Posted inHenry's Messages

Message from Henry: Gift of Practice

July 15, 2015

This is all part of the gift of practice: that its fruits and wisdom are tasted only in the doing, only in the actual experience of practice.


I’ve heard sesshin called the heart of Zen training. Whether it is or not, it’s like a musical score that has been handed down to us by generations of ancestors. It doesn’t live on paper, but by practitioners stepping in and playing their parts, and thus making it actual. It’s such a demanding practice, yet it can become easeful and joyous over time. Things happen to us – the basis of our relationships to others, to ourselves, to life, gently change and become easier. We start to see things differently, perhaps more accurately and healthily.

This is all part of the gift of practice: that its fruits and wisdom are tasted only in the doing, only in the actual experience of practice.

That’s the difference between a scholar and a practitioner, between a modern philosopher and an ancient one: in classical Greece and Rome philosophy meant the pursuit of wisdom, not knowledge. It was a tradition of attempts at living well, meaning somehow in accordance with reality, closer to whatever could be discovered about what was most real.

The Chinese Zen masters were perhaps less concerned with finding the “real” than with simply shedding, again and again, whatever was additional to experience, until there was nothing left, and the practitioner found intrinsic and boundless freedom. And finally, what was to be done with that freedom? Help beings. Save beings. Free beings. Even though they were all already free.

The Dharma is such that it’s no surprise to find that here we are, far away and centuries later, following just the same practice.

We are surely in a process of finding ways for Dharma practice to adapt to western society. But the much greater project is our own adapting to the Dharma. Otherwise, why bother? Some fruits of meditation are easier to accept than others. Who wouldn’t want to be more present, or appreciative and thoughtful of others, and more at peace, for example? But actually, being present is not always easy. At times it will mean facing emotions, relationship dynamics, habitual behaviors, compulsive patterns that we don’t want to face at all, that we would far rather check out from. And if we’ve been conditioned from early years to look after numero uno first, to consider others first may not be so easy either. And other aspects of the Dharma, such as the contingency and non-independence – and as some say, fundamental illusoriness – of “I myself:” this is not easy to accept. But as long as we only sign on for the elements of this teaching and practice that suit us, we are not really accepting the teaching.

A general tip: often we may wonder in our practice if we should be aiming to do x or y, should I be trying to stay focused, or clear, or whatever….

But if meditation had DNA its primary gene would be a “recessive” one. Its spirit is akin to “Negative Capability,” as the poet John Keats called it: the power inherent in a certain kind of active passivity, or receptivity, of non-doing as a way of doing.

All good things come to him or her who waits, as someone said. Perhaps all it takes is a little faith.

Image Credit: Buddha Mind, by Hartwig HKD, CC BY-ND 2.0. from
Featured Image Credit: Between Red and White, by Hartwig HKD, CC BY-ND 2.0. from

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