Zazen: Often mistranslated as "meditation," zazen refers to the practice of sitting, generally cross-legged, hands in the lap, with eyes half closed.
Zendo: The meditation hall where zazen is practiced.
Although there are many people in this country who are interested in Buddhism, few of them are interested in its pure form. Most of them are interested in studying the teaching or the philosophy of Buddhism. Comparing it to other religions, they appreciate how satisfying Buddhism is intellectually. But whether Buddhism is philosophically deep or good or perfect is not the point. To keep our practice in its pure form is our purpose. Sometimes I feel there is something blasphemous in talking about how Buddhism is perfect as a philosophy or teaching without knowing what it actually is.
To practice zazen with a group is the most important thing for Buddhism—and for us—because this practice is the original way of life. Without knowing the origin of things we cannot appreciate the result of our life's effort. Our effort must have some meaning. To find the meaning of our effort is to find the original source of our effort. We should not be concerned about the result of our effort before we know its origin. If the origin is not clear and pure, our effort will not be pure, and its result will not satisfy us. When we resume our original nature and incessantly make our effort from this base, we will appreciate the result of our effort moment after moment, day after day, year after year. This is how we should appreciate our life. Those who are attached only to the result of their effort will not have any chance to appreciate it, because the result will never come. But if moment by moment your effort arises from its pure origin, all you do will be good, and you will be satisfied with whatever you do.
In the zendo there is nothing fancy. We just come and sit. After communicating with each other we go home and resume our own everyday activity as a continuity of our pure practice, enjoying our true way of life. Yet this is very unusual. Wherever I go people ask me, "What is Buddhism?" with their notebooks ready to write down my answer. You can imagine how I feel! But here we just practice. For us there is no need to understand what Zen is. We are practicing zazen. So for us there is no need to know what Zen is intellectually. This is, I think, very unusual for American society.
Suzuki wants to avoid talking too much about Buddhism because theory and abstraction are not the point; direct experience is what matters. In Living Buddha, Living Christ, Vietnamese Buddhist and social activist Thich Nhat Hanh writes, "[Christian] theologians spend a lot of time, ink, and breath talking about God. ... [But] it is risky to talk about God. The notion of God might be an obstacle for us to touch God as love, wisdom, and mindfulness. ... The Buddha was not against God, he was only against notions of God that are mere mental constructions that do not conform to reality, notions that prevent us from developing ourselves and touching ultimate reality." Instead of debating ideas, Buddhism would have us move deeper into our own experience. Instead of focusing on doctrines and belief statements that we must affirm and adhere to through willpower, Buddhism directs us to simply observe the thoughts and emotions that arise within us and notice where they come from.
This should not be foreign to Christians. In 1 Timothy, Paul writes (I'm paraphrasing): "Stop wasting time on speculations and religious arguments. You are promoting controversy, when you should be living in love. Love grows from a pure heart and a good conscience and the sincere belief that it's all going to work out. As soon as you step away from love, your talk becomes meaningless." Love as an idea can be wielded as a weapon, but love as an experience transforms us. Not all at once, and never perfectly, but it does change us.
It is easy to get caught in a debate or argument that has nothing to do with our personal experience. We even trick ourselves into beliefs and positions that fundamentally contradict our experiences, but if you take the time to pause and be silent, to sit in zazen, you may find that what you were arguing for was nothing to you at all.
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