“On the Zen path, we seek for ourselves the experience of Shakyamuni. However, we do not owe fundamental allegiance to him, but to ourselves and to our environment. If it could be shown that Shaykamuni never lived, the myth of his life would be our guide. In fact, it is far better to acknowledge at the outset that myths and religious archetypes guide us, just as they do every religious person. The myth of the Buddha is my own myth. The path is personal and intimate. We must walk it for ourselves. In this spirit, we invest ourselves in our practice, confident of our heritage, and train earnestly side by side with our brothers and sisters. It is this engagement that brings peace and realisation.”
– Robert Aitken Roshi, Taking the Path of Zen
Zazen or seated meditation is a path to discovering insight and wisdom and realising our true nature. It helps us overcome greed, selfishness, negativity and worry, cultivates intimacy and closeness with ourselves and all of life, gives us a foundation for ethical and noble aspirations in this life and a basis of peace, relaxation and inner joy. Our practice is to actualise our realisation in the world, to embody the Buddha’s Way.
At the Sydney Zen Centre guidance and instruction in zazen and kinhin (walking meditation) are offered, as well as opportunities to hear Dharma talks and meet the teachers. Sesshins (retreats) are held at our zendo in Annandale and at our bush zendo, Kodoji, in the Upper MacDonald Valley, NSW. Jukai, the ceremony of personally taking the Precepts, is also offered.
What is Zen Buddhism?
that’s what we try to offer.’
Genmyo Zeedyk, Anchorage Zen Community
‘Zen is looking in the mirror, seeing nothing and everything there, then seeking
to convey my experience.’
Maggie Gluek, Sydney Zen Centre
‘Everyone who belongs to the school of Zen should understand:
there exists in our school an essential matter that can only be penetrated in great enlightenment.
I want all of you to be aware that the study of Zen can effect a miraculous transformation
that will change you to the very marrow of your bones.’
Hakuin Ekaku (1686 – 1768)
‘To study the Buddha Way is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be actualised by the ten thousand things.
When actualised by the ten thousand things, your body and mind
as well as the bodies and minds of others, drops away.
No trace of realisation remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.’
‘That the self advances
and confirms the ten thousand things
is called delusion;
That the ten thousand things
advance and confirm the self
is called realisation.’
Dogen Kigen (1200 – 1253)
Breath counting – becoming intimate with each inhalation and counting from one to ten on the exhalation – reveals how jumpy and restless our minds are, hence the term “monkey mind”. Whenever we lose the count, having drifted off on a thought, and more significantly, when we notice we have lost the count, we just return to one without recrimination or judgement.
Over time, as a firm practice base is established – with regular daily zazen, sitting with the group on a weeknight, and attending sesshin, students may find that in the midst of this busy world, there is peace and ease. They may choose to investigate one of the primary koans with the teacher, and/or take up the practice of shikantaza.
Between each sitting period of 25 minutes, there is kinhin, or walking meditation, a practice where we continue to count our breaths, keying our breath to our steps. We are present with our footsteps as we walk slowly round the dojo clasping our left hand over our right at waist level. Kinhin is halfway between the quality of attention demanded by sitting and the quality of attention demanded in the everyday world. Kinhin can be practiced in our everyday lives as well, for example, as we walk along the street, with thumb and forefinger lightly touching.
Although shikantaza means ‘just sitting’ it is far from meaning ‘just to sit’. Having established a firm practice base with breath-counting, we let go our focus on the breath, and sit with moment-to-moment awareness, as though we were in a jungle clearing, aware that a tiger is somewhere nearby. With this alert practice, in the immenseness of all that is, the individual self inevitably finds itself reduced until it disappears altogether. Inside and outside become one.
Zen Buddhist practice makes use of various kinds of training in bringing students to the experience of realisation and maturing that experience: zazen, daily life and the study of koans, which, wrote Lin-chi master Chung-feng, “represent the highest principle which cannot be understood by logic; cannot be transmitted in words; cannot be explained in writing; cannot be measured by reason. The koan is a torch of wisdom that lights up the darkness of feeling and discrimination, a golden scraper that cuts away the film clouding the eye, a sharp axe that severs the root of birth-and-death, a divine mirror that reflects the original face of both the sacred and the secular.”
Primary koans include Chao-chou’s “Mu” and Bassui’s “Who is hearing that sound?” Students inhabit the koan until it resolves itself, and students then take up a series of selected koans designed to establish a perspective for the practice. Students may then continue sitting with further anthologies of koans.
Ritual helps us to deepen our religious spirit and to extend its vigour to our lives. As well, it is an opening for the experience of forgetting the self as the words or the action become one with you, and there is nothing else.
Gassho – the act of placing your hands palm to palm, with the tips of your forefingers an inch from your nose – is a sign of joining together in respect. We bow with our hands at gassho as we enter or leave the dojo, and before zazen (seated meditation), we bow in this way twice at our seats – once to our sisters and brothers on the opposite side of the dojo and once to sisters and brothers beside us, and to our cushion.
Raihai – a full prostration – is done three times before and after sutras. We bow to the floor and raise our hands a few inches, lifting the Buddha’s feet over our heads, throwing everything away, or pouring everything out from the top of the head. All our self-concern, all our preoccupations are thrown away completely. There is just that bow.
For zazen, we dress in colours that will not be distracting, preferably black. It is better not to wear tight fitting jeans or belts to ensure circulation of blood in your legs. When sitting with the group, avoid patterned clothing, perfume and noticeable jewellery.