Describing Zen to another person

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  • Jakugan
    Member
    • Jan 2013
    • 303

    Describing Zen to another person

    Apologies if this is a thread that has been done to death before.

    I was asked by a work colleague yesterday as to what exactly Zen was.

    Rather than give him an explanation, I simply said that the words I gave would be meaningless as they would never be able to convey what it is like to practice such a path (whenever I give an explantion when asked it always comes out sounding like nonsense it seems). I said that if he was interested in Zen then he should try it out for himself to see what it means.
    I was wondering, how would you describe Zen if someone asked the question?

    Gassho,

    Simon
  • Kokuu
    Treeleaf Priest
    • Nov 2012
    • 6750

    #2
    I think you did exactly right, Simon. Inviting him to sit with you would be a good thing if he is actually thinking of practicing rather than just interested in a friend's life.

    Otherwise, I might offer to loan a book like Joko Beck's 'Everyday Zen' which seems (to me) to capture the essence of Zen practice in a way I would struggle to achieve myself.

    Gassho
    Andy

    Comment

    • Taigu
      Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest
      • Aug 2008
      • 2710

      #3
      Be zen.
      Be ordinary.
      Be just you.

      Gassho

      T.

      Comment

      • Kokuu
        Treeleaf Priest
        • Nov 2012
        • 6750

        #4
        Taigu, this is a genuine question which I often struggle with - if Zen exemplifies the ordinariness of things, why the need for a black robe, kesa and shaved head? That seems to be a contradiction in which the ordained person is setting themselves aside as extraordinary in some way and apart from the world.

        To be honest, I like the image of the homeless mendicant but wonder if this is just another attachment? This is meant in no way as disrespect to all of you who have taken ordination vows that I respect greatly but the contradiction between ordinariness and having clothes and hair that stand out from the crowd is something I can't get my head around.

        Gassho
        Andy

        Comment

        • Nengyo
          Member
          • May 2012
          • 668

          #5
          I think my new stock answer will be my signature, "Zen is the world's most boring cult."

          I know I've seen other people write about this effect, but I still think that it is funny that when I first started reading about zen I was amazed, it really struck a chord. After reading some more, I really thought I had it about figured out. A little more alan watts, a dash of "zen mind, beginners mind", and a touch of koan reading and I would be zen mastering in no time. Now I can really laugh at that idea. I have no clue what zen is, where it is at, or how to get to it. I just sit on my cushion and wait to snag it if it ever walks by.
          If I'm already enlightened why the hell is this so hard?

          Comment

          • Jishin
            Member
            • Oct 2012
            • 4819

            #6
            Hi Simon,

            My answer depends on the individual who is asking and also my mood. Since nothing I can say is right, I can't go wrong when answering the question of what is Zen.

            Gassho, John

            Comment

            • Myosha
              Member
              • Mar 2013
              • 2974

              #7
              Depending on the person - a long answer and/or a short answer:

              Short answer - Zen - A Japanese school of Maháyana Buddhism emphasizing the value of zazen and intuition rather than ritual worship or study of scriptures.

              Long answer - Zen is all


              Gassho,
              Edward
              "Recognize suffering, remove suffering." - Shakyamuni Buddha when asked, "Uhm . . .what?"

              Comment

              • Jundo
                Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                • Apr 2006
                • 39221

                #8
                Originally posted by Taigu
                Be zen.
                Be ordinary.
                Be just you.

                Gassho

                T.
                Zen - "What Zen"? Being "What Be"?

                Extra-ordinary-ordinary.

                you no you. Just.
                Last edited by Jundo; 06-28-2013, 04:44 PM.
                ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                Comment

                • Juki
                  Member
                  • Dec 2012
                  • 771

                  #9
                  Forrest Gump famoulsy said that life ws like a box of chocolates.

                  For me, Zen is like a can of spaghetti and meatballs. Chef Boyardee staring at you sternly from the label, inviting you to open the can (koan), sit down, and examine the contents. Zen is the gummy pasta, the heartburn-inducing sauce and the mystery meatballs all joined together in unison. It remains Zen even after the meal is digested and the can is recycled.

                  Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong. I don't recall Dogen referring to canned spaghetti in his Instructions to the Cook.

                  Gassho,

                  William
                  Last edited by Juki; 06-28-2013, 05:47 PM.
                  "First you have to give up." Tyler Durden

                  Comment

                  • Jundo
                    Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                    • Apr 2006
                    • 39221

                    #10
                    Originally posted by Karasu
                    Taigu, this is a genuine question which I often struggle with - if Zen exemplifies the ordinariness of things, why the need for a black robe, kesa and shaved head? That seems to be a contradiction in which the ordained person is setting themselves aside as extraordinary in some way and apart from the world.

                    To be honest, I like the image of the homeless mendicant but wonder if this is just another attachment? This is meant in no way as disrespect to all of you who have taken ordination vows that I respect greatly but the contradiction between ordinariness and having clothes and hair that stand out from the crowd is something I can't get my head around.

                    Gassho
                    Andy
                    Andy, if I may pending Taigu ...

                    I think the robes and kesa and shaved head are ordinary and extra ordinary.

                    The robe of rags, shaved head free of worldly concerns of beauty, the simple begging bowl which accepts whatever is placed within ... they are the abandonment of attachment to things and appearances. If one truly "stands out from the crowd" in one's robes, it is certainly something in this modern world more likely to be met with confused and even scornful looks (or fear) from the public.

                    Here is a photo of Taigu, engaged in one of his periodic mendicancy rounds in front of the train station. He has some great stories of people who offered a kind word or simple Gassho, but (even here in Japan) most folks just walk on past, averting their eyes, as if stepping around a madman.



                    Gassho, J
                    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                    Comment

                    • Kokuu
                      Treeleaf Priest
                      • Nov 2012
                      • 6750

                      #11
                      Thank you, Jundo. That makes some kind of sense. I guess my head will have to deal with ordinary and extraordinary at the same time!

                      It does surprise me that monks are seen as some kind of madmen in Japan. Or is it just Taigu? ;-)


                      Gassho
                      Andy

                      Comment

                      • Nengyo
                        Member
                        • May 2012
                        • 668

                        #12
                        Originally posted by Karasu
                        It does surprise me that monks are seen as some kind of madmen in Japan. Or is it just Taigu? ;-)
                        It's just Taigu. That's one of the reasons I stick around.
                        If I'm already enlightened why the hell is this so hard?

                        Comment

                        • Taigu
                          Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest
                          • Aug 2008
                          • 2710

                          #13
                          Hi all,

                          And thank you Karasu for raising your point. Seen as madmen? yes and no. In materialistic Japan, Zen guys are often seen as materialistic creatures ( and sure some can when in the trade of priesthood, running a temple, getting a lot of money for chanting stuff nobody understands or cares about, driving expensive cars) or they can be seen as just useless crap from a distant past. Sometimes, they are also be revered with a superstitious mind, and people would gassho them in the streets, a gassho which is partly tradition, partly respect, partly fear. But they are also part of the ordinary daily fabric of cities and countryside, with these trails of scattered black robed priests with straw hats and sandals shouting : hooooooooooooo! In they begging rounds. Sometimes, as people know they cannot answer or react, they are teased, jocked at or having to-put up with foul language.

                          Now as to this question of yours, very legitimate, some Zen teachers in recent history of Zen decided to make sitting simple, without robes or shaved head. Some teachers in the past did the same, rejecting the position of abbots and living poorly and anonymously in the countryside or just under the bridges of Kyoto or Tokyo like Tosui. And yes, I do merge and mix day in day out in the crowd when I commute.
                          Simply this ordinary-extraorinary robe, the kesa, beyond thinking and not thinking, is an expression of the whole body of reality. Shaving one s head is making things simple.
                          Nothing to say, kesa and zazen are both part of this path. Even if you apparently drop the okesa it is still with you. You simply cannot drop it and cannot receive it as it has always been with you.
                          Take care

                          Gassho

                          T.
                          Last edited by Taigu; 06-29-2013, 12:07 AM.

                          Comment

                          • Joyo

                            #14
                            Thanks for the interesting discussion. I have had a very hard time describing Zen, even to other Buddhists who ask me about it. I guess the words that come to mind are emptiness, no form, free of all perceptions and living in the now--no expectations, no labels, just be. But, if I were to answer this question tomorrow I may have something completely different.

                            I think you gave the right answer, Simon.

                            Gassho,
                            Treena

                            Comment

                            • Kokuu
                              Treeleaf Priest
                              • Nov 2012
                              • 6750

                              #15
                              Thank you so much for your answer, Taigu. It is interesting how the sight of a Zen priest can affect someone's mind. I am grateful there are those of you who still put yourselves out there as a reminder to others of this way of being.

                              I guess my question reflects my own attitude to the robe which carries both the aversion of standing out and attraction of that too. Sometimes the lineage history which is woven into the kesa seems like a heavy thing to bear.

                              Gassho
                              Andy

                              Comment

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