Sunday, May 23, 2010


I mentioned in an earlier post that I might start writing about what I learn while sitting in zazen (meditation) and working on koans. After all, this blog is called 'Zen Thrown Down'! I've really shied away from doing so up to now, because much of this is really personal and private.  I also find that it's almost impossible to put into words without it seemingly like I sat in meditation and came out of it with a simple truth that you might find wrapped in a fortune cookie.

The thing is that Zen is about simple truth. The problem with simple truths is that we may know them, but we seldom (if ever) practice them.  The power of Zen is that coming to these simple truths while zazen presents them to me in a way that is personally meaningful. That, plus the process of sitting in zazen, tends to cement them a bit in my brain.  By sitting in zazen regularly, behavior and mindset can be controlled and even shaped. When I regularly meditate, I can feel that I have a far calmer, centered approach to everything.  I can also stand outside myself much more easily and control my mind, reactions, responses, thoughts...everything. And I am much more happy as a result.

Zen is ultimately about harnessing your mind, focusing it, and learning how to keep that focus constantly directed only on what is real and important. It's how to dismiss meaningless or pointless thoughts and concerns (the 'noise' that constitutes virtually all of what is going through our minds at any given time). When I'm practicing regularly, it's obvious to me that each of us is the author of virtually all of our pain, sorrows, frustrations, angst, and unhappiness. We create it in our own heads and make it worse through our resulting actions and words.

So I'm going to relate what I learned from the first koan (or case) in Mumonkan, one of the great old collections of Zen koans. A koan is a mental puzzle designed to guide you to truth or a realization, but it is not a puzzle with one solution and the koan is typically pretty obtuse - even nonsensical - when you read it.  The point is to get at the truth while in zazen, where it will have some impact.

Typically, I read the koan and then meditate. During meditation - and this is crucial - I am not thinking about the koan or trying to solve it. I am not 'meditating on the koan'; really to meditate on anything is almost a contradiction in terms! I think people who practice Zen say they are meditating on something merely to suggest that it's in therie head and that they are also meditating.  It's a very important difference. In meditation I'm not thinking about anything; I'm clearing my mind of all 'noise'. By doing this, I find that answers just come to me.

Over time, meditation reveals many answers or simple truths. These build off each other and intertwine and you slowly begin to build a cohesive way of being. Like I said, each realization tends to 'stick' when you find it through meditation, and then it's there waiting for you when you have additional realizations. So keep in mind that each session of zazen is not about 'Ah, now I am enlightened! I may now live my life full of wisdom and simplicity!" It's a process of learning and training your mind.

I'm still not sure posting this is a good idea, but I'm going to give it a try.

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