Three elements have long been considered integral and indispensable to Zen training – Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Often referred to as the three treasures, they form the foundation of our practice and correspond, more or less, to our sitting practice, our understanding of the teachings, and our sitting together as a group.
It was Buddha himself who originally used zazen (“sitting meditation”) to resolve the “great matter” of human life, accomplishing the task with his great awakening at the age of thirty-five. The word “Buddha” refers not only to the historical man, but also to what he realized – the absolute fact of our existence. Through waking up to what this existence truly is and releasing the layers of delusion that obscure it, we can all become more wakeful, loving and content people.
Dharma refers to the teachings of Buddha and the Zen masters. In our lineage, we generally begin our meditation with breath-work, then move on either to the open awareness practice of shikantaza (“just sitting”), or to koan study. Koans – anecdotes about the sayings and doings of the Zen masters – are an exceptional teaching method for clarifying and deepening our insight into our own true nature.
Thirdly, the Sangha is our community of fellow-sitters. But since we are all embarked on this journey together, we consider our sangha not merely to be our fellow Zen-trainees, but all human beings—and ultimately, all beings of all kinds, including animals, trees, rivers and mountains, and even the great earth itself.