Zen (C. Chan) Frequently Asked Questions. Whats in this FAQ? 1. What is Zen? (The historical question) 2. What is Zen? (The spiritual question) 3. Why do Zen writings seem like nonsense? 4. What is meditation? (Zazen) 5. How should a beginner begin their study of Zen Buddhism? 6. Introductory reading list 7. About this FAQ 1. What is Zen? (The historical question) Historically, Buddhism originates in the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama. Around 500 B.C. he was a prince in what is now Nepal India. At the age of 29, deeply troubled by the suffering he saw around him, he renounced his privileged life and went out among the acetics to seek understanding. After 6 years of struggling as an ascetic he finally achieved the enlightenment of the 4 Noble Truths. After this he was known as the Buddha (meaning "one who is awaking"). In a nutshell, he realized that suffering exists (dukkha), suffering is caused by craving, suffering can be extinguished, and the way to the end of suffering (nirvana) is the eightfold path. The four noble truths and the path of the Middle way, are considered to summarize the whole of buddhist teaching about training on the path to enlightenment. Ch'an (the Chinese word for the Sanskrit 'Dhyana' which became the Japanese word 'Zazen' or just 'Zen') begins with a Central Asian Buddhist monk named Bodhidharma arriving in Southern China (470-475 C.E.) who belonged to the Lanka School which later became known as Ch'an/Zen. Based on the Lankavatara Sutra the doctrine of the Lanka School mainly concerned itself with the study of Mind, both its absolute nature and its evolved nature. It is believed by scholars that Bodhidharma lived and taught in Northern China for about fifty years. During the time of the Sixth Patriarch, Hui-neng 638-714), Ch'an became the largest Buddhist sect in China and established itself as a distinct school. The T'ang dynasty that followed would become the golden age of Ch'an, producing a score of the greatest Ch'an/Zen masters ever, such as: Ma-Tzu, Lin-chi (jap. Rinzai), Yung-men, Huang-po, Nan-chuan (jap. Nansen), Chao-chou (jap. Joshu) and many more. Around 1200 A.D. Chan Buddhism spread from China to Japan where it is called (at least in translation) Zen Buddhism. During the latter half of the 13th century, the great japanese master Dogen Zenji returned from his stay in China and formed the Soto Zen school, which has since then been the dominant school in Japan. Later, great masters such as Hakuin Zenji and Bankei would reform Japanese Zen and help it survive to this day, where it is still flourishing in Japan. In China, Ch'an was not, contrary to popular belief, wiped out by the communist regime, largely thanks to the great master Xu Yun who did much to revitalise Ch'an in the early half of the 20th century. Since the Cultural Revolution, Ch'an monasteries have been left relatively unharmed and is alive and well still in China today. 2. What is Zen? (The spiritual question) This question basically asks "What is the fundamental nature of Mind?" It appears in various guises throughout Zen literature, from "What is the meaning of Bodhidharmas coming from the West?" to "The One hand clapping sound." The question penetrates into the heart of the matter and can only be answered in a flash of intimate intuition in which the truth of Mind is seen to be the substratum of existence. As to the role of practice, or what the Chinese Zennists call "cultivation", Zen is paradoxically the cultivation of non-cultivation, recognizing that we need only remove the illusion of non-enlightenment to become enlightened. 3. Why do Zen writings seem like nonsense? One of the central points of Zen is intuitive comprehension. When we come to realize the fundamental nature of Mind, Zen becomes super-logical. On the other hand, when we attempt to examine the nature of Mind through emotions, ego-pain, mental pictures, and discursive ideas based on sense perception, Zen seems like nonsense. Because everything arises from Mind, Mind cannot be measured through its creations because the latter are not as perfect as Mind itself. On the other hand, directly coalescing with Mind everything makes perfect sense just as they are, as they arise from Mind. All things thus reveal the pure function of Buddha Mind. Just so, we see the natural world as a manifestation of the cosmic Buddha. When the Zen master Joshu wipes crumbs off his robe he is demonstrating the primordial power of Mind to move his body perfectlyalthough he is no longer attached to his body, now being Mind. 4. What is meditation? (Zazen) A. Introduction Meditation refers to contemplation, generally, the contemplation of both the body within and the living principle of Buddhism. The Buddhist Sanskrit term for meditation is BHAVANA which literally means the action of promoting, or the same, attending. Because we are potentially pure Mind, mentally attending to the body calms it down and makes it peaceful and less violent. In this meditation, we neither cling to thought forms and emotions, nor reject them. This is called Shamatha (C. chih) meditation. In Vipashyana (C. kuan), or insight meditation, Mind is directed to recollecting itself because it suffers from spiritual amnesia, having in the past followed its generations, forgetting its native whereabouts. Through Vipashyana meditation we come to uncover the nature of Mind itself. As a result, we observe that all phenomena are changing, momentary, and finite; that in fact they arise from the pure source of Mind itself and return to it moment to moment. Thus we begin to see that all things are like a dream, a sudden flash of lightning, or bubbles in a body of water. In seeing this way, we reside in the fixed immovable source of things, this being Mind. Both forms of meditation are vital in Zen Buddhism. But Shamatha meditation alone cannot restore the nature of Mind which we are unable to remember. The Zen adept also needs to meditate on just what the nature of Mind exactly is. Insight meditation as well, becomes impossible if the body is not relaxed and calmed. If we are attached to violent thoughts and emotions, unable to control our desires, Vipashyana meditation becomes difficult to maintain. B. SITTING METHODS The cross legged positions provide greatest stability. To sit in full lotus position, place the right foot on the left thigh and then the left foot on the right thigh. To sit in half lotus place your left foot on your right thigh. Try to cross the legs firmly so that a stable tripod of support is provided by the knees and the base of the spine. The order of the crossing of the legs may be reversed. It is also possible to simply sit on the floor with one foreleg in front of the other or kneeling using a bench or a cushion. To sit in a chair, place the feet flat on the floor and place your buttocks on the edge of the chair so the upper thighs are not touching the chair. Follow the rest of the instructions. Rest the knees firmly on the matt, for cross legged positions, straighten the lower back, push the buttocks outward and the hips forward, and straighten your spine. Pull in your chin and extend the neck as though to support the ceiling. The ears and shoulders should be in the same plane with the nose directly above the navel. Straighten the back and relax shoulders, back, and abdomen without changing posture. Keep the mouth closed placing the tongue with the tip just behind the front teeth and the rest of the ton gue as close to the roof of the mouth as comfortable. Keep the eyes at least slightly open cast downward at a 45 degree angle without focusing on anything. If closed you may slip into drowsiness or daydreaming. Rest the hands palm up on the knees and take 2 or 3 deep abdominal breaths. Exhale smoothly and slowly with the mouth slightly open by pulling in on the abdominal wall until all air has been expelled and inhale by closing the mouth and breathing naturally. Hands still on the knees sway the upper half of the body left to right a few times without moving the hips. Sway forward and back. These swayings are at first larger and then smaller enabling you to find the point of balance of your posture. Next, place your hands next to your abdomen, palms up with the left hand resting in the right hand with the thumbs slightly touching. While sitting, observe your breathing, but do not try to manipulate the rhythm or depth of the breath. Breathe gently and silently through the nose without attempting to control or manipulate the breathing. Let the breath come and go naturally so that you forget all about it. Simply let long breaths be long and short ones short. On inhalation the abdomen expands naturally like a balloon inflating, while on exhalation simply let it deflate. It is recommended that one feel a sense of strength in the abdomen in breathing, that the exhalation be done in a very slow smooth and gradual way or a very slight contraction of the anus on exhalation (this should be so slight it may be more felt as an intention than as a physical contraction) be performed. C. AWARENESS Do not concentrate on any particular object or attempt to control thoughts, emotions, or any modification of consciousness. By simply maintaining proper posture and breathing the mind settles by itself without fabrication. When thoughts, feelings, etc. arise, do not get caught up by them or fight them. Simply permit any object of mind to come and go freely. The essential point is to always strive to wake up from distraction (thoughts, emotions, images, etc.) or dullness and drowsiness. Letting go of any thought is itself thinking non-thinking. D. DIFFICULTIES AND EXPEDIENTS The art of right awareness may seem difficult and the description given above is idealized. If you are finding difficulties discouraging, talk about it with others. In zazen our fears and doubts are brought up, we may panic, get angry, cry or even laugh. Yet, we do return to Zazen again and again to face these terrors that haunt us in our every day life. As we do face our horrors of our self, we do see them for the Dharma that they are. Through the practice of Zazen, we are able to in an inapt way experience Emptiness and Enlightenment. As we sit, we let go of thoughts and ideas, we see how we have attached ourselves to the past and to the present. We may feel the tension of this attachment like an ship trying to pull away from the pier with may ropes holding it in place. Some ropes snap very violently others just ravel away. Zen elders state to just allow it to just happen. 5. How should a beginner begin their study of Zen Buddhism? First, it is always necessary to become familiar with the language of Buddhism. If you are not familiar with the language of Buddhism how can your friends help you and teach you about the mysterious nature of Mind? If you, for example, dont know what gold looks like, how can you begin your search? You need, for instance, to learn the Four Noble Truths, understanding what they mean. You need to know that the Four Noble Truths pertain to the nature of Mind, that when Mind blindly clings to its manifestations it comes to experience suffering, or the same, disharmony (dukkha). Beginners should be familiar with the canonical works of Buddhism called the Tripitakas. In addition they should read Mahayana scriptures of the Mahaprajnaparamita class, most important the Heart Sutra and the Diamond Sutra. In addition, students should read the foundational Sutra of Zen Buddhism which is the Lankavatara Sutra. Other Sutras such as the Shurangama, the Vimalakirti Nirdesa, and the Shrimaladevi Sutra, are also extremely important to read. As for Zen texts in particular, it is important to read orthodox material such as the The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma; The Platform Sutra by Hui Neng the Sixth Patriarch of Zen Buddhism; The Zen Teaching of Huang Po (read small excerpt here) and The Zen Teaching of Hui Hai. Beginners should avoid modern books on Zen if they do not teach Mind doctrine. Beginners should first ground themselves in orthodox Zen classics and traditional Buddhist literature avoiding non-Mind doctrine publications. In so doing they will be able to reach the fruit of the path sooner and come to know the joy of breaking the bonds of rebirth. In reading proper and accepted books on Zen Buddhism there will be no karmic error created either, and thus no future cause for regret. Historically, in China, Zen literature was by far the most widely published and read. Traditional Zen masters studied all the major Sutras and were very skilled in commenting on the arcane principles contained in the various Sutras. Beginners should understand that Zen Buddhism is the highest teaching in Buddhism, and to become members they must be great students. Just like the Marine Corps, for example, Zen only looking for a few good people. They need to be intelligent, free from religious pride, non-hating, and compassionate, and above all they need to love the sublime doctrine of the Buddhas, willing to study day and night so that their efforts might save all beings from further suffering. 6. INTRODUCTORY READING LIST The following short list of books is meant to help the beginner gain, not only a philosophical understanding of Zen, but also, at least, an intellectual understanding of Law of Buddha. There are many other books available, so many that space on this FAQ does not permit anything close to a comprehensive list. Instead we give this short list which covers most fundamental aspects of Zen and the Mind doctrine. There are also many other wonderful writers and books on this subject, this list is INTRODUCTORY ONLY. You are encouraged to use your intuition when selecting mater ial to read. May these books be the Point of departure of your path to Awakening. A Buddhist Bible Edited by Dwight GoddardBoston : Beacon Press,1970, c1938) This book has translations of the Diamond Sutra, Dao De King (more popularly known as Tao Te Ching), the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Zen Patriarch (See NOTE) the Awakening of Faith Shastra, solid fundamental discussions of the historical Buddha and his teachings. NOTE: This particular translation of the Sixth Patriarchs Platform Sutra is worded in a way which might be easier understood by reading other translations (other translations available on this site). Questions to a Zen Master By Taisen Deshimaru: Except for the excellent chapter on Zazen (Soto style) this book shows many basic religious and philosophical implications of Zen. With a heavy taste of the "just sitting" Soto Zen style, Master Deshimaru covers frontiers of the mind in an easy reading style that maintains the integrity of Truth. Zen letters : teachings of Yuanwu, trans. & ed. J.C. Cleary and Thomas Cleary. (Boston : Shambhala,1994) The Zen teachings of Master Lin-chi, trans. Burton Watson (Boston : Shambhala Publications, 1993) Meditating with koans, trans. J. C. Cleary (Berkeley, Calif: Asian Humanities Press, 1992) The transmission of the lamp : early masters trans. Sohaku Ogata (Wolfeboro, N.H. : Longwood Academic, 1990) The Zen teaching of Bodhidharma, trans. Red Pine (San Francisco : North Point Press, 1987) The record of Tung-shan, trans. William F. Powell (Honolulu : University of Hawaii Press, 1986) A Zen forest, sayings of the masters, trans. Soiku Shigematsu (New York : Weatherhill, 1981) Zen : poems, prayers, sermons, anecdotes, interviews, trans. Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto (Athens, Ohio : Swallow Press, Ohio University Press, 1981) The recorded sayings of Chan master Lin-chi Hui-chao of Chen prefecture, trans. Ruth Fuller Sasaki (Kyoto : Institute for Zen Studies, 1975). Read excerpt on this site. The Zen teaching of Hui Hai on sudden illumination, trans. John Blofeld (London : Rider,1969, c1962) The Zen teaching of Huang Po on the transmission of mind, trans. John Blofeld (Chu Chan) (London : The Buddhist Society,1968, c1958) Read excerpt on this site. Hui-neng, The Platform Scripture, trans. Chan, Wing-tsit (New York : St. Johns University Press, 1963) Alternatively, see another Translation on this site. The iron flute; 100 Zen koan, trans. Nyogen Senzaki and Ruth Strout McCandless (Tokyo, Rutland Vt. : C.E. Tuttle Co., 1961) Chan and Zen teaching, ed. & trans. Lu Kuan Yu (Charles Luk). (London : Rider,1960) Paul Reps, Zen flesh, Zen bones (Tokyo, Rutland, Vt. : C.E. Tuttle Co., 1957) D.T. Suzuki, Manual of Zen Buddhism, (London, New York : Published for the Buddhist Society, by Rider,1956) Sheng-Yen, Faith in Mind, A Guide to Ch'an Practise, (New York, published by Dharma Drum Publications, 1987). 7. About this FAQ You are free to distribute this Zen FAQ. Material Contributions: Luke C. Bairan, Allen L. Barker Compilation & Posting: Daryl Kinsman (ALT.ZEN NEWSGROUP) Revised and edited byMark Vetanen) Mvetanen@aol.com and (Ardent Hollingsworth) Zenmar@aol.com ©1995 Additional contributions to the original (such as links to recommended teachings that exists on this site, and Chinese Ch'an history) by: (Anders Honore) email@example.com.