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Chapter Two: Differentiating Zen Meditating from All Others

A Dogwood is a tree and a flower. This categorization is important as it suggests non- duality of either/or and informs a major tenant in Elliston-Roshi's second chapter of The Original Frontier: Differentiating Zen Meditating from All Others. In chapter one Hojo scouted the landscape for the reader by making the case for designing a creative Zen life. Chapter two is all about selecting the vehicle for the journey, the Conestoga of this frontier: Zazen.

Zen offers a basic style of meditation, and a most appropriate philosophy for Americans in particular. As an entrée on the smorgasbord of various approaches on offer today, it is the simplest and most direct. The least encumbered with doctrine that must be assimilated, in order to start meditating and enjoying its halo effect on daily life. Zen is “jump in both feet,” as my teacher would say.

It is not really necessary to go through preliminary preparation, or extensive study, in order to begin benefiting from its (the) practice of zazen. Other sects may disagree, but Zen places great trust in your original mind, and your ability to recover it on the cushion. Michael Elliston. The Original Frontier (p. 43). Cornell Maritime Press. Kindle Edition.

Hojo points to the many types of meditative practices analyzed in the work of Dr. Daniel Goleman (p.43-45). Zazen does not currently rise to the most practiced form of "Meditation" in the West. The commonality of "other forms of meditation have several actions in common that include being a means to an end of well-being, attempts to overcome thinking by focusing on an object to funnel thought in particular ways. I suggest it is an attempt to make the monkey mind stop, rather than simply observing the impermanence of loud noises and long leaps and jumps.

But wait, Elliston-roshi notes that well-being is not the endall of Zen:

If I had to say what zazen is, in contrast to meditation in general, I would say it comprises a backward step—Dogen’s expression—turning our usual approach 180 degrees. Zazen reverses the usual grasping of the thinking mind, letting unfiltered experience flow to us, instead of chasing after enlightenment or any other preconceived benefit. Zazen is not a means to an end, as are other meditations, but an end in itself. (p.46).

Emptying the mind is the opposite of going deep into understanding but are not actions of the Middle Way nor characteristics of zazen..."Eventually, zazen becomes objectless (J. shikantaza). It is not meditation, in the technical sense. When the mind no longer has an object, likewise there can be no subject. You cannot get any simpler than that. (p.48)."

The shear rigor of zazen generates the concentrated ease of prajna. "This is unfiltered awareness and extended to the environment becomes total absorption (p.49)." Further and here Roshi's point is clear:

The first significant turning point is forgetting the self, after which meditation is no longer only, or all, about yourself. Forgetting the self is not willful self-sacrifice, or naiveté, but a mark of spiritual growth. We turn from intense absorption in the self, necessary to beginning Zen practice, to attention to other (p.51).

As Hojo works through the chapter he points to several comparative features of why Zazen is the vehicle of choice. We will look at:

  1. Thinking versus Non-thinking-Dogen speaks

  2. Concentration, Relaxation, Contemplation- this that and the other

  3. Zazen versus Contemplation: opening--narrowing

  4. Forgetting the Self- Don't concentrate on the unformed

  5. Experience verses Expression- intimacy/actualization

  6. Experience First Expression Second-YES

  7. Grazing the Spiritual Smorgasbord- Painted menus have their place

  8. Being in the Moment- As opposed to_________

  9. True versus False Samadhi- Don's stop

  10. Contrasting Zen Sects- Different ways to skin a Zen cat

  11. Rinzai = Koan Practice

  12. Soto = Zazen Practice

  13. Bringing Zen Home- Selection...

Finally the chapter flashes warnings to get-up, don't give-up and never think you have arrived. Because as the next chapter will show we have the capacity to foster some lousy excuses not to ride the cushion.

108 Bows


REMEMBER: Our Spring "Chanting" Zazenkai is this Saturday June 19, via Zoom, from 6:30 EDT to Noon EDT

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