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WHAT ZEN PRACTICE IS/WHAT ZEN PRACTICE IS NOT
-Charlotte Joko Beck, Everyday Zen
Practice is about experiencing the truth of who we really are.
Practice is about being with our life as it is, not as we would like it to be.
Practice is about the clash between what we want and what is.
Practice is about the transformation of our unnecessary suffering.
Practice is about attending to, [and] experiencing, wherever we are stuck, whatever we’re holding, whatever blocks us from our true nature.
Practice is about turning away from constantly seeking comfort and from trying to avoid pain.
Practice ultimately deals with just one thing: the fear at the base of human existence—the fear that I am not.
Practice is about willingly residing in whatever life presents to us.
Practice is about seeing through our belief systems; so even if they remain, they no longer run us.
Practice is about turning from a self-centered view to a life-centered view.
Practice is about learning to be happy, but we will never be happy until we truly experience our unhappiness.
Practice is about slowly increasing our awareness of who we are and how we relate to life.
Practice is about moving from a life of drama to a life of no drama.
Practice is about finally understanding the paradox that although everything is a mess, all is well.
Practice is about learning to say “Yes” to everything, even when we hate it.
Practice always comes back to just the willingness to be
Many people practice and have strong ideas of what practice is. What I want to do is to state from my point of view what practice is not.
First, practice is not about producing psychological change. If we practice with intelligence, psychological change will be produced; I am not questioning that - in fact, it's wonderful. I am saying that practice is not done in order to produce such change.
Practice is not about intellectually knowing the physical nature of reality, what the universe consists of, or how it works. And again, in a serious practice, we will tend to have some knowledge of such matters. But that is not what practice is.
Practice is not about achieving some blissful state. It's not about having visions. It's not about seeing white lights (or pink or blue ones). All of these things may occur, and if we sit long enough they probably will. But that is not what practice is about.
Practice is not about having or cultivating special powers. There are many of these and we all have some of them naturally; some people have them in extra measure. At the Zen Center Los Angeles I sometimes had the useful ability to see what was being served for dinner two doors away. If they were having something I didn't like, I didn't go. Such abilities are little oddities, and again they are not what practice is about.
Practice is not about personal power or joriki, the strength that is developed in years of sitting. Again, joriki is a natural by-product of zazen. And again it is not the way
Practice is not about having nice feelings, happy feelings. It's not about feeling good as opposed to feeling bad. It's not an attempt to be anything special or feel anything special. The product of practice or the point of practice or what practice is about is not to be always calm and collected. Again, we tend to be much more so after years of practice, but it is not the point.
Practice is not about some bodily state in which we are never ill, never hurt, one in which we have no bothersome ailments. Sitting tends to have health benefits for many people, though in the course of practice there may be months or even years of health disasters. But again, seeking perfect health is not the way; although by and large, over time, there will be beneficial health for most people. But no guarantees!
Practice is not about achieving an omniscient state in which a person knows all about everything, a state in which a person is an authority on any and all worldly problems. There may be a little more clarity on such matters, but clever people have been known to
say and do foolish things.
Practice is not about being "spiritual," at least not as this word if often understood. Practice is not about being anything. So unless we see that we cannot aim at being "spiritual," it can be a seductive and harmful objective.
Practice is not about highlighting all sorts of "good" qualities and getting rid of "bad" ones. No one is "good" or "bad." The struggle to be good is not what practice is. That type of training is a subtle form of athleticism.
We could continue our listing almost endlessly. Actually anyone in practice has some of these delusions operating. We all hope to change, to get somewhere! That in itself is the basic fallacy. But just contemplating this desire begins to clarify it, and the practice basis of our life alters as we do so. We begin to comprehend that our frantic desire to get better, to get "somewhere," is illusion itself, and the source of suffering.
If our boat full of hope, illusions, and ambition (to get somewhere, to be spiritual, to be perfect, to be enlightened) is capsized, what is that empty boat? Who are we? What, in terms of our lives, can we realize? And what is practice?