Buddhism, Buddhist Practice, Mindfulness, Zen, Zen practice

The Practice of Meditation

I started doing sitting meditation, or zazen, at an early age.  I wasn’t a boy.  I was a young man.  I have done it virtually every day since.  Why do I sit every morning and evening?  If it wasn’t providing me something, I would not have continued all these years.

I must say that I was blessed with inherent discipline.  I might not have a lot more going for me, but discipline and perseverance are my strengths.  Sitting gives me the stillness and silence to watch my mind.  Thoughts come and thoughts go.  Scary dark thoughts (memories, recollections) arise.  I face them.  I do not turn away and I do not hold on.  I sit right in the middle of them.  I let them be.  They do their thing.  I feel the physical sensations of my emotions and let go.  I don’t dwell and I don’t identify with my thoughts.  In other words, I don’t find my identity by holding on to beliefs, opinions, judgments, or conclusions about anything that arises.  The thoughts, pleasant and terrifying, arise and evaporate, over and over.  With practice, (for me, lots of practice) I sit quietly, in silence, allowing anything and everything to present itself.

Through the step of Right Concentration on his Eightfold Path, Buddha described the development of four stages of dhyana.  Dhyana translates from Sanskrit as mental discipline, or meditation.  The Chinese called it Chan.  The Japanese called it Zen.  We call it Zen.  In our arduous practice of meditating, we move from letting go of unwholesome thoughts, desires, and doubts, rooted in anger, greed, and ignorance.  At the same time, we maintain feelings of happiness and joy.  In the second stage, we cut out intellectual activity as our reality, developing peace and one-pointed mind.  Feelings of happiness and joy remain.  In the third stage of development, said Buddha, seen through his own practice, feelings of happiness and joy dissolve as experience with the disposition of happiness and equanimity remaining.  In the fourth stage of meditation practice, we relinquish all sensation, happiness and sorrow.  We are left with awareness and equanimity.

As mentioned, Buddha described this process of Right Concentration through the discovery of his own meditation practice.  We discover the stages of mental discipline through our own meditation practice.  Buddha provided guideposts, a finger pointing at the moon.  We realize the true nature of the moon.  We realize our own true nature through meditation practice.

Buddhism, Buddhist Practice, Zen, Zen practice

Rocks or Roses

Whether people throw rocks or roses at us, we don’t pick them up.  Some wise person said that.  It means that whether people praise us or criticize us, we don’t take it too seriously.  We stay calm and level headed.  We practice equanimity.  From Latin, aequus, which means level, even, or equal.  And from animus, which means mind or spirit.  Even spirit.  We keep a level mind.  We don’t lean too far to either side when we are happy or sad.  We get happy and sad, but we don’t go off the deep end either way.

Equanimity is one of the most important practices in Buddhism.  It is a practice that we work to perfect.  Equanimity purifies our mind of anger, greed, and delusion.  It helps us stay steady when things are always changing, such as sorrow and happiness, and rocks and roses.  Equanimity helps us with meditation, as meditation helps us develop equanimity.  It is essential in helping us to realize our true nature, who we truly are in this life.

But equanimity is not all about us.  It’s about living in this world with a free and peaceful mind.  With equanimity, we care about ourselves and everybody else.  We are kindness.  We are compassion.  And we wish everybody, including ourselves, joy.

Buddhism, Buddhist Practice, Zen, Zen practice


When I was young, I read about meditating in a book.  I decided to try it.  I took pillows off my bed, bent them in half, and sat down.  I folded my legs and settled myself.  I concentrated on my breath coming in and going out, down in the center of my body, below the belly button.  I counted the in-breath, one.  The out-breath, two.  In-breath, three.  Out-breath, four.  Up to ten and then I started again with in-breath, one.  Out-breath, two, up to ten and so on, over and over and over.  When I got lost in thought, I remembered and went back to following my breath and counting.

I continued to sit every now and then, when I thought of it, had the time, or felt really tense and needed relief.   I did it this way for about five years.  Then because I could see and appreciate how much meditating was adding to my life, I made a resolve to sit every day.  Resolve means that I was determined, and I decided on a firm course of action.

Resolve is one of the paramitas, the practices that we work to perfect.  Buddha said we resolve in our practice to gain wisdom, truth, relinquishment, and tranquility.  We perfect our resolve so that we awake up to life in front of us, in the present moment, just as it is.

Our resolve keeps up practicing—meditating, understanding the Four Noble Truths, and following the steps on the Eightfold Path.  Our resolve also establishes, strengthens and deepens our spiritual life.  From our resolve, we practice out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, welfare, and happiness of all beings.

Buddhism, Buddhist Practice, Zen practice

In Gassho

When I met a woman from another spiritual group in Kona, she heard that we do gassho at our Zen temple, Daifukuji.  She asked me what gassho is.  It is so normal for me to do gassho that I didn’t think about other people not understanding it.  This person I talked to was sincerely interested.

I explained that we do gassho when we put our palms together, and raise our hands in front of our face, about a fist’s width away.  We keep our fingers straight, our hands at 45 degrees upward.  We hold our elbows slightly out from our bodies. This is the recommended way, but everybody does it their own personal way, too.  We are fully attentive and present.

“What does it mean when you do it?” the woman asked.

I told her that it means that we are sincere, open and grateful.  We gassho to greet another person, to say hello, to say thank you, and to ask for something in the humblest way.  We offer gassho out of deep respect.  As we bring our hands together in gassho, it means that we are all one, together, connected and not apart.

We use gassho with a bow.  We bow to the Buddha in the other, as ourself, and in all beings and in all things.  When we bow in gassho, we and the person to whom we bow are one, not two.  And gassho stands for the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

Gassho is a beautiful act.  It is a natural act.  Gassho is a symbol of the truth of life.



Buddhism, Buddhist Practice, Zen, Zen practice

Ice Cream Store Zen

I walked up to the ice cream store.  A long line backed out the front door.  I stood waiting and watching the server carefully scoop each customer’s cone.  I felt impatience rise inside me.  It made me feel annoyed that I had to wait.  The thoughts started: “Why don’t they have another server working?”  “Why can’t the people in line move up so we can come into the store?”  “Do I even want to wait?” “Maybe I don’t need this ice cream.”  On and on.  As I faced a situation that I refused to accept, I felt irritated.  I watched the thoughts rise and fall away.  I felt the uncomfortable sensations in my body.  Because I was aware of my mind, I had a choice.  I could continue to be annoyed, or I could accept the situation and be patient (and friendly and fun). Of course, once I sat and ate my dessert, I forgot that I was ever impatient.

Patience is one of the practice perfections, the paramitas, of Buddha’s teaching.  Impatience is, of course, where we meet the practice.  Once we accept our circumstances, we develop gratitude and compassion.  We suffer less and cause those around us to suffer less, as well.

Buddha was very clear about this.  He advised that we have infinite patience at all times, no matter what the situation.  He said that no matter what someone else does to us, even the worse thing we could ever possibly imagine, we still keep a mind filled with compassion.  In fact, our awareness is always filled with love–abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.

That, he said, is how we train ourselves.

Every moment.  Right here.  Right now.

Even in an ice cream store.