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TEACHINGS OF ZEN the practice of Mindful Zen

"Applying mindfulness to Zen koans"

Don't just sit there - do something!
Conventional wisdom

Don't just do something - sit there!
Buddhist wisdom

Buddhism is better understood as a skill or an art to be practiced and perfected, rather than as information and knowledge to be learned and amassed.

So let’s get the philosophy out of the way right up front. Here's the secret that most Zen practitioners know:Everything is mind alone. Nothing has ever happened.There! Now we can get to work.

This is a ten step course in the practice of Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced Zen. The ten ox-herding pictures provide the ten step framework.

The first three steps are easy Beginning Zen practices. They include important preliminary steps that the Buddha said must be taken prior to entering the sixteen step meditation that led to his enlightenment.

They are:
1. Present Moment Awareness
2. Loving Kindness meditation
3. Silent Present Moment Awareness.
The universe surrenders to the mind that is still.

Lao Tzu

Lao Tzu was a humble guy- his name means "old man," or "old sage," i.e., he never used his real name. His thoughts are important because Zen is a blend of classic Buddhism, i.e., the teachings of the Buddha, and the teachings of Lao Tzu, the founder of the Taoist path.

The sixteen steps are found in the four steps of Intermediate Zen. They are explained in the same order they were taught by the Buddha in The Anapanasati Sutta, sutta 118 of the Majjhima Nikaya.

The Anapanasati Sutta was spoken by the Buddha more than 2500 years ago. After generations of oral transmission by monks and nuns, it was finally written down several hundred years after his passing.
Due to its antiquity, it is largely unknown in the West and is quite obscure in the East as well.

Now, thanks to the Internet, the most important talk the Buddha ever gave - describing the steps he followed to enlightenment - are no longer hidden in obscure texts known only to Theravada Buddhist renunciates and a handful of scholars.

Intermediate Zen begins with step four that provides the Buddha's instructions - not philosophical pronouncements but four concrete steps that we can actually practice - on developing mindfulness by practicing mindfulness of the body.

Step five provides the Buddha's four concrete instructions on developing mindfulness of feelings.

Step six provides the Buddha's four concrete instructions on developing mindfulness of the mind itself.

Step seven concludes Intermediate Zen and provides the Buddha's four concrete instructions on developing mindfulness of mind objects.

Advanced Zen begins with step eight where we apply the super power mindfulness developed in Intermediate Zen to the doctrine of dependent arising.

We apply the super power mindfulness developed in Intermediate Zen to koans in step nine.

The tenth and final step includes non-meditation practices.

Buddhism is a practice that develops mindfulness and results in liberation from the wheel of birth, death, and rebirth. Heavy stuff, but we really can't ignore that aspect of Buddhism.

Buddhism, they preach is far from authentic Buddhism. People can practice yoga for stress reduction and anger management; they can take long walks in the sun to treat depression or excessive worry.

But the practice of Buddhism reaches places untouched by the mundane world. To demote it to just another stress or anger management program is a ludicrous waste of its teachings.

Buddhism is practiced by ordinary people of all religions and all cultures. People who lack faith in their religion or philosophy may fear it, but those who don't do not.

Buddhism has no supreme God that sits in judgment on human beings.

Therefore, Buddhism has no sacred texts that are the word of a supreme God.

Buddhism recognizes that the Great Chain of Being does not end with us humans, i.e., the human dharma realm is not the highest dharma realm (it's the fifth of ten!).

Buddhism has no gurus, no one to worship, no quarrel with science and nothing to fear from past or future scientific developments.

Buddhism respects the great teacher who was known as The Buddha, The Enlightened One, but does not worship him.
As we progress through this course, we'll understand what happened when Moses went up to the top of Mt. Sinai and conversed with a bush that was burning but not consumed by fire.

Every visitor to this website who practices the ten steps of this course with diligence will climb that same mountain and have the same conversation with the same burning bush.

A year from now, we won't be the same person we are now. Of course, that will happen whether we take this course or not! But the change will be for the better even if we just practice the first three steps of Beginning Zen and never get to koan practice.

The Buddha said he taught only the arising of suffering and the cessation of suffering. The ten dharma realms of the Mahayana or northern school and the thirty one dhamma realms of the Theravada or southern school are just planes of existence, planes created by ignorance, i.e., planes that don't exist at anuttara samyak sambodhi - full and complete, perfect enlightenment.

Through daily practice that is "diligent, ardent, and resolute" (words of the Buddha) we gradually realize that the mundane world is just a mirage, a fantasy, a dream without substance, nonsense created by a deluded mind.

The Diamond Sutra:
"So I say to you -
This is how to contemplate our conditioned existence in this fleeting world:
Like a tiny drop of dew, or a bubble floating in a stream;
Like a flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A star at dawn,
Or a flickering lamp, an illusion, a phantom, or a dream.
So is all conditioned existence to be seen."

- The Buddha
As the mirage fades with daily cultivation, we discover that Nirvana/Nibbana is all there is and there never was anything else. Builders used to put up large billboards by busy highways to advertise their developments to commuters stuck in traffic, saying: If you lived here, you'd be home now!

A Buddhist-inspired New Yorker cartoon provided the perfect retort: If you lived now, you'd be home here.
Thanks to the Buddha's ancient teachings, as interpreted for modern readers by the down-to-earth, easy-to-follow instructions provided by the Venerable Ajahn Brahm, whom we are about to meet, we can guarantee that at this website we will learn how to live now, and to be home where ever we are.

When we experience the beautiful breath for the first time, we'll be happy that we stumbled here. We just follow the practices, every day, until they become second nature. We will eventually see the nimitta, the sign of Nirvana, during the ninth of the sixteen steps.

If we follow the concrete, step-by-step instructions disclosed by the Buddha, we will wake up.
For advanced Zen/Ch'an practitioners who are working on koans, here will be found the Buddha's instructions on how to develop the mindfulness required to penetrate koans.

There were no koans in the Buddha's day, but the instructions he left us in the Pali Canon can be applied to Zen koan practice.

Those instructions are ignored by modern day Zen teachers, just as koans are ignored by modern day Theravada teachers.
Like two ships passing in the night, each with a cargo the other could use, the Zen and Theravada schools ignore one another. They have been doing so since the advent of the koan (gong-an) in China about a thousand years ago, fifteen hundred years after the Buddha's lifetime.

The advantageous union of these two strong but independent traditions is made possible by the insight (found only at this website, as far as I know), that the super power mindfulness taught by the Buddha in The Anapanasati Sutta can be harnessed by Rinzai Zen practitioners.


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