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Zen. It’s not what you think.
By Laurie Kido Lyons
Zen. It’s not what you think! This is a slogan on T-shirts worn by my friends at Open Mind Zen in Melbourne, FL. It makes for a great T-shirt. It’s also a perfect place to start when tackling a subject that is really beyond words. So if it’s not what you think, then what is Zen? The word itself is a Japanese translation of the Chinese word ch’an. It originates from the word dhyana, a Sanskrit word meaning meditation. Today we use the word Zen in all sorts of contexts. We might say, “That cat is so Zen” or “She has a Zen approach to cooking.” But do we really know what we’re saying when we use this word?
My teacher, Sensei Al, has been practicing and teaching Zen for over 40 years. When asked what Zen is, he often replies, “I don’t know.” I feel this is a perfect response, but maybe not very satisfying to a beginner that really wants to know what Zen is. So this is what Zen meditation is to me: Sit down and watch. Look at what’s really happening in this body-mind. And when you think you know, look again. Look deeper. We pay so much attention to the world around us. We don’t think twice about spending hours on end working on a project, working on a relationship, or taking care of our bodies. Yet somehow we feel it’s too difficult or not important to understand the workings of our own minds.
The Buddha taught that every sentient being possesses the seed of enlightenment, an aspect of the self that we call Buddha nature. We lose touch with this True Self because we’re deluded into thinking that the surface noise is us. We think we are our bodies. We think we are our thoughts. We think we are our roles (mother, teacher, doctor, etc.) We define ourselves by aspects that are transitory, constantly changing. These ideas we have about ourselves make us feel separate from the world around us. So when we suffer, we look for the solution out there. “If I only had that job or that husband. . . then I would be happy!” So we work really hard to get that job or that husband. The problem is that the job and the husband are transitory things. And the craving for the job and the husband is also transitory.
The Buddha taught that all things are Empty. This is not a nihilistic concept, as it’s often misinterpreted. What he meant is that all observable things are empty of any permanent, independent nature. This might sound depressing, but when you realize this on a deep level, you become completely free. You recognize that this thing you call a body-mind is just a small part of what we call Big Mind. Big Mind is timeless. It includes everything. It excludes nothing. Every observable thing in the Universe is part of Big Mind. It’s just a matter of sitting down and looking long enough and hard enough to experience this Truth for yourself. Imagine how wonderful it would feel to merge with Big Mind, realize your connection to everything else in the Universe. So, sit down and watch!!!!! All it takes is 10 minutes out of your day. You might be amazed by what you find. You might be even more amazed at what you don’t find. Sit with that.
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