Zen as Buddhism
How ordinary Buddhism shines through in Zen practice
Katinka Hesselink 2006
Zen has become famous in the west for it's short stories, it's koan's, it's tea ceremony and it's calm way of life. Zen has come to stand for a particular mindset, a certain aesthetic as for instance the CSS Zen Garden, which has nothing to do with Buddhism exemplifies. Zen as in Zen Buddhism on the other hand, has been relatively neglected. The more informed may know that zazen (sitting meditation) has something to do with it. And yes, koan's do come into the story somewhere. But Zen is short of Zen Buddhism. What does all of the above have to do with Buddhism, other than the fact that meditation plays a dominant part in all of Western Buddhism?
Zen's has a reputation of being anti-tradition, but it does in fact have a lot to do with the Buddhist tradition. Historically Zen (Chinese Chan) came out of Chinese Mahayana Buddhism. This shows in the practice of Zen Buddhists. They, like all Mahayana Buddhists, give a central role to the Bodhisattva Vow. This is the vow that means the practitioner will postpone enlightenment until all sentient beings are enlightened or saved as well.
To be an actual Zen Buddhist, one has to take refuge in the Three Jewels, like any other Buddhist. This means formally declaring to take refuge in Buddha (teacher and lineage), Dharma (teachings) and sangha (the community of Buddhist monks or more widely: the community of Buddhists).
Then there are the Ten Grave Precepts:
- Affirm life; do not kill.
- Be giving; do not steal.
- Honor the body; do not misuse sexual energy.
- Manifest truth; do not lie.
- Proceed clearly; do not cloud the mind.
- See the perfection; do not speak of others' errors and faults.
- Realize self and other as one; do not elevate the self and blame others.
- Give generously; do not be stingy.
- Actualize harmony; do not give vent to anger.
- Experience the intimacy of things; do not defile the Three Treasures.
These can be taken literally, and should be taken literally (at first). Later they should also be realized on a deeper level. There is self elevation in cloths, speech etc. There is also self-elevation as subtle pride.
Enlightenment is reached by meditation. And the famous insight, so hard to actually realize, is that one merely has to discover one's own enlightenment or one's own Buddha-mind. Sure, the end is relatively well known, but the way there is not just about meditation. Sure, meditation is said to help you overcome greed, anger, fear and the difference between self and other. Still, we usually need a grounding in what that means on a practical level, even before those are actually starting to disappear. That grounding is in the Bodhisattva Vow, the three jewels and the 10 grave precepts.
More Zen Buddhism
- The Flower Sermon: on the origins of Zen Buddhism
- On the difference between Rinzai Zen and Soto Zen
- Zen Calendars
- Zen Buddhism Books
- On the High Seat of "The Treasure of the Law" The Sutra of the 6th Patriarch, Hui Neng
- From the Chinese Zen Masters, Bodhidharma on the twofold entrance to the Tao. D.T. Suzuki
- Zen Stories
- Short Zen stories
- Who am I and Zen
- Zen is Boring
- Zen Buddhism Quotes
- Gain and Loss, Knowledge and Action, Good and Evil, Concern doesn't bring wisdom, Tsai Chih Chung, Brian Bruya
- Thich Nhat Hanh