Posted inHenry's Messages

Message from Henry: Thoughts on Zen Training

July 29, 2015

To be on that path is enough. If we try to hurry it, we only slow it down.


The awakening experience that Zen recognizes is not one where we check out from this world. Rather, we see into the nature of this world composed of self and other, just as it is. As we come closer to the nature of things as they are, we discover them to be more than we had previously thought. Or less. Or a little different. Or to possess infinite properties and aspects we will never reach the end of. And at the same time, to possess no properties. As Bodhidharma said, when asked about the ultimate holy truth: “Nothing holy. Vast and void.”

This is perhaps different from some other kinds of spirituality, where people may meet with entities of one kind or another, encounter miracles, find their way to other realms, and so on. Zen has no opinion on such things, but they are not its concern. In Zen, the concern is the here and now. One master met with a miracle-worker who tried to impress him with a miraculous display of super-human powers. His response was simply: “My miracle is that when I’m hungry I eat, and when I’m thirsty I drink.”

* * *

All this work of Zen training, and then what happens? Your heart breaks.

* * *

There’s the sitting – learning to be with ourselves, to be ourselves. Watching how the mind works, how feelings rise and disappear, how moods and views and certainties and opinions come and go. And there’s the revelation, the collapse of long-imagined walls. But really our concern is just the first, the sitting. The many long hours of slow learning.

It may take a lot of attentive sitting to produce one small shift in perspective. But just one second of one minute of one degree of change in angle of vision, and the scene looks quite different. Not only the world before us, but even the past changes, and all possibilities and potentials too may arise in unimagined ways.

* * *

From the first time I sat zazen, I felt bewildered and excited. This wasn’t just about controlling my mind, calming myself, manipulating my moods. This was a journey. A journey into the heart of life. Into an unknown hinterland. It was much, much more than a life-technique for the stressed (which was basically how the meditation I had previously done had billed itself). It was more like a journey off the edge of any known map.

* * *

When Churchill accepted the perilous post of War-time Prime Minister in May 1940, he was in a glum mood all that day. But at night, after dinner, alone, reflecting with himself in his study, a great relief came over him, in spite of the daunting tasks he faced. He said he felt that at last he was “walking in step with destiny” – and that what he now faced was precisely what everything he had previously experienced and done had been preparing him for.

In our smaller, quieter way, we too may come to realize that all our life has been a preparation for coming to the Way, for learning to be in step with all things — and that therefore nothing we have done or known has ever been wasted, not one last little thing.

* * *

It turns out there actually is an end to our searching. That in itself is a marvel. And there must be an end, because – well, because of what it is. However, that does not mean there is an end to training. First, to come body, mind, soul into the basic reality of our existence, which turns out to be the reality of all existence – that is one thing. To learn to live out that fact, in clarity and kindness – that’s another thing. It’s the work of who knows how long.

But because it’s such a great work it doesn’t matter how long it takes…

To be on that path is enough. If we try to hurry it, we only slow it down.

Therefore, courage, faith and patience all welcome us into their arms. We have nothing to do but tend to our lives as they are – meaning the lives of the beings around us, and further afield.

Image Credit: Wanderer, by Herman, CC0 Public Domain,  from
Featured Image Credit: Monitor, by Gerald HKD, CC0 Public Domain, from

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