Buddhism with its practical and consistent teachings and its relevance to daily life is able to satisfy intelligent and inquiring minds, and thus still appeals to our present-day society. There is nothing mysterious in this spiritual path. The Buddha never resorted to supernatural rituals or asked for logic-defying leaps of faith in any of his teachings. Everything is rational and sensible, relevant to the present and very much down-to-earth.
Buddhism is an ancient spiritual practice. It is not a religion in the Judeo-Christian sense, but Buddhist tenets point to ways of finding the happiness and contentment we as humans seek. Buddhist practices are designed to help you see the world and our place in it more clearly.
The focus of Buddhism is following a spiritual path rather than a religious belief system. It is a way of finding peace within oneself. Buddhists develop inner peace, kindness and wisdom through their daily practice. They then share their experience with others in bringing benefit and change for a better world.
With much stress and modern day problems around the globe more and more people are becoming interested in the peaceful and tolerant Buddhist way of life. In particular there is deep interest in learning how to meditate, to overcome stress and anxiety, as well as to find a better meaning of life.
Buddhist tenets are not difficult. They can be practiced by anyone, regardless of what cultural, religious or ideological label one carries. By approaching these teachings with an open mind they can be easily observed and practiced. The results will be immediate and beneficial — for this life and beyond.
Buddhism originated in India more than 2500 years ago. A prince named Siddhartha Gautama had tried many spiritual paths without satisfaction, until one day, while sitting in meditation, he came to a profound realization of the nature of existence. He was thereafter known as the Buddha, meaning the "Awakened One". Buddhism spread from India to China, then to Korea, Japan and Southeast Asia. Since roughly the 19th century, various Asian immigrants and Zen masters began to bring Buddhism to Europe and the United States.
Zen emphasizes the practice of zazen, or sitting meditation, and individual effort. By learning to put the entire being into spiritual practice, we are able to realize our original nature and to carry that experience beyond sitting meditation into daily life. We come into this world endowed with enlightenment nature. When we fail to realize this, life becomes selfish and egotistical, causing much suffering to ourselves and others. For that reason, we remove the barriers towards awakening and take refuge in the Buddha (teaching of Gautama Siddharta Shakyamuni, the Buddha), the Dharma (reality, the way things are), and the Sangha (practice in community under the guidance of a master). We commit ourselves to lives guided by the Precepts (Buddhist ethical code) and aspire to follow the Bodhisattva ideal of Mahayana Buddhism, in which we rejoice in being of service to others.
No matter how long we have been meditating, we aim for "beginner's mind" and treat each period of zazen as if it were our first time. We focus on the mechanics of sitting meditation (zazen), including posture, breathing and disposition of the mind. Our practice is rounded out with Dharma readings, teaching and discussion.
The Four Noble Truths that lead to liberation:
Nothing lasts forever. We are frustrated or miserable when pleasant things come to an end. This is called impermanence, often stated as "all life is suffering".
This suffering starts because we develop ideas, ideologies and religions that suit our wish for permanence. We like to make or see things the way we want them to be, not how they actually are. This is called illusion, often referred to as "desire".
There is a way out of this. It is our liberation. We can teach ourselves to let go of our illusions and attachments, so that we don't have to suffer as much when things change, as they inevitably will. This truth is called freedom from confinement or extinction. It is like having a key to our jail cell or blowing out a candle that is burning us.
There is a path to liberation from suffering and getting burned by our expectations. This path runs between the extremes of hedonism and asceticism. It is the Buddha's Eight-Fold Path.
The Eight-Fold Noble Path
Right Understanding is crucial to comprehend the Buddhist spiritual path, particularly the identification, causes, consequences of, and (through these eight steps) the elimination of suffering. Right Understanding also conveys the Buddhist view of the non-permanence of the self.
To have Right Thought, a follower should fully understand his purpose in following the teachings of the Buddha, as well as his outlook on the world and world issues.
The focus of Right Speech is to avoid harmful language, such as lying or using unkind words. It is far better to use gentle, friendly and meaningful words, even when a situation calls for a truth that may be hurtful, despite best intentions.
Right Action forms a list of fundamental ethical behaviors that all practicing Buddhists follow. These are the Five Precepts:
To refrain from destroying living beings
To refrain from stealing
To refrain from sexual misconduct (such as adultery, promiscuity ...)
To refrain from false speech (lying)
To refrain from intoxicants, which lead to heedlessness
Spiritual persons use Right Livelihood to support the other fundamentals of Buddhism. They avoid employment in positions where their actions may cause harm to others, be it directly or indirectly.
Buddhists recognize that human nature limits the mind at times and causes ill thoughts. Right Effort focuses on removing negative thoughts and replacing them with positive, beneficial thoughts.
Right Mindfulness, along with Right Concentration, is the foundation behind Buddhist meditation. We focus on improving body, emotions, mental workings and qualities through clearing the mind of its obstacles, such as mental clutter, shallow desire and aversion.
Coupled with Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration lays the framework for proper meditation. Rather than focusing on the mental aspects, Right Concentration gives instructions as to learn techniques and concentration for effective meditation.
When religion grows in age, faith turns into dogma, and experience is replaced by book-knowledge, virtue by adherence to rules, devotion by ritual, meditation by metaphysical speculation. The time is then ripe for a rediscovery of truth and a fresh attempt to give it expression in life.
There are many different types of Buddhism, due to its long history, customs and cultural expression. The essence of Buddhist aims however are held in common.
Major schools and types of Buddhism are Theravada and Mahayana. There is Pure Land, Zen (mostly China, Japan, Europe, America), Tibetan (Tibet, China, Europe, the Americas), Theravada (Thai, Pali, Burmese), Korean Buddhism, Vietnamese Buddhism, and others.
Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion for the future: it transcends a personal God, avoids dogmas and theology; it covers both the natural & spiritual, and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity.
In general terms, Zen is an eastern discipline for the purpose of direct understanding outside of scriptures and imagery, apart from folklore tradition, without dependence on words or letters, pointing directly to the human mind, and finally seeing into our own true nature and being awakened.
Zen can be seen as the mystical path of Buddhism; that is, it exists within Buddhism and is dependent upon it. Many have tried to separate Zen from Buddhism, but ultimately always have come back to its Buddhist premises.
Zen cannot be “learned”, let alone be grasped by reading or talking about it. It is not an academic venture that may be accomplished through one’s own studies. It requires hands-on training at first and then ongoing practice under the guidance of an experienced teacher or master.
The Zen path uses meditation as a tool to discover true nature (Buddha or enlightenment nature). Again, this is accomplished not by studying books and literature about Zen, but by experiencing Zen in daily life. It starts with sitting in meditation (zazen) and then moves on into other areas of life. It encompasses our very existence — every moment, whether we are sitting, running, talking, doing the dishes, or using the toilet. Zazen (sitting meditation) is only the starting point of Zen, the beginning of a long path in clearing the mind towards enlightenment.
Consider the sunlight. You may say that it is near, yet if you pursue it from world to world you will never catch it. You may say it is far, yet it is right before your eyes. Chase it and it always eludes you; run from it and it is always there. From this example you can understand how it is with the true nature of things. ~Huang-Po
Meditation has been practiced in many different forms, and by many different cultures for thousands of years. It is taught and practiced all over the world and is gaining much popularity, especially in Western countries.
Large international corporations are sending their staff and executives for lessons and retreats in increasing numbers. They recognize the benefits of meditation to be improved concentration and clarity of mind, as well as better management of stress, pain, aggravation and anger.
Neuroscientists at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, by studying the brain waves of people who meditate regularly, have shown that they are more peaceful and tranquil than non-meditators. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Centre, have shown that because of meditation, Buddhists really are happier and calmer than most other people!
Some Benefits of Meditation in general
Meditation fosters a sense of peace, calm and well-being, extending beyond the period of meditation and into activities of daily life.
Meditation increases the ability to focus the mind and stop being at the mercy of uncontrollable thoughts and worries.
Meditation engages the parasympathetic nervous system or "relaxation response" and turns off the fight-or-flight stress response experienced in the course of generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias, anger and post-traumatic stress reactions.
Zen meditation practices invigorate and deepen spiritual life, personal growth and the meaning of life itself. Zen training is especially helpful to those seeking to integrate spirituality or inner centeredness with daily living. The tensions which seem to exist between ideals and life "as it is" are dissolved by the practice of awareness, both in sitting meditation and a fuller, mediative life.
Zen practice is to see what is already there and to remove the barrier between one self and the fundamental nature of all things. Zen awareness and practice provide concrete methods to work through these barriers.
Everyone is encouraged to practice Zen — people of all faiths, from all backgrounds, traditions, ages and walks of life. Yamada Roshi pointed out that we all drink the same cup of tea, whether we call ourselves Christian, Buddhist, or whatever. From a Zen perspective, we learn that we seldom actually just drink our tea — we are lost in thought, doing several things at the same time, waiting perhaps for something more important or interesting to happen. Zen practice helps us to be in the moment and to experience its meaning fully and apart from words and imagery.
Truth is a pathless land. Man cannot come to it through any organization,
through any creed, through any dogma, priest or ritual, nor through any
philosophic knowledge or psychological technique. He has to find it through
the mirror of relationship, through the understanding of the contents of his
own mind, through observation and not through intellectual analysis or
~ J. Krishnamurti
Gautama Siddhartha Shakyamuni, the Buddha, considered himself an enlightened human being; not a god. He taught that all human beings are capable of realizing their already existing, innate enlightened or true nature. He considered his teachings to be guidelines, not commandments. The difficulty in following them is due to ignorance and lack of experience, not sin. Buddha’s teachings were specifically directed towards ending suffering for oneself and others. And he emphasized the need to turn inward through meditation (clearing of the mind), rather than relying on any external, human or surmised divine sources.
Interest in Buddhism is growing steadily worldwide, especially from people seeking answers in this current global age of clashing ideologies, fanatical strife and senseless violence. Why is this interest growing so quickly, especially in the West? — Perhaps it is because more and more people now realize that Buddhism is a teaching that:
- Emphasizes compassion, tolerance and moderation. - Provides a clear path for spiritual and personal development. - Has no room for blind faith or unthinking worship. - Encourages questions and investigations into its own teachings. - Teaches us to take full responsibility for all of our actions. - Can be approached, realized and experienced, with immediate results. - Says sincere followers of other faiths are also rewarded in the afterlife. - Is very much in harmony with modern science.
More specifically ...
Regardless of what others or our own ego would have us believe, there is only one reason for our present circumstance, and only one way to change it: That is to reconnect with our source, our true self, our innate being.
Enlightenment does not come through the right sect. It does not come through the right organization, lineage or priesthood. It does not come from belonging to the right church, synagogue or temple. It comes from you. It is your gift to yourself. It is your inheritance. It is yours. No organization or person can give it to you. No priesthood or ordination can ensure it.
Books, Services, sermons, ways and practices have no more value than a pointing finger, no more reliability than your own sense of direction. Realize that reaching your goal is your responsibility, and it belongs to no one else. If you think otherwise, or if someone or some sect tells you otherwise - and you believe it - there is no one to blame in the end but yourself for your delusions and dissatisfaction.
If this were not so, the world would be overrun with fully enlightened Buddhists, purely sanctified Christians, Moslems, and Jews, with Holy men and women of all persuasions crowding the marketplace. Many claim to be, yet very few are since even the priesthoods of these disparate "forms" can not agree on much of anything. If the leaders can not agree, how can their followers? Yet the reality is simple: You are the door. Open it!
Choose your way, and be responsible for your choice. Then practice! Be loving and be compassionate towards others, regardless of their 'form', for as you think and do, so will your creations be. Most of all, be loving and compassionate with yourself. Everything begins and ends with you.
Siddhartha Gautama Sakyamuni (known as Buddha, the enlighened one) is reputed to have said:
- Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. - Do not believe in something simply because it has been handed down for many generations. - Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. - Do not believe in anything simply because it is written in Holy Scriptures. - Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of teachers, elders, or wise men.
Believe only after careful observation and analysis, when you find that it agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all. Then accept it and live up to it.
Specifically in Zen Buddhism, we stress ethical conduct and use the Bodhisattva Precepts as ethical guidelines. It is our sincere intention to continually realign our lives in accord with these precepts:
The Three Refuges
I take refuge in Buddha [I take refuge in Enlightenment] I take refuge in Dharma [I take refuge in the Way to Enlightenment] I take refuge in Sangha [I take refuge in the Community of Enlightenment]
The Three Pure Precepts
I vow to do no harm I vow to do good I vow to live for the benefit all beings
The Ten Precepts
1) A follower of the Way does not kill, but rather cultivates and encourages life. 2) A follower of the Way does not take what is not given, but rather cultivates and encourages generosity. 3) A follower of the Way does not misuse sexuality, but rather cultivates and encourages open, honest and acceptable relationships. 4) A follower of the Way does not lie, but rather cultivates and encourages truthful communication. 5) A follower of the Way does not intoxicate self or others, but rather cultivates and encourages clarity. 6) A follower of the Way does not slander, but rather cultivates and encourages respectful speech. 7) A follower of the Way neither extols self nor demeans others, but rather cultivates awareness of the interdependent nature of self. 8) A follower of the Way does not attach to anything, even the teaching, but rather cultivates mutual support and shares the dharma with all beings. 9) A follower of the Way does not harbor ill will, but rather cultivates loving-kindness, understanding and forgiveness. 10) A follower of the Way does not turn away from the Three Refuges, but rather cultivates and encourages taking refuge in them.
Zen mind is a term applied to the practice and understanding of Zen that is not limited to the cultural practices and sectarian methods that are often specifically promoted as Zen. Pure Zen concerns itself with the opening of an one's mind to the direct experience of higher consciousness (awareness) and/or an understanding of transcendent reality apart from cultural bias, religious dogma and sectarian tradition. Although those who practice Zen may use very traditional methods and styles, they are careful to point out that these methods and styles are merely tools and are not to be mistaken for Zen; like the saying "A finger pointing at the moon is not the moon".
Religions change and evolve with the passage of time. Religions also change when they move from one culture to another. Buddhism was nearly a thousand years old when the legendary monk from the West, Bodhidharma, is said to have brought Zen to China. The salient characteristic of Zen, the Mind-to-Mind transmission outside imagery and scriptures, can best be thought of as representing more a shift in emphasis rather than as a difference in doctrine from earlier Buddhist schools.
Kutadanta accused the Buddha: "I am told that you teach the law of life and the way, yet you tear down religion. Your followers despise rituals and abandon sacrifices. But reverence for the gods can only be shown through sacrifices. The very nature of religion is that of worship and sacrifice." The Buddha replied: "Greater than the massacring of bullocks is the sacrifice of self. He who offers up his evil desires will see the uselessness of slaughtering animals at the altar. Blood has no power to cleanse, but the giving up of harmful actions will make the heart whole. Better than worshiping gods is following the ways of goodness."