my robes on in the pitch black of 3am (my partner is sleeping). I drink green tea so my eyes stop twitching. I look at the Lankavatara. I make tea for the abbess. I go into the Zendo. I sit, chant, and do soji. Eat breakfast. Go to work on the farm. Eat lunch. Go to work. Go to Zazen (if I don't pass out or work overtime). Go to dinner. Go to class or a dharma talk. Go to bed around 9.

So, I guess that's one way to train.

Another way might be to wake up at 5, drink coffee, go into the Zendo, chant, ride your bike to work, teach kids all day, ride home, sit at 5, eat dinner, talk on the phone with your teacher, watch a movie, go to bed.

Another way might be to find a book, like Thich Nhat Hanh's The Sun My Heart read it, fold your legs into a full lotus, miss the point about the ol' zafu under your bottom, and let your knees butterfly up in the air, fold in on yourself in grueling pain, find another book, throw The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way down, find another book, try and connect to people online, find another book, and another, and another...

Another way might be to pick up Pema Chodron's Things Fall Apart, meet with clients and listen to their lives, go to your closed therapists only sitting group (because your town is small and you don't want to run into your clients) listen to dharma talks while walking around the park or lying in the bathtub.

Another way might be to go to Antaiji, start training with the Tenzo, fall in love with the place, have a pressure cooker explode, knock you out, melt your chest, and flee Japan and the 10,000 dollar medical bills, never to return again unless you want to pay 10,000.

Another way might to do small construction jobs which allows you to sit in the morning and in the night, study when you want to, and host a sitting group once a week.

Another way might be to chop wood, one day hear the diamond sutra recited and become awakened on the spot.

Some of these examples are me. Some are friends. All are real people with a practice. Real people eeking out a practice in a world full of Ipods, X-boxes, bars, careers- a dusty, dusty world.

Usually a teacher is suggested. I like the term "dangerous friend." A teacher is someone who faces the Buddha and invites you join her. This is good if you're really interested in the warm hand to warm hand, more watching less talking style.

Usually a Sangha is suggested. At the end of my day, my practice is sometimes for me but most of the time for the sister or brother to my right or my left. We carry the schedule, we carry the head and face of our Buddha ancestors. Simultaneously, our practice is for the One who is not busy.

Usually Dharma is suggested. These could be the teachings or they could be whatever helps build confidence to take the Buddha's seat. I like what Ikkyu says: "Only one koan matters: you."

Some people think sitting is required. I think trying to see forms and hear sounds, fully engaging body and mind, is required. But sitting? I love it! My partner, not so much. Our farm elder, a resident of 40 some years, harvests lettuce as a practice. I also think running is a nice practice. Tea is a nice practice. Walking is zen, sitting is zen.

Zen training is a sincere wish! You can't go wrong. Even Angulimala took refuge from the rain of blood. Home leaver or house holder, we renounce equally. Even if it seems like we're ruining our lives, don't worry, we're not that powerful. Even if you kill yourself, you can't kill Buddha.

Zen training is an expression, just complete this moment!


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