Is Zen Enough?

6_8_supermanI just finished my first European gig of 2015, a three-day non-residential zazen retreat in Munich. The question that kept coming up in different forms during the Q&A sessions and dokusans (private meetings) was “Is Zen enough?”

At first the question confused me. Enough for what?

It seems that a lot of people expect some kind of transformation to occur as a result of whatever sort of self-improvement thing they’re involved in. If you’re neurotic, you go to an analyst, pay him money and expect some kind of cure or at least some advice and help dealing with your neurosis. If you feel like you’ve sinned, you go to a priest and he says some magic words to convince God to forgive you and you’re absolved.

But Zen practice doesn’t offer anything like that. Even so, people tend to expect something like that to happen. They’re disappointed when it doesn’t.

There are studies that claim meditation is no better at fixing your problems than ordinary relaxation or drugs. Those studies are looking at the wrong things.

I’ve participated in some of these studies myself. What they’ve done is hooked up a bunch of wires and blood pressure cuffs and things to me or put me in an MRI machine and said, “All right. Now meditate!”

I suppose they expect some kind of supernatural effect to happen. Like my blood pressure will suddenly drop or my brainwaves will move into the alpha zone or whatever. When that doesn’t happen, or when it happens but it’s only as much of a change as someone else gets when they take anti-depressants or a nap, they conclude that meditation has the same effect as those things.

But that isn’t how meditation works. Not the way I do it, at least.

In Zen meditation, we sit down and be with ourselves. We make no attempt to change anything. We just try to sit very still and very quietly with whatever is there. We’re not even trying to observe it. We’re just trying to remain with it.

When you do that, your blood pressure doesn’t necessarily drop and your brainwaves don’t necessarily switch to a different state. But you may become aware that your blood pressure is too high – probably not directly, but you’ll feel something is off. Or you notice that your mental state is uncomfortably overactive. Seeing how that feels over and over again as you continue working with the practice, you’ll gradually start to notice how you are behaving in ways that make those things happen. You’ll start to see how to stop doing that stuff.

Or maybe people who ask if Zen is enough think that Zen practice is too self-centered. You sit there meditating and maybe you feel better, but what does that do for the world? It’s still a big mess. Shouldn’t we go out there and do something about it?

But if you’re like me, unless you’re on a retreat or something, you only spend an hour or less a day doing zazen. That leaves you eight hours to sleep and fifteen hours each day to do whatever you want to solve the world’s ills. No problem so far.

As for saving the planet and all that, though, I get it. It doesn’t seem like you’re doing much to prevent global warming or nuclear proliferation by sitting and staring at a blank wall. But maybe you are.

My friend Rob Robbins was troubled by the First Bodhisattva Vow, which says, “I vow to save all beings.” It sounds impossible. And it is. If by “saving all beings” you’re imagining you have to be Superman and rescue everybody from whatever trouble they’re in.

Rob found a brilliant way to rephrase that vow. He said, “I vow to save all beings… from myself.”

We can’t do all that much as individuals to solve everything that’s wrong with the world. But we can learn not to add to those problems unnecessarily. We do that by sitting with ourselves and seeing how we personally contribute to the very problems we hope to solve. I don’t mean that we get a magic download during our big transcendent moments about which kinds of plastic are recyclable and which are not. We learn how, moment-by-moment in each of our interactions we very often create problems that don’t really need to be there.

We see it because we sit with ourselves watching it happen in real time.

To me, the question of whether Zen is enough has never seemed problematic. I can do all the things anyone else does to save the world or improve myself psychologically. Nobody has ever suggested I shouldn’t do that kind of stuff. In fact, my daily zazen practice has brought me more in tune with the sorts of things I can do when I’m not on my cushion to help with those matters.

Often it’s not what I expected.

For example, before I moved to Japan I had a very altruistic save-the-world type job. I worked for an organization dedicated to helping mentally handicapped adults function outside of institutions. It was the kind of job anyone who wanted to do good in the world could feel proud of. But I hated it.

Fast forward a few years and I’m living in Japan working for people who make cheezy monster movies. I loved that job. But I felt terribly guilty about it. I’d gone from saving the planet to making trashy movies.

But Nishijima Roshi, my Zen teacher, set me straight. He showed me how to do the job I was doing with the attitude of doing service for the world. It’s like the scene at the end of Woody Allen’s movie Stardust Memories. Woody plays a comedian and filmmaker who feels guilty because he’s not doing something important. He’s just making funny movies. He meets some aliens who tell him, “If you want to do a real service for mankind, tell funnier jokes.”

Nishijima Roshi told me to continue working for Tsuburaya Productions and to do the small things I was able to make the programs we made more helpful. “Just do a little,” he said.

I think a little is often enough.

UPCOMING EVENTS

August 19, 2015 Munich, Germany LECTURE

August 24-29, 2015 Felsentor, Switzerland 5-DAY RETREAT AT STIFTUNG FELSENTOR 

August 30-September 4, 2015 Holzkirchen, Germany 5-DAY RETREAT AT BENEDIKTUSHOF MONASTERY

September 4, 2015 Hamburg, Germany SCREENING OF HARDCORE ZEN MOVIE WITH TALK

September 6, 2015 Hamburg, Germany ZEN DAY

September 8t, 2015 Helsinki, Finland  LECTURE Mannerheimintie 5, 5th floor Mannerheim hall 5:30pm

September 9, 2015 Malmi, Finland

September 10-13, 2015 Finland 4-DAY RETREAT

September 16-19, 20015 Hebden Bridge, England 4-DAY RETREAT

September 20, 2015 London, England THE ART OF SITTING DOWN & SHUTTING UP (sold out, but there is a waiting list in case people cancel.)

September 21-25, 2015 Belfast, Northern Ireland SPECIFIC DATES TO BE DETERMINED

September 26-27, 2015 Glastonbury, England 2-DAY RETREAT

October 26-27 Cincinnati, Ohio Concert:Nova

November 6-8, 2015 Mt. Baldy, CA 3-DAY RETREAT

April 23, 2016 Long Island, New York Molloy College “Spring Awakening 2016”

 

ONGOING EVENTS

All of these events will still happen each week while I’m away.

Every Monday at 8pm there’s zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. Beginners only!

Every Saturday at 9:30 there’s zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. Beginners only!

Plenty more info is available on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles website, dsla.info

* * *

Zen is often not enough to cover my rent and on-going expenses. Your donations are still important. I appreciate your on-going support!

 

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64 Responses

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  1. Mumbles
    Mumbles August 17, 2015 at 4:53 am |

    Zen is enough for breakfast, which is what I just had, while reading your post. I very much like this advice “Just do a little.” I’m going to practice it today at work.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMjzxHzZnnI

    Shoot, I remember that being “save the world.” Oh well, neither works…

  2. chasrmartin
    chasrmartin August 17, 2015 at 6:18 am |

    After I’d been doing zazen for about 7 years, I got hooked up with an experiment in college that included monitoring blood pressure. Seeing my blood pressure more or less continuously, I realized I could *feel* my blood pressure as a sense of constriction in my upper abdomen.

    Much later, in medical school, I learned of the aortic arch baroreceptors: we have nerves that “feel” blood pressure directly. Not exactly in the upper abdomen, but close.

    Interesting, that.

  3. RickMatz
    RickMatz August 17, 2015 at 6:23 am |

    When I’m in practice, I don’t come up with a lot of answers, but the questions tend to fade away.

  4. Hungry Ghost
    Hungry Ghost August 17, 2015 at 7:02 am |

    I had this moment a year or two ago where I was frustrated with my meditation not ‘going anywhere’ and I started bitching to my girlfriend saying something like “this doesn’t do anything, in fact I think it makes me worse – more depressed, less able to control my neuroses, etc. – I think I’m gonna quit this bullshit.” I’ll never forget the anxious and wide-eyed look on her face as she said something like “no, you’re not quitting meditation, it doesn’t make you worse it makes you better and more considerate and more able to function.” It was a complete surprise – I had know idea there was anything noticeably different about me – I hadn’t experienced any change. So I still sit everyday largely because of that look on her face and I’ve been able to take ‘myself’ out of it (somewhat) and just sit understanding that I don’t really get to directly feel any reward or change because sitting isn’t for ‘me’ there is no ‘me’ in sitting and I suspect ‘me’ will cry and gnash his teeth and try to convince ‘not-me’ to quit sitting until the day I die.

  5. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 17, 2015 at 10:02 am |

    I really enjoyed reading this post, Brad, but after doing a one-day sitting at the Berkeley Zen Center, I have to say the same sentiment has been in my heart for the last two days, namely:

    “Okay, I have had enough, what else can you show me?” (Dylan, “It’s Alright, Ma”)

    My posture is not that good. I’ve always hoped that learning the lotus would straighten me out, but right now it seems to be doing the opposite, if anything. I look sort of like this guy, except my shoulders are rounded, as well as my head.

    At the Zen Center, I talked to Mel Weitsman, who said he was sorely tempted to correct my posture, and that if I came around the Zen Center more often to sit, he probably would correct my posture. I asked him if he thought that would do any good (as far as bettering my posture): he said, “no.”

    I take from this that Mel has some concern about how students at the Zen Center represent him, and if I were a regular then he would have to consider me a student, and he would feel compelled to correct my posture.

    I have lately discovered a few things about posture, and I’m hopeful that by focusing on the interplay between pressure in the “fluid ball” in the abdomen and the comprehension of the long or short of inhalation or exhalation, I will someday be able to sit the lotus for a five day or seven day sesshin (right now three is about the max). One relevant piece of information is that, according to Bartilink, the pressure in the fluid ball is induced primarily by the muscles of the pelvic floor and the transverse muscles of the abdomen; I do find that these muscles are coming forward more in my practice lately, in a way I’ve only occasionally been aware of before. If they continue to come forward as I sit and walk, I think their use and their coordination may affect my overall posture.

    I’m not so concerned about the way I look, but I’m regularly reminded that other people are concerned about it. I’ve always felt like change for me would have to come from the inside out. That feeling is apparently not shared by many American Zen teachers.

    I keep thinking about Richard Baker, straightening a picture on the wall that was crooked, and Shunryu Suzuki coming right after him and returning the picture to crooked; I believe Baker said it was something Suzuki did that he never understood. Maybe I’m that picture, for a lot of teachers, and even for a few friends. I accept that learning how it works is more important than appearances, that learning how a fluid posture is effected is the only way for me to realize any change, and that if I realize change then what I have learned may be of use to others and that’s the most important thing.

    But I find myself thinking this morning, why would I now want to sit three, or five, or seven days in sesshin, chant in Japanese, bow and listen to lectures about Zen practice, or about the precepts, or about mystical Buddhism? Everything I need is right here wherever I am, and what interests me is “zazen sits zazen”*, not “how to practice zazen”; “how to practice zazen”, or “how to practice Zen”, is just a set of handcuffs as far as I’m concerned, and I’m with Dylan on that one.

    *As Shunryu Suzuki said to Blanche Hartman- Hartman interview on cuke.com

  6. mika
    mika August 17, 2015 at 11:35 am |

    What does “September 9, 2015 Malmi, Finland” mean? That’s just a place, and not a very specific one at that (Malmi is one of the suburbs/districts of Helsinki). Is the event still being negotiated or did you miss something?

  7. Zafu
    Zafu August 17, 2015 at 11:38 am |

    Nishijima Roshi told me to continue working for Tsuburaya Productions and to do the small things I was able to make the programs we made more helpful. “Just do a little,” he said.

    I think a little is often enough.
    ~Brad Warner

    A little is more than enough in religion. It is truly astonishing how little a religion actually needs to provide. Just a little meaning is all that is required. Any half-baked story will do, really, if it comes from any sort of authority. If an old dude living in a tiny apartment in Japan says that working for movie studio is okay, then it’s okay, because he’s an authority. If he said that working for an arms dealer was okay then that would be okay. If he said that working for a movie studio was not okay, then you would probably find some other authority figure who would tell you it’s okay. That’s how religion works. It’s not about making anything better or worse. It’s merely about meaning, for those who can’t find it for themselves.

  8. sri_barence
    sri_barence August 17, 2015 at 11:54 am |

    Enough of what? For what? For whom? For how long?

    I agree with Brad; the question is confusing. Maybe more zazen is necessary. Will that be enough?

  9. Sleety Dribble
    Sleety Dribble August 17, 2015 at 12:48 pm |

    @Brad,

    What about “Is Zen enough to do whatever a traditional Theravada practice does?”

    I’m trying to decide which of Theravada/Tibetan/Zen to pursue because I’m not getting on very far on my own, in terms of meditation anyway. In my local area, Zen is best represented in terms of sangha, but my prior reading/study has been around Theravada and, a little less, Tibetan.

    So in Theravada, one “aims” (yes, yes, I know, we’re not supposed to “aim” but for now I speak only English, not Enlightenmentese) for Stream Entry, and then for the subsequent three levels of enlightenment. I like that it’s so specific – sounds like it’s been tried and tested. Even the initial route to Stream Entry seems pretty much like “keep putting one foot in front of the other and you’ll see these sights on your journey to enlightenment”. This is all very Dan Ingram and “Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha” (for both of which I have great respect).

    So what about Zen? Is Zen enough to reach those things (even if it calls them by different names)? Or does it have other things, just as useful (in the context of the end of suffering)?

    Because of the sangha options, I’d really like to convince myself that Zen is a good choice, but it confuses the crap out of me. To be frank, it’s not even clear to me that Zen *is* Buddhism (not that that would necessarily deter me – I’m not Buddhist myself). I often wonder if Zen is to Buddhism what Mormonism or Christadelphianism are to Christianity.

    1. Fred
      Fred August 17, 2015 at 2:14 pm |

      “So what about Zen? Is Zen enough to reach those things (even if it calls them by different names)? Or does it have other things, just as useful (in the context of the end of suffering)?”

      Who is reaching what things?

      An ineffable, intuitive insight happens. It doesn’t necessarily happen to someone. It just happens.

      1. Sleety Dribble
        Sleety Dribble August 17, 2015 at 9:25 pm |

        > Who is reaching what things?
        > An ineffable, intuitive insight happens. It doesn’t necessarily happen to
        > someone. It just happens.

        Yeah, in the context of my question, those words mean nothing to me.

        1. Fr3d
          Fr3d August 17, 2015 at 10:59 pm |

          The empty hand grasps the hoe handle
          Walking along, I ride the ox
          The ox crosses the wooden bridge
          The bridge is flowing, the water is still

        2. The Grand Canyon
          The Grand Canyon August 18, 2015 at 4:41 am |

          He was not trying to answer your question. He was just trying to show how clever he thinks he is.
          In my opinion, if you have several sangha options available to you, you should probably visit them all and see which ones feel right and which ones feel like scams, cults, or supernatural nonsense. It’s not something that you can decide without some actual experiences, and not something that total strangers can decide for you on the internet.
          I apologize if I am just stating the obvious, but nobody else seems willing to answer your question.

    2. Oh Matty Blue
      Oh Matty Blue August 18, 2015 at 10:30 am |

      Not sure if this article from yesterday (last paragraph) or this article from today will help your or not; seems like they might though, plus the timing is nice.

      Actually, the first one sort of addresses Brad’s recent blog post about psychedelics as well; pretty much the same opinion that Trungpa Rinpoche had about psychedelics (which he refers to as “obsolete”) in The Path is the Goal.

      What The Grand Canyon said is great as well (I think Fred was saying “just sit”, also, heh). Personally, I’d say as long as you’re studying some kind of dharma, digesting and thinking about it, balancing it out with daily sitting practice, and aren’t totally baffled, you’re doing okay for the time being… or just listen to one those Zen(tm) brainwave CDs; seriously, who has the time for this bullshit?!

      1. Oh Matty Blue
        Oh Matty Blue August 18, 2015 at 10:36 am |

        Should also probably have mentioned that “Path is the Goal” link is meant to be bottom of page 100-104.

  10. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 17, 2015 at 3:13 pm |

    One of my favorite parts of the Pali Suttas (which constitute the sermon volumes of the Thervadan sacred texts) is the part in Sanyutta Nikaya V where a description is given of the many monks who tried to follow the practice of meditating on the unlovely (as Gautama had prescribed), and ended up committing suicide. Ananda, Gautama’s attendent, sums up by saying, “It were a good thing, lord, if the Exalted One would teach some other method, so that the order of monks might be established in gnosis.”

    At this point, Gautama describes “concentration on in-breathing and out-breathing” (or “the practice of the (mind-)development that is mindfulness on in-breathing and out-breathing”, depending on your translator). He says “this intent concentration on in-breathing and out-breathing, if cultivated and made much of, is something peaceful and choice, something perfect in itself, and a pleasant way of living too.”

    Notice that there is no mention of enlightenment here. “This intent concentration”, he says, “is… something perfect in itself”. How Soto can you get. A concentration which, when cultivated and made much of, is perfect in itself.

    This is not the Satipatthana four fields of mindfulness, but a special case rendition of them, that Gautama said was his own way of living.

    Might not have heard about this in the Zen Center, in the Theravadin temple, or in the Tibetan temple, in spite of the fact that in MN III 78-88 (pg 121 Pali Text Society), Gautama seems to place it above all these other things that a monk could find themselves practicing the (mind-) development of:

    1) the four applications of mindfulness
    2) the four right efforts
    3) the four bases of psychic power
    4) the five controlling faculties
    5) the five powers
    6) the seven links in awakening
    7) the Ariyan eightfold Way
    8) friendliness
    9) compassion
    10) sympathetic joy
    11) equanimity
    12) the foul (meditation on the unlovely)
    13) the perception of impermanence

    Gautama doesn’t expound on these things in Anapanasati, just on “concentration on in-breathing and out-breathing”.

    I think the “concentration on in-breathing and out-breathing” as Gautama described it is a pretty natural thing in the lotus; when it’s perfect in itself, when “zazen sits zazen”, then I think Zen is peachy fine.

    That the elements of Gautama’s “intent concentration on in-breathing and out-breathing” were his way of life in the rainy season speaks to their practice in connection with the seated posture he advocated (cross-legged, on the roots of trees). Particularly in such a pose, the comprehension of the long and short of inhalation and exhalation can enter into the sense of place, and be embodied as the posture.

    (fizzy gum drops)

  11. Cygni
    Cygni August 17, 2015 at 4:19 pm |

    No matter how long you spend on ‘the path’ the tentacles of spiritual materialism can still reach out and grab you. Giving up all hope of fruition is something I try to live by, as far as knowing how to really help people, who knows… I like watching golf and playing Kerbal Space program, I’ve logged over 200 hours and been to every planet and moon in this system, could I be doing some things better with my time, doesn’t really matter much. Sometimes I feel like I have the whole path backwards, I’ve had all kinds of Dakini encountets and visionary experiences, if you add up the times I’ve done psilocybin, LSD, MDMA, 5 meo-DMT, ect., or some combo of the two it would reach well past 100, holding down a crappy job or not being a jerk is more of a challenge than the highest enlightenment experiences. If you try to skip to the finish line you can just end up back at square one, if your lucky. What’s the meaning of existence? Your guess is as good as mine.

    1. Cygni
      Cygni August 17, 2015 at 11:32 pm |

      Play safe kids, inner space exploration can be dangerous.

      http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Km4f-eRE4Kc

  12. sri_barence
    sri_barence August 17, 2015 at 4:43 pm |

    Student: “What about the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path?”
    Zen Master Dae Kwang: “We don’t talk about that shit here.”

  13. Jinzang
    Jinzang August 17, 2015 at 5:14 pm |

    The question that kept coming up in different forms during the Q&A sessions and dokusans (private meetings) was “Is Zen enough?”

    You missed the chance to up-sell them to the Zen Plus package.

    1. Mumbles
      Mumbles August 17, 2015 at 6:56 pm |

      LOL! Would that be Vajrayana??????????????………………………………………….

      (working toward sixty characters here)

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KsZCATziz54

  14. mb
    mb August 17, 2015 at 5:29 pm |

    (excerpt from) Early EEG studies of zazen meditation

    by Pierre Etevenon (French psychedelic pioneer and neuroscientist)

    Just as Wallace and Benson are renowned for their work and writings on transcendental meditation, two names are associated with studies of the practice of Zen meditation, and in particular on the ”zazen sitting posture of meditation”(Coupey, 2006) in which subjects sit crosslegged for 30 minutes without moving, in front of a blank wall, their eyes half-closed looking towards the tip of their nose. Akira Kazamatsu initiated these studies (Kasamatsu, Okuma & Takenaka, 1957; Kasamatsu et al., 1958) and was followed in 1960 by Tomio Hirai with his ”electroencephalographic study of Zen meditation”, a field of study which he continued to explore (Hirai, 1974). In their work together (Kasamatsu & Hirai, 1963), they went on to illustrate their electroencephalographic study of Zen meditation” (Kasamatsu & Hirai, 1966) which proved to be of considerable interest. Both were physicians at the University of Tokyo, studying changes in EEG occurring during meditation in Zen masters and their disciples (48 in all from the Soto and Rinzai centers in Japan); these were divided into 3 groups, based on length of practice, and were compared with a control group of 18 subjects and 4 older subjects with no experience of meditation. Kasamatsu and Hirai made EEG recordings of 12 channels together with polygraph measurements (pulse rates, respiration, galvanic skin response), and tested responses to sensory stimuli during meditation. They found (Kasamatsu and Hirai, 1966) that there are four successive phases in the time-course of zazen meditation:

    Stage 1: Characterized by the appearance of alpha waves (8-12 Hz) despite eyes being half open.

    Stage 2: Characterized by an increase in the amplitude of persistent alpha waves.

    Stage 3: Characterized by a decrease in the frequency of alpha waves.

    Stage 4: Characterized by the appearance of rhythmical theta trains (7 Hz) at the end of the 30 minutes of meditation. In addition, a ”modulation of the amplitude of alpha waves” occurred together with the blocking of theta frequency trains when the meditators heard repeated clicks.

    I have observed the same results when recording a Zen master in the Sainte-Anne hospital in Paris (Taisen Deshimaru Roshi) with his disciples (Etevenon, Henrotte & Verdeaux, 1973). Later, in his book on Zen and the brain (Deshimaru & Chauchard, 1976), Deshimaru proposed an interesting structural and functional analysis diagram of zazen and brain neuronal centers. Paul Chauchard suggested that the ”body image” and the ”I” image in the corresponding nuclei of brain networks betray relaxation during zazen meditation. By applying EEG spectral analysis (Etevenon, Henrotte & Verdeaux, 1973), I discovered that, in the course of zazen meditation, there is a highly hypovariable alpha peak corresponding to a sharp resonant alpha spectral peak together with alpha amplitude modulation; this can easily be seen by the EEG envelope. In a subsequent publication (Ribemont, Etevenon & Giannella, 1979), I put forward a method of ”zoom-FFT” for studying the alpha range and looking for hidden sharp frequency spectral EEG generators. This idea has recently been taken up by Tognoli (Tognoli et al., 2007) via a new application of complex EEG Time-Frequency Analysis (complex Morlet wavelet), although it has not yet been applied to the study of EEGs of zazen meditators. I went on to pioneer the application of a Hilbert transform to EEG instead of a Fourier transform for revealing the amplitude modulation of EEG (AM-EEG) (Etevenon, 1977); this new technique was subsequently adopted in neuropsychology protocols (Etevenon, et al. 1999), although not yet in studies of Zen meditation. These innovative methods of EEG analysis could now be applied to ongoing studies of meditation in the neurosciences.

  15. sporkboy
    sporkboy August 17, 2015 at 5:44 pm |

    I struggle with this myself a great deal. I understand that to approach Zen with a goal is to invite disappointment. Yet at the same time I cannot deny that I am a better person when I sit regularly. I’m generally calmer, I get more done at work and I have more energy to devote to my children. So when I do not sit regularly I tend to berate myself and say things like “I really need to start sitting regularly again.” Then I start making myself promises and getting angry when I do not keep them.

    The thing is while many people find the quality of their life improved through regular zazen, Zen itself isn’t necessarily “good” at helping you “Better yourself” per-se. Largely because it doesn’t really offer a lot of direction or definition of what “Better” would be or what “The right way” (for almost anything) or “Good” versus “Bad.” When you pose these questions to Zen teachers you tend to get back more questions. Or confusing non-answers which some times sound a little like someone is trying to dodge the question but which also ring true. Many of them tend to boil down to “You’ll have to figure that out for yourself” and “You should sit more.” but that’s an oversimplification.

    What Zen practice does help with is getting in touch with what these things mean to you. By sitting, simply sitting there with no goal whatsoever you spend a lot of time with yourself. Dealing with the normal day to day of your own mind without any external focus to distract you from it. Zen practice doesn’t teach you not to have thoughts but to have them and then let them go rather than obsessing over them.

    So what it is pretty good at is stripping away the blinders we put on ourselves. Exposing the real world, or more, our real selves. So if improving yourself is something that is meaningful to you, you will probably find that Zen practice strips away barriers you have erected allowing you to better yourself.
    Sitting Zazen is sort of like practicing for life. But not practicing the way we normally think of the word. As in doing a simplified easier version of something before moving on to the “real thing.” Practice the way an Olympic athlete practices. By doing something very much harder than what they plan on competing in. Marathon runners run over 100 miles a week. Shot Putter’s bench hundreds of pounds to be able to throw a 15 lb weight. Zazen is practicing being able to live. To exist in the moment doing the thing you are doing. To practice this you sit in an environment as free of distraction as possible and simply try sit there. You correct your posture if it’s wrong, stop thinking of dumplings when you find yourself thinking of dumplings and eventually hopefully you find this clarity extends to the rest of your life. Some times this is not at-all obvious. Now when you are colating papters, you are really collating papers. Instead of being distracted by the latest iPhone rumors and obsessing over what you did this morning or what you are going to do this evening. It attempts to teach you simply how to live, how to truly exist in the world you are in.

    Is it “Enough?” No, it’s not. Zen doesn’t attempt to be. It doesn’t attempt to or offer to deliver whatever goal would be enough. What it does attempt to do is teach you how to recognize what is enough, no matter what the question is, instead of attempting to answer those questions for you.

  16. Used-rugs
    Used-rugs August 17, 2015 at 5:48 pm |

    Zazen is clearly not enough for the average fat, lazy, American with horrible habits of mind and body. The problem is not the practice, the problem is you.. You’re like a person who exercises for two hours a day at the gym but then eats McDonalds and donuts every other meal, believing that as long as you do the exercise everything will be okay. It doesn’t work like that.

    How dare people ask the question “Is zazen enough?” I’d like to ask those people “Are you enough? Are you really making an effort?” Because guess what, zazen works, yoga works, break dancing works, it all works, but it all depends on you, you fat, stupid fuck.

  17. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 18, 2015 at 12:06 am |

    Is it “Enough?” No, it’s not. Zen doesn’t attempt to be. It doesn’t attempt to or offer to deliver whatever goal would be enough.

    Religion is often expected to play a particular role in helping a person lead a balanced life; an individual might ask, does Zen fulfill that role, does the practice of Zen provide something that I need to lead a balanced life (something spiritual, perhaps)?

    Is Zen enough (or do I still feel I am lacking something in my life, in spite of making an effort, correcting my posture when it’s wrong, and ceasing to think of dumplings when I find myself thinking of dumplings)?

  18. Zafu
    Zafu August 18, 2015 at 10:02 am |

    So what it [zazen] is pretty good at is stripping away the blinders we put on ourselves. Exposing the real world, or more, our real selves. So if improving yourself is something that is meaningful to you, you will probably find that Zen practice strips away barriers you have erected allowing you to better yourself.
    ~ sporkboy

    Are you sure about that, sporkboy? Look at the example of the resident Zen Master. Why did Brad need some old Asian guy with a title to make him feel good about making trashy movies rather than “saving the word”? He had already made the decision and felt guilt. Guilt for making the more selfish choice I suppose. If Zen practice is all that (and a bag of potato chips), why couldn’t he accept this selfishness himself? Why did he require an authority figure to rationalize what he was doing and feel good about it?

    1. Fred
      Fred August 18, 2015 at 11:56 am |

      “Because guess what, zazen works, yoga works, break dancing works, it all works, but it all depends on you, you fat, stupid fuck.”

      Oh yeah, 60 characters or more

      1. Fred
        Fred August 18, 2015 at 12:00 pm |

        Fat stupid fuck: “Is Zen enough?”

        Zen Master: ” Yes it is. But it all depends on you, you fat, stupid fuck.”

        That should be the title of Brad’s next book.

    2. sporkboy
      sporkboy August 18, 2015 at 7:03 pm |

      Because it’s not black and white. It doesn’t come down to “it works” or “it doesn’t work.” Some times it just helps you by causing you to evaluate things you wouldn’t normally. Perhaps it was the Zazen which helped him understand why he was uneasy about his decision to move to Japan. Instead of simply wondering why he was unsure. Or perhaps without the hours of self reflection he simply would have taken the gig and never looked back. Perhaps he would be driving a Ferrari through Hollywood and snorting coke off a hookers backside now if he hadn’t been sitting at the time.

      I don’t know, I’m making all that up.

      I do know that when I sit I struggle with certain things I don’t want to struggle with. Zazen doesn’t really help me deal with these questions. But it does force me to confront some of the questions I would quite honestly rather not address. Some times I don’t really like zazens version of helping. But if I don’t sit my life suffers in other ways.

      I’m also not trying to defend him. If you think Brad is an idiot don’t read his stuff. I’ve only read a little bit of his work. I tend to like it because in some ways he communicates in a very similar manner to me and he has spent WAY more time sitting than I have so I consider him “further along.”

      Zen is surprisingly a lot of work. All this self exploration sucks. Where’s the school where I reach enlightenment by eating pie?

      1. Zafu
        Zafu August 19, 2015 at 10:58 am |

        I’m also not trying to defend him. . .

        . . . Zen is surprisingly a lot of work. All this self exploration sucks.

        It’s not really about self exploration, sporkboy, that’s what you need to understand. Like all religions it’s really only about meaning.

        Example:
        In the quote above you say that you’re not trying to defend him. Clearly you are trying to defend him. Why the dishonestly? How can you be so blind to your own actions?

        The dishonesty and blindness is caused by clinging to religious beliefs and the meaning it offers. In religion meaning is more important than truth. In religion meaning is primary.

  19. Oh Matty Blue
    Oh Matty Blue August 18, 2015 at 12:08 pm |

    Hehe, unfortunately I don’t think it would sell very well; the target audience is really only the fat stupid Americans living in Munich : )

    1. constantine
      constantine August 19, 2015 at 8:57 am |
  20. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon August 18, 2015 at 1:07 pm |

    The major defect that adversely effects the tone and dynamics of large bodied acoustic guitars (dreadnoughts, grand concerts, and jumbos) is that the bridge is in the wrong position. In the 1800s, the bridge was placed about half-way between the sound hole and the end of the guitar, at the widest point of the lower bout. This bridge position produces the most balanced tone and dynamics by maximizing the amount of string vibrations that are transferred to the top of the guitar. In the early 1900s, banjo players switching to guitar in jazz bands asked manufacturers to join the neck to the body at the 14th fret instead of the 12th fret for easier access to the higher frets. In order to maintain proper pitch intonation at all frets, the bridge had to be moved closer to the sound hole. Then, jazz guitar players asked manufacturers to make the guitar louder to compete with the volume of the horn section. Manufacturers made the bodies larger and longer, moving the bridge even farther from where it began. The distance of the bridge from the end of the guitar increased to almost double the distance from the sound hole, and the bridge was no longer at the widest part of the lower bout. This is the equivalent of striking a drum head closer to the edge than the center, or connecting a speaker driver off-center on the speaker cone.
    Which bridge position produces the most balanced tone and dynamics? Look at parlor guitars, classical guitars, or even a properly designed dreadnought with the neck joined to the body at the 12th fret instead of the 14th: half-way between the sound hole and the end of the guitar, at the widest point of the lower bout.

    1. Fred
      Fred August 18, 2015 at 3:08 pm |

      “Or maybe people who ask if Zen is enough think that Zen practice is too self-centered. You sit there meditating and maybe you feel better, but what does that do for the world? It’s still a big mess. Shouldn’t we go out there and do something about it?”

      What could one do about the world other than observe it’s permutations.

  21. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 18, 2015 at 3:56 pm |

    GC, thanks for that enlightening writeup.

    I had to pop for one of these, though I am concerned that I may encounter many cutting-edge bleeding moments along the way:

    https://www.facebook.com/tonewoodamp/videos/1625501891063747/?pnref=story

  22. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 18, 2015 at 5:00 pm |

    Religion is often expected to play a particular role in helping a person lead a balanced life; an individual might ask, does Zen fulfill that role, does the practice of Zen provide something that I need to lead a balanced life (something spiritual, perhaps)?

    In other religions, the practice of the faith is expected to fulfill a certain role in a lay person’s life. In Soto Zen in the U.S. of A., the lay person is held to a practice that is not considered to be apart from daily life, a practice that is 24/7. As has been indicated already on this comment thread, if the lay person then does not feel that Zen is fulfilling their spiritual needs, they must blame themselves (they must be grasping after something, practicing with some expectation instead of manifesting their true nature in each moment).

    And yet, in an age when American Zen is turning out more and more qualified teachers, and more and more people are adopting Zen as their spiritual path, we find there are people who are looking to Zen for the practice community, for a place of solace and retreat, for the priest when they want to get married, for the priest for a funeral or memorial ceremony; in short, they are looking for Zen to satisfy their need for the spiritual in their lives, but they are not expecting to become a priest themselves, much less a transmitted successor.

    In that context, the question “is Zen enough?” makes sense to me. Can Zen really fulfill the role that churches of other faiths play, in somebody’s life? Or is something more than Zen required, to satisfy that role?

  23. Conrad
    Conrad August 18, 2015 at 11:39 pm |

    Zen Master Dae Kwang: “We don’t talk about that shit here.”

    I’ve noticed that Buddhism isn’t very important to a lot of Zen teachers.

    1. constantine
      constantine August 19, 2015 at 8:50 am |

      “I’ve noticed that Buddhism isn’t very important to a lot of Zen teachers.”

      Some like fingers, some like moons.

  24. Dog Star
    Dog Star August 19, 2015 at 2:51 am |

    Thank you, Brad. Great post. I’m looking forward to your new book.

  25. mtto
    mtto August 19, 2015 at 8:41 am |

    It’s OK to ask if Zen is enough. However, the question inquiring minds REALLY want answered: Is eight enough?

    1. constantine
      constantine August 19, 2015 at 9:01 am |

      Eight isn’t so bad. What really gets me is the 10 commandments in the judeo christian religions. God sure left out some gems on that one!

      1. Fred
        Fred August 19, 2015 at 12:51 pm |

        “In that context, the question “is Zen enough?” makes sense to me. Can Zen really fulfill the role that churches of other faiths play, in somebody’s life? Or is something more than Zen required, to satisfy that role?”

        The role that churches of other faiths play is that of a crutch for an ego mystified by the world.

        Dropping the body-mind is throwing the crutch away.

        Gempo will sell you a crutch for $5,000 and tell you that you are enlightened.

        1. mb
          mb August 19, 2015 at 1:01 pm |

          Gempo will sell you a crutch for $5,000 and tell you that you are enlightened.

          Well…that makes Brad a lot cheaper…and he won’t tell you that you’re enlightened!

  26. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 19, 2015 at 8:26 pm |

    The role that churches of other faiths play is that of a crutch for an ego mystified by the world.

    Dropping the body-mind is throwing the crutch away.

    Each action of a Zen teacher is expected to reflect their enlightenment. This causes some American Zen teachers to scratch their heads.

    Kobun seemed to live the life of a Zen teacher, to me, but to my good friend who sometimes serves me tea, Kobun seemed like just another guy, and he knew Kobun better than I did.

    Most Western Zen teachers act with composure and pacing, and yet they seem to have both sandals on when they’re outside the Zendo. I guess if they were to hit people and shout, they might get arrested.

    Maybe for some people, whatever karma it is that life has given them is not going to be overcome by meditation on the foul, and they would be better off with a church that provides crutches. They can surrender themselves to something, but Zen doesn’t offer enough for them somehow.

    Maybe Americans aren’t ready for a teacher who invites them in, and then crawls out the bathroom window, leaving them with no paper and no sandals.

  27. Conrad
    Conrad August 19, 2015 at 11:24 pm |

    If you don’t pay attention to the fingers, you’ll never find the moon. Just lamp posts that look like moons.

    1. constantine
      constantine August 20, 2015 at 12:26 am |

      The moon is there to see either way. I would even argue that the fingers are all pointing to lamp posts.

  28. Conrad
    Conrad August 20, 2015 at 1:36 am |

    Not if your attention is obsessed with fulfilling its cravings. Then you will only pay attention to the fingers that reinforce cravings by pointing to lamp posts that seem capable of fulfilling them. Fingers that point to moons that do not fulfill one’s cravings will be ignored as useless. But it is the useless fingers that Buddhism is all about, not the ones that are useful to our cravings.

    That’s why the Noble Truths about craving and the impossibility of its fulfillment are the necessary foundation for all practice. Otherwise, one simply pursues “Zen” as a means to fulfill one’s cravings, and one becomes obsessed with Holy Lamp Posts and fingers that point in the direction of their fulfillment.

    That’s why it’s important to understand Buddhism first. If one does, one may then find that one is already practicing Zen.

    1. constantine
      constantine August 20, 2015 at 9:05 pm |

      The moon is there either way. Now it seems that even your lamp posts are flickering on and off at this point.

  29. Khru 2.0
    Khru 2.0 August 20, 2015 at 8:55 am |

    Koan study, my friends. It’s just another form of skillful means but there is great benefit to it.

    There’s also, “can I please speak to the voice of Big Mind?” If none of these things lessen your suffering, then go find a real hobby like golf or buy a handgun.

  30. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon August 20, 2015 at 1:16 pm |

    Remember what Amida Buddha always says…

    1. Fred Jr.
      Fred Jr. August 20, 2015 at 4:09 pm |
  31. Michel
    Michel August 21, 2015 at 6:04 am |

    I remember pacing through Bristol with Mike Luetchford who mentioned some old churches that were now the seat to some tibetan buddhist organisations, and he said that it is obvious that some people need a sense of “belonging”. Zen tends to deny them this. It it right?

    I don’t know.

    1. Zafu
      Zafu August 21, 2015 at 9:58 am |

      Oh yeah bro, cuz like, theya ain’t no beliefs and stuff in Zen, baby. It like Zen ain’t no religion. It the MOON, man. It ain’t no fucking finger!

  32. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon August 21, 2015 at 11:53 am |
    1. Fred
      Fred August 21, 2015 at 1:49 pm |

      He eased out the bathroom window, the moon lighting the path to his everyday mind.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-NCANSM6lk

      1. The Grand Canyon
        The Grand Canyon August 21, 2015 at 2:42 pm |

        Looney tunes for a loony goon.

  33. economy news
    economy news September 19, 2015 at 11:44 pm |

    “just do a little” thanks for great advice.

Comments are closed.