The Practice of Zen

Zen can offer something very simple, very direct and readily accessible to anyone seeking inner peace, seeking healing in some form, or seeking answers to questions such as ‘Who am I?’ ‘How can I find meaning in my life?’ ‘How can I live in a most authentic way?’

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Morning Treasures

Brian Chisholm

IMG_66071Daybreak at the MKZC. During kinhin, the first sunlight slants in through the blinds, casting faint shadows on the wood-patterned floor. Morning has become my favorite time for zazen, and this room the best place to celebrate the beginning of a new day. The birds outside sing to the rising sun. It is difficult not to indulge in exaltation when sitting here in the morning. One imagines the whole universe conspiring to kindle joy.

The love of mornings is new to me. In only two years, this practice has become a central part of my daily life. I find it difficult to remember that not long ago I disliked early mornings, was indifferent to nature, and believed that the Intellect could somehow grasp the Essential.How could these shifts in perspective have taken hold so quickly?

I recall talking to a kind woman, a long-time practitioner, at the Thursday evening meal before my first sesshin. She said that Zen practice would dramatically change my life. She may have used the words, “unrecognizable to yourself.” I nodded in skeptical acknowledgement. It wasn’t that I doubted Zen’s transformative powers, but life-altering change was not my goal. Yes, I was seeking answers to some deep questions, but my life didn’t need dramatic change.

Peaceful Kanzeon sits above the fireplace this morning, and as we turn to face the wall in zazen, I am reminded of the Three Treasures and how they are manifested and celebrated in this very room: the Buddha, the Sangha, the Dharma, all fully present in the zendo. Hakuin is present too, and I often hear an echo of his kindly admonitions in my daily activities: “How near the truth, yet how far we seek…the gateway to freedom is zazen Samadhi… what is there we lack?”

Anyone inclined to self-observation will acknowledge the transience of identity. Buckminster Fuller expressed this transience in the title of his 1970 book, I Seem To Be A Verb. But something more is required to move “past clever words” and truly experience the vibrant truth that intellectual images can only model. That missing element is Hakuin’s praiseworthy practice, and for me at least, it has become the finest way to begin a new day.

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Leaving the MKZC in the morning, nothing is familiar. The door closes with a crisp new sound. Regardless of the season or weather, the quality of the light is unique. It reveals all things-the grass, the trees, the buildings, even one’s “self”-in their dynamic, miraculous aspect. The ordinary is banished; nothing plain or lowly remains.