Saturday, 24 September 2011

Zen without zazen

In the Summer I had a minor operation hem hem which has made it difficult to sit zazen. For a time it was improving, but now it's got worse again and I'm left feeling rather distant from zen practice. There's a sesshin coming up in November that I'm hoping to be healed up enough for...
But my question is this: if you can't sit, are you outside the jurisdiction of Zen? Can one really be a Zen student if you can't sit for hours whether on a cushion or in a chair? Most Zen teachers of  both old and current times recommend two things: having a teacher, and sitting zazen. Nought out of two isn't so good.
People may say "It doesn't matter, it's the spirit of the thing, not how many hours you sit." But that isn't backed up by contemporary Zen culture. I'll admit, I haven't asked if I could stand or do a long kinhin. Not being able to sit of course means that all I want to do is sit. I am appreciating  zazen in a way that I haven't before. On the other hand, not being able to do it makes it seem...arbitrary. There. I said it, and various Zen luminaries are revolving madly in their graves...or maybe not. Despite their absolute insistence on zazen, I'm sure if you could ask Kodo Sawaki or Uchiyama Roshi for example, they would agree: there's nothing special about zazen. There's nothing magical about it. If you don't do it, it's not the end of the world. But that's exactly why it should be done (when "shoulds" come up I get nervous but there you have it...). Zazen is not in that karma-world of "I do it because of this result and this expectation". It's fairly unique in being in a realm of "just do." Not that this means I should endanger the health of my posterior and body in general in order to do it. That kind of thinking really is full of traps. When I can't do it, I can't do it. As soon as I can, I do it. Is that the zazen of non-zazen?

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Zen and the Art of Being Grindingly Poor

As I have pointed out before, Great Britain is hardly a hotspot for Zen Buddhism. But I think we're going to need it here soon, given the economic predictions of our leaders. The rub is this: we are all going to have to put up with having less, in a material and fiscal sense. Whilst we've got groovy holidays and lovely gadgets, Buddhism, with its gloomy-seeming First Noble Truth "Life is (or inherently contains) suffering" is not the popular choice. Now that the great global Being-Shafted-By-Bankers plan seems to be well underway, a non-materialistic yet non-theistic approach to life looks like a good idea. What is sesshin if not a boot camp for the soon-to-be-poor? I know after a week of sitting on my cushion, even a bowl of plain porridge seeems like some sort of sensory overload. Zazen basically teaches you to be wholly appreciative of anything that's not zazen.
It's encouraging for us to look back and see that there have been many times in the past when Zen practitioners lived very frugally, and yet still enjoyed rich and fulfilling lives. I think in the future things may get a bit communal, and a bit less individualistic. Again sesshin, and indeed the whole Zen approach is a good primer in this kind of getting-along "together-action" as Seung Sahn refers to it. It may seem a bit lazy, a bit fatalistic even, but I am not one inclined to protests and so on, though I daresay some of that might be needed as the purse-strings draw ever tighter. I am more interested in adapting my life circumstances and finding happiness as near at hand as possible. Also, wear and tear on the zafu aside, the running costs of Zen are pretty low. Now, I'm off to pen the best-selling "How to be poor and happy" to see if I can make my fortune before this whole sorry mess blows up...