Zen is a practice of mindful meditation and action designed to free us to live compassionate, healthy and energized lives.
The Introduction to Meditation classes at the center (currently online on Zoom) offer a great way to get support in starting a practice. Our weekly Introduction to Meditation class is on Tuesday 5-6pm MT. You can tune into any class anytime, no sign up or fee. Feel free to drop in and check it out. Some people attend the class weekly for months, others come and go. Zoom link for the Tuesday Intro Class is: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87138601704
We are also offering a Saturday morning class (9am-noon MT) once a month for beginner’s, called Saturday Morning Stillness. See our calendar for the specific Saturday dates. This is an online class and can be accessed at sit.mountaincloud.org
The word “Zen” simply means meditation. The practice of meditation can bring many benefits: greater attention and awareness, the settling down of our emotional life, a growing sense of goodwill and kindness, and a desire to be of help in this world. The latest brain-imaging technology is showing what meditators have sensed for millennia—that the brain circuitry associated with relationships, compassion, attentiveness, peace and joy is all amplified in long-term meditators.
Meditation practice can also help resolve our most deep-seated existential questions. Who am I? What is this world? What is life, what is death? Why am I here? What should I do? Traditionally, Zen offers a way to investigate these matters, and ultimately to resolve “the great matter of life and death.”
Zen’s way is very simple: sit down and be quiet. It asks us to believe nothing. A good approach is simply to try out a meditation practice for a while and see for ourselves if it helps. This practice is compatible with any religious faith, as well as with none, or indeed atheism. In fact, our training may involve letting go of deeply held beliefs we may not even be aware of.
In Zen we don’t try to cultivate special states of mind. Rather, we are discovering what a remarkable thing it is to be functioning in our everyday lives at all. As one Zen master said in the eighth century: “my miracle is drawing water and carrying wood.” In other words, Zen helps us to discover the everyday miracle of each moment of our lives. It teaches us to appreciate and cherish all that we come in contact with.
Three Fruits of Zen
Traditionally there are said to be three fruits of zazen. The first is “concentration”—meaning in part simply the ability to hold our mind steady on a given task or object, but also more than that: a con-centering, a gathering together of our multiplicitous and wandering selves, a lessening of our readiness to be distracted from this very moment, right here and now; a growing capacity to be present to our lives, and open-hearted in our encounters with our friends, family, colleagues and strangers, and ultimately with all beings. Even the floor can be cherished by the soles of the feet as we walk, and a view of a distant tree-clad mountain can be received as a truly intimate gift.
The second fruit is “seeing reality” or “seeing true nature.” This is a moment of sudden revelation, when we are dropped into an experience of our intrinsic participation in a vast and single fact that unites all creation. Infinite, empty, one, “vast and clear,” boundless and boundary-less, with no inside or outside, no self and no other, no life and no death, no separation of any kind anywhere, this experience is often regarded as a turning point on the path of authentic Zen practice. And yet, there is no requirement that all students seek it, hope for it, or undergo it. Zen practice is entirely valid and complete without it, and everyone is fully free to enjoy whatever benefits they may be hoping for and indeed finding as a result of their regular meditation, regardless of whether such a realization befalls them.
The third fruit is the embodying or integrating of such an experience in everyday life. This is a long process, sometimes also called the “perfection of character,” since if we really lived out the reality glimpsed in a moment of realization, and in every instant of our lives were free of all last shreds of clinging or grasping, with no blocks or hindrances left, then we might indeed be something like “perfect.” But they say even Shakyamuni Buddha is still only half-way there.