Teacher’s Blog

Zazen: The Incredibly Difficult Practice of Not-Doing

Our practice of zazen is also known as shikantaza, a Japanese term that can be translated as “nothing but precisely sitting.” The whole point is to just sit there. Doing nothing. A practice of not-doing. This is so difficult for us, we can hardly even conceive of it. Instead, we imagine we are supposed to sit there meditating. We’re supposed to concentrate, or be aware of this moment, or something. Anything. Anything but really, really doing nothing. When I settle into my...

read more

Five Ways to Make Your Work Spiritual Practice

These are five ways we can make our work into spiritual practice. They’re from the “Tenzokyokun,” or “Instructions to the [Head Monastery] Cook,” which was written by Zen master Dogen in 1237, following a long tradition of Zen “work practice.” In the essay, Dogen writes, “just working as tenzo is the incomparable practice of the Buddhas.” While it may seem like specific instructions for cook in a traditional Zen monastery isn’t relevant to...

read more

Deepening Your Zazen: When It’s Good Not to Be Satisfied

If you’re always satisfied with your zazen, you’re probably selling yourself short. If you’re never satisfied with your zazen, you may want to learn how to deepen it. Possibly the worst thing to do is ignore any dissatisfaction with your zazen because you think you’re not supposed to feel dissatisfied with it. It’s easy to come to this conclusion in Buddhism, where we’re taught that, essentially, dissatisfaction – dukkha – is a disease of the...

read more

The Effort of Non-Effort (Meditation Is Not Something You Do)

I teach 8-10 new people to "do" Zen meditation every month. At times I feel kind of radical, but more and more I just want to tell them to sit still and do nothing at all. After 20 years of Zen practice, 14 years as Zen monk, and 5 years as a Zen teacher, I'm becoming deeply convinced that meditation is not something you do. Basically, just deliberately put yourself in the position of not doing anything, and the transformative and healing power of meditation takes care of itself.

read more

The Power of Questions

Last Sunday we read chapter one, "Zazen as Inquiry," from Taigen Dan Leighton's Zen Questions: Zazen, Dogen and the Spirit of Creative Inquiry. Leighton writes: "What are we doing in zazen? Each of us have some question that somewhere back there was behind our wanting to engage in this Buddhist meditation. What question has led you to face the wall in zazen, what is this? There is a question that we each have to explore."

read more

The World Needs the Concept “Bodhisattva”

I hope that everyone who reads this will embrace the concept of a "bodhisattva" and share it widely, regardless of your interest in Buddhism, because I think it's what the world really needs. I've tried long and hard to come up with some way to translate the Buddhist term "bodhisattva" into something familiar, secular, and English, but I haven't had any luck. It takes whole sentences to describe what a bodhisattva is...

read more

Bursting the Mindfulness Bubble

A misguided practice of mindfulness can lead to an unfortunate restriction in my engagement with life - to the detriment of myself and others, particularly when it comes to social responsibility. It invites me to create a manageable mindfulness bubble around myself - reaching no further than my immediate surroundings, existing only this moment, and centered on my body...

read more

Zazen as Practicing Great Ease and Joy

Sometimes, when I find zazen challenging or dull, I engage it as a practice of trying to be completely joyful and at ease in this moment – just the way life is right now: in this body, with these aches, bad habits, and unfinished projects, in this moment’s confusing world that is so beautiful and terrible at the same time. This approach contrasts with practicing zazen in order to achieve joy and ease. When I’m meditating in order to obtain a result (such as relief from...

read more

What Self to Have Faith In?

A commentary on Zen Master Lin-chi’s teaching. Quotations are from Chapter 11 of The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-chi, translated by Burton Watson (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1993) The Master instructed the group, saying: Those who study the Dharma of the buddhas these days should approach it with a true and proper understanding. If you approach it with a true and proper understanding, you won’t be affected by considerations of birth or death, you’ll be free to go or stay as...

read more

Categories