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What the devil is Zen anyway?

I have a suspicion that most people read about others meditating, practising Buddhism and more than anything else ZEN! with a mixture of envy, suspicion, defeat, nausea and angst.

They feel they know there is something out there. They have looked on Wikipedia and seen mountains of exotic Indian and Chinese names for hundreds of different branches of ways to truth, peace and inner enlightenment.

They have read maybe Eckhart Tolle or maybe The Alchemist and thought that, for a few weeks, they had something better going on.

Then life just gets in the way.

They may have strayed late in the night onto websites and seen countless ex-squaddies from Romford, posing with preposterous quasi shaman names – Sha Master Chi, offering you … er … a specific type of healer who uses an alternate state of consciousness to enter the invisible world, which is made up of all unseen aspects of … blimey!

And yet Robin lives a life which is entirely following a zen practice. OMG, is he some sort of higher power? Nope, he just sits still for a bit every day. That’s it? Yep, that’s it. And that’s Zen? Yep, that’s Zen.

All zen is is meditation.

It’s not a doctrine any more than Buddhism itself is a doctrine. If anything, zen is iconoclastic and against doctrine.

Zen is from Chan. Chan means meditation. Don’t confuse it with Zen Buddhism. Although Buddhism is seen as cool because there is no God anywhere and because the Sayings of the Buddha is a short little book with real wisdom in it, my own view is don’t worry about any of this. Really.

All the actors and singers who are trotting out “I’m a buddhist” and yet seem to you very careerist and flaky? You’re right. Ignore them all. If they need to talk about it to the press, they don’t get it.
I’m writing this because I was asked by quite a few folk. Here goes:

Zen is meditation while focusing on kindness. It’s not about reading books. It’s actually about stopping reading books.

“I am trying to get closer to a simple life through kindness.” Say that to yourself every morning, without fail.

You don’t have to go live up a mountain, learn how to play Gamelan, leave your partner or shave your head.

This is how I follow Zen meditation.

It’s a journey: You read lots of stuff from lots of wise folks , you listen, you retain and then – MOST IMPORTANT – you abandon and forget.

You take yourself out of the middle of the picture of your life and you look out, not in.

Even breathing is part of life, not part of you. Meditation in the morning works really well. Just breathing in and out and seeing what thoughts come and go, and which thoughts relate to kindness, other people, animals and nature will keep you occupied for the rest of the day.

My favourite zen story is the Buddhist master who held up a flower and the young buddhist looked at it and understood.

According to Charles Luk, in the earliest traditions of Chan, there was no fixed method or formula for teaching meditation, and all instructions were simply heuristic methods, to point to the true nature of the mind, also known as Buddha-nature.

This type of meditation resembles the methods of “virtually all schools of Mahāyāna Buddhism”, but differs in that “no preparatory requirements, no moral prerequisites or preliminary exercises are given”, and is “without steps or gradations. One concentrates, understands, and is enlightened, all in one undifferentiated practice.” I love that.

For me it’s about stillness. Some say it’s about purity, but I don’t feel that matters. Kindness is what matters. You can be naughty and kind! It’s best done sitting, however you like. Lotus fine, cross legged fine. But also just sitting on a chair is fine, as long as you’re comfy. I think about the area below my navel and I used to count breaths, but now I just breathe until I am very calm. Very still. That’s it.

Silent illumination. Also known as ‘just sitting’ I love that.

No conceptualising, no grasping, no goal seeking. I think morning is best, but just find a bit of time every day to grow still. That’s it.

This is as highbrow as I’m going to get, with apologies: through a dedicated and consistent meditation practice, we realise that self and other are One, that absolute and relative are identical. Out of this realization flows a natural compassion and wisdom, a peaceful and intuitively appropriate response toward whatever circumstances may arise. We don’t make a big deal about it; we certainly don’t call it religion.

Oh Robin come on, I’ve read that last bit three times … sorry! I’ll say it again. Find some time every day to clear your mind and sit still until you are calm and thinking about nothing of any consequence except being kind. That’s the beginning and end of it for me. Think about it….maybe you really make a whole thing about preparing your coffee every morning. The right blend, the right water temperature, heating the milk, your special cup. That’s daily dedication. Probably takes as long as meditating.

When the Dalai Lama was asked about Buddhism, he simply said, “My religion is kindness.”

So, again, what is Zen?

Stop now!

Stop trying to get an intellectual lock on something that is vast and boundless, far more than the rational mind can grasp. Just breathe in with full awareness. Taste the breath. Appreciate it fully. Now breathe out, slowly, with equal appreciation. Give it all away; hold onto nothing. Breathe in with gratitude; breathe out with love. Receiving and offering—this is what we are doing each time we inhale and exhale. To
do so with conscious awareness, on a regular basis, is the transformative practice we call Zen. Then go make your coffee!

Who do we think we are, anyway?