A.Bodhidharma came from the West and expounded only the direct pointing at one's mind. At first, the term Zen (or chinese Ch'an [pronounced: tsaan]) was not used, but the outcome of this direct pointing was the subsequent awakening. In the practitioners' questions and answers, that which had no name was referred to as Zen. However, Zen cannot be understood by learning or by a lucky chance. When the self-mind (svacitta) is realized, either speech or silence, motions or stillness, are unexpectedly Zen. At the moment of this unexpected Zen, automatically true mind manifests itself. Thus we know that Zen does not stray from mind and that mind does not stray from Zen. Zen and mind are therefore two names of the same substance (from the Chung Feng Kuang Lu).
Q.What is the mind of Zen?
A. "This pure mind, the source of everything, shines on all with the brilliance of its own perfection, but the people of the world do not awake to it, regard only that which sees, hears, feels, and knows as mind" (Grandmaster His Yun).
Q.Does Zen teach no reliance on the words of the Buddha?
A. "If one just depends on the sayings of the Buddha and does not infer for himself, his realization will be no more than a matter of baseless faith. If one just holds on to direct perception, taking what he perceives for himself to be authoritative without comparing it to the sayings of the Buddha, then how can he know whether it is true or false?" (Grandmaster Tsung-mi)
Q. Is Zen the path of sudden enlightenment?
A."All those who want to learn Zen (the Way) must achieve Sudden Enlightenment to be followed by Gradual Cultivation. It is like child-birth, which is a sudden affair, but the child will require a long process of nurture and education before he attains his full bodily and intellectual growth." (Grandmaster Shên Hui)
Q.Is our true mind just ordinary thoughts?
A."True mind does not follow thoughts when they are created, and it does not follow thoughts when they become extinct.... This spiritual essence is ultimately unobtainable and imperceptible, but can be seen by the eyes as such-ness. It is nothing but the object of intuitive attainment." (Grandmaster Wu Chu)
Q. Why rules?
A. Though not everyone may understand all details, everything we do is intended to aid and support successful meditation practice. Like in all trades and disciplines, we adhere to structure, such as meditation under the direction of a master, specific postures during sitting and walking meditation, breathing techniques, individual guidance, dharma talks; in short -- mindfulness.
Q. Why rituals?
A. Once Zen Buddhism took hold here in the west and ordinary people began to practice Zen seriously, they began to surmise that zazen (sitting meditation), kinhin (walking meditation) and other meditation-related practices resemble what they understood to be ritualized practice originating from East Asia. While this perception initially created some tension with the popular anti-ritual image of ancient Zen masters, ironically an interest in what they perceived to be Zen ritual slowly increased, though with awareness of its fundamental role in the spirit of Zen. Eventually, Zen practitioners would come to understand the fundamental Zen premise of no-mind, i.e. the open and awakened state of mind in which ingrained habits of thinking give way to more receptive, direct forms of experience. This in turn redirects to a new perspective of "ritual as non-ritual" being merely a vehicle to spiritual awakening. Zen etiquette or discipline continues to be perceived as actual ritual by some and tends to be compared to ritualistic action in the western sense of our cultural or Christian upbringing. Hence the common understanding of ritual is usually connected to the religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order of a particular religion or church.
The word "ritual" linguistically has at least two different meanings, one that of religious ritual, the other that of habitual action. Neither applies to Zen. Zen here in the west is not (yet) rooted in society as it is in Asian countries since Bodhidharma's and Dogen's days. Hence we tend to treat Zen Buddhism as some form of religion (which of course it isn't) and categorize its practice elements according to our conditioned cultural understanding. Only those who seriously live a Zen life have overcome this habitual trend and take spiritual practice for what it is: spiritual practice -- nothing more, nothing less. This redirects us to the new Zen perspective of "ritual as non-ritual" being merely a vehicle to spiritual awakening.
Zen is neither religion, nor church; neither theistic nor knows solemn rites. Zen discourages from habitual thinking and action. All is directed towards mindfulness, not habits or rituals in whatever situation or form. Nevertheless, it is needless to say that proper teaching, training, guidance and discipline will ultimately bear fruit -- as in all other areas of life -- and lack thereof is only worth as much as it may or may not produce.
Q. Do you hold ceremonies?
A. Our ceremonies, such as Precepts, ordination, wedding, funeral, etc., usually constitute milestones in a person's life. Our festivals highlight a significant communal element as we celebrate a particular event or aspect of Dharma realization. If you attended one of them you can see that there is nothing that would resemble a religious rite to which we are accustomed in our (Christian) culture. Our ceremonies and festivals are indeed cherished because of spontaneity, local preference and flexibility of the participants, though not without structure and form. Their beauty lies in simplicity, directness and common experience.
Q. Why do I need to meditate in order to know Zen?
A. No matter how much a person likes, studies or reads about Buddhism and meditation, the outcome of such has little to do with awakening and enlightenment, since the latter is rooted in Zen realization and dharma identification. People from various backgrounds, such as cultural upbringing, education, occupation, experiences, religious beliefs, ideologies, etc. often hold to a fixed approach that may contradict with the true purpose of the Buddhist path and its precepts. Thus, a preconceived approach to Zen jeopardizes its effect and purpose. As Thich Nhat Hanh so well phrased it: “Many of us are not capable of releasing the past, of releasing the suffering of the past. We want to cling to our own suffering."
Q. Why do you not use guided meditation?
A. Though we do give guidance in regards to proper zazen (sitting meditation) and kinhin (walking meditation) the term "guided meditation" is generally understood as being akin to guided imagery, a popular technique that focuses and directs the imagination toward a conscious goal. This is not what Zen is about. Through the practice of zazen, we try to clear the mind of concepts, ideas, illusions and imagery -- in other words, we clear the mind, so we can be in the present moment, experiencing the here and now. Though it may be relaxing, so-called guided meditation only adds to the cluttered mind and takes the mind once again to the past or future, both of which are not the present reality. Meditation is not needed for reminiscing about the past or imagining some guided scenario.
Q. Does meditation lead to enlightenment?
A. Meditation is often described by experienced practitioners as a state of receptivity without expectation, a merging with the universe.
Meditation practice is not identical with enlightenment, nor does Zen meditation seek enlightenment. In general (with exceptions of course), meditating regularly may achieve a few moments of awakening. By practicing meditation for years one may enter a meditative state of being, leading an enlightened life.
Q. Do I have to be vegetarian in order to practice Buddhism?
A. Not every Buddhist is vegetarian, but a vegetarian only diet is felt my many as spiritual development into higher consciousness. Over a lifetime, we come to realize certain conditions, predicaments, illusions and beliefs/ideas that we have overcome and eventually transcended to the levels of deeper spiritual development. In short, we call it spiritual growth. This ability is unique to us humans vs. other sentient beings, who are incapable of such awareness.
By aspiring to the first Precept many have come to realize that eating meat and fish is participating in the suffering and killing of sentient beings, some of whom having been mistreated (such as the notorious chicken houses), or hunted down, including those animals that suffocated a cruel death by being taken out of the water and tossed carelessly into containers.
There are of course many more reasons for vegetarianism -- at economic, political, cultural and simply environmental levels.
For further study, this excellent book will give more detailed insights: "To Cherish All Life: A Buddhist Case for Becoming Vegetarian" by Roshi Philip Kapleau, a contemporary renown Zen master. It is available in soft copy as free download from our web site http://www.lotustemple.us/helpfullinks.html
Q. Can I drink as a Buddhist?
A. Regarding our Precept of no intoxication, such as alcoholic beverages, a glass of wine or beer with a meal does not intoxicate. There are also medicinal benefits in the very moderate consumption of bitter beers and red wines. Obviously, virtually all of civilization and its respective societies seems to have an ever increasing alcoholism problem, resulting in countless accidents, crimes and domestic deterioration. In light of this, we advocate moderate or no drinking, even if only as to give the best example as Buddhists for the benefit of others.