Some Thoughts about Practice

If we want to sum up the precepts into one handy “take-home,” it might be: practice kindness. Or just: kindness. Or simply: be kind.

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Zazen gives us a chance each day to reset our perspective. We can reboot in a universal perspective of patience and acceptance, one which recognizes and is at peace with the fact that this body will one day give out and stop existing in its present form. Zazen encourages us neither to have nor to do, but to be. The incomparable fulfillment of be-ing.

Form is emptiness, emptiness is form, says the Heart Sutra, with the promise that realizing this will bring peace. Why? Because to see through it all undoes the knot of self.

We may aspire to have good “enlightened” times in our Zen training, and also in our encounters with the teacher. But I’ve found it’s better to bring our profoundly “non-enlightened” selves to the teacher and the practice, and thereby to discover that in the midst of our imagined shortcomings we are still OK, and that what we may worry about is also perfectly “enlightened” anyway.

If we don’t do this (which often we may not) our practice may tend to become brittle and an unhappy kind of challenge and effort. Better to be kind with ourselves as we are. Kind and welcoming.

If enlightened means anything in Zen it may mean:

1. To have clearly seen that all things without a single exception are the one single fact of infinite emptiness

2. To have forgotten all about that, and clearly live out the fact that infinite one emptiness exists ONLY as this very moment with precisely its contents, whatever they may be. Therefore, any striving for any kind of “attainment” is very wide of the mark (or “hamartia” in Greek, sadly translated as “sin” in the Judaeo-Christian texts).

But in Zen all our “hamartia” is welcome, even our erroneous striving to disguise or avoid the same. At the same time, we do set out to live by the Precepts—which are guidelines toward a life that will cause ourselves and others less suffering, because we will be living more in accordance with the fact of oneness. As Yamada Koun Roshi said, just because this life may all be a dream, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make it a happy dream.

If we want to sum up the precepts into one handy “take-home,” it might be: practice kindness. Or just: kindness. Or simply: be kind.

Perhaps this can also serve as a guideline for the helpful kind of effort we can bring to our practice: whatever we may be experiencing in our meditation, how about being kind both to ourselves and to it? Our self-torment, our suffering, all have their right to exist too. Every little thought has its place. Let’s be kind to our minds and our hearts. That way they can teach us. And then we can more easily be kind to others. And it works the other way round too. Being kind to others in thought, word and deed makes it easier to be kind to ourselves.

Practice kindness. It may not fall within the rubric of therapy exactly, yet may be deeply therapeutic nonetheless.


By Henry Shukman, from our newsletter archives.

Post Image: Friendship cat-dog,  By 2allmankind, CC0 Public Domain, from pixabay.com.

Featured Image: kindness, by jenny downing, From flickr.com, CC BY 2.0

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