Zen in a Nutshell
… Real Zen is the practice of coming back to the actual right-now-in-this-moment self, coming back to the naturalness, the intimacy and simplicity of our true nature. Zen practice is not about getting away from our life as it is; it is about getting into our life as it is, with all of its vividness, beauty, hardship, joy and sorrow. Zen is a path of awakening: awakening to who we really are, and awakening the aspiration to serve others and take responsibility for all of life.
… To me, Zen practice offers a kind of thin place, a “place” where we can discover that there is fundamentally no separation between ourselves and others, that what we seek is always so close, always right here. In the Lotus Sutra’s parable of the burning house, the only escape from our greed, anger, and ignorance is said to be through a “narrow door.” The narrow door, the thin place, and any of a number of metaphors point us in the direction of our own realization. A door or a gate or a threshold also implies that there is effort, movement, investment in transformation.
At the heart of Zen practice is zazen, seated meditation. One master said that listening and thinking are like being outside the gate, and zazen is returning home and sitting in peace. Zazen is really a very simple practice and does not involve complicated instructions. When one studies the ancient Zen meditation manuals, it is always surprising how brief and plain they are. While they speak of the possibility of attaining the freedom and naturalness of a tiger in the mountains or a dragon in the water, the actual instructions are so concrete. Sit in the proper posture and attend to the body, breath, and mind.
… The zazen period we are recommending is 20 minutes. You may find that you will want to do more—or less— and that is fine. What is important is consistency. To keep your practice consistent, remember what the famous Nike ad says: “Just do it.” Don’t concern yourself with trying to get to some particular place or state of mind. Each day’s zazen will be a little different, just like the rest of life. We practice steadiness in our daily meditation—alert, sleepy, focused—we just practice each day, through the high points and the low. When you mess up—and you will— just say, “Okay, back to my cushion.”