This volume has had a profound influence upon my life as I keep returning to it over and over again. After my illness (liver transplant) I had lost a lot of my faith in Zen and was only practicing once in a while. A received this gift from a friend who had lived at Zen Mountain Monastery for a time. I placed in my queue of books to read and there it sat for a few month, but I kept having this nagging feeling that reading this volume would have an immediate impact on my life.
I finally read it through in a couple of days and I have never regretted that decision, as a matter of fact it was one of the best decisions I have made. The book presents an, “accessible introduction to the philosophy and practice of Zen Buddhism includes a program of study that encompasses practically every aspect of life.” Soon after I finished reading it I found myself seeking a teacher. Living in Jacksonville, Florida that task proved difficult as I could not find someone that met my requirements. I ended up turning to the internet and listening to the dharma talks of Thich Nhat Hanh, John Daido Loori, and others. This in no way is a substitute for having a teacher, but it was the best solution available for me.
This small volume has taught me much and when I find my faith wandering I pick it up and read either excerpts or the whole book again. I recently was going through one of these spells and decided to read the book. Since completing it I have found myself a sangha, started this website and am rededicated to walking the path. I have never felt stronger about my beliefs and I owe a debt of gratitude to John Daido Loori and his book.
The program of study developed by John Daido Loori at Zen Mountain Monastery, from their website:
Zazen is the cornerstone of Zen training. Za means “sitting.” Zen—which derives from the Sanskritdhyana—means meditation. In its beginning stages, zazen is a practice of concentration, with a focus on following or counting the breath. More than just meditation, however, zazen is a powerful tool of self-inquiry, boundless in its ability to reveal the true basis of reality. Through zazen, we realize the unity of the self with the ten thousand things, which has the potential to transform our lives and those of others.
Study with a Teacher
Zen is an ancestral lineage that traces itself back to Shakyamuni Buddha. Because it relies on the mind-to-mind transmission of its teachings, personal study with an authentic teacher is pivotal to training. Although fundamentally, teachers have nothing to give, they are indispensable in helping students navigate the difficulties we encounter along the way, directly pointing to our original perfection. In dokusan, private interview, students deal with the questions and insights that emerge out of zazen.
The founder of Zen, Bodhidharma, said that Zen does not rely on words and letters. However, most western Buddhist practitioners are not familiar with the historical, philosophical and psychological underpinnings of the tradition, so Buddhist Study is critical to establishing a sound religious practice. Though words are not the same as the reality they describe, when used skillfully, they can act as a medium for direct realization.
Liturgy makes visible the invisible, bringing into awareness the shared experience of a group. In theistic religions, liturgy reaffirms our relationship with God. Zen, by contrast, is nontheistic, so its emphasis is on realizing our Buddha nature, or the nature of the self. All of Zen’s rituals point to the intimacy between the self and the ten thousand things. For an introduction to Zen liturgy, see Celebrating Everyday Life by Daido Roshi.
Right Action is the study and practice of the Buddhist Precepts, the moral and ethical teachings of the Buddha. Though the Precepts are based on the experience of no-self, they are designed to function in the world of differences. Thus they define how a Buddha lives in the world. See Daido Roshi’s book on the moral and ethical teachings of Zen Buddhism, The Heart of Being.
From its inception, training at Zen Mountain Monastery has taken up both the traditional Zen arts as well as contemporary arts to deeply study the self. Art practice encompasses the entire creative process: artist and tools, the relationships between artist and subject, artist and object, and object and audience. Together, these interactions show us that creativity is an inherent human process. See Daido Roshi’s book The Zen of Creativity.
Our physical body is our vehicle of self-realization, an experience that encompasses our whole being. The search for self-knowledge is often reduced to a purely mental pursuit. Body practice helps us to unify body, breath and mind through activities ranging from refined practices like Tai Chi to mundane activities like washing our face or eating breakfast.
Work Practice is a reminder that our spiritual practice must move off the cushion and translate into the sacred activity of living and working in the world. A daily caretaking period and formal work practice give us the opportunity to explore labor that is nourishing to ourselves and others. Starting with simple, repetitive tasks, and gradually increasing their complexity, we learn to see how our minds respond to the task at hand.