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Peeled oranges: Photographed during Sesshin, 2019

what is zen?

 it isn't "zen"

what is zen top

The word 'Zen' means 'meditation'. But what is meditation?


​​Zen meditation is the opportunity to experience exactly what the Buddha realised: the heart completely at rest in its circumstances.

There are many misconceptions about Zen. In popular culture it has come to  mean something like "a cool detachment from everyday life". But that misses the point entirely. Zen is vital, engaged, passionate and active. It celebrates the mystery of being here in our mysterious bodies. When we sit in meditation and experience ourselves completely, we discover that we are not separate from the universe, but a complete part of its miraculous unfolding.

As Susan Murphy Roshi says, "We live by the sheer generosity of a moment-by-moment miracle, and it is called the breath. Actually, we could say we live and die by this miracle. Every breath out is a practice of yielding the self to the universe; every breath in is a reincarnation event, the self reborn, fresh. Zen is the practice of agreeing to live with a mind and self as alive and fluid as breathing itself: accepting the offer of each moment, yielding to the passing of each moment."

To yield to the breath is to yield to the world before thought. Experiencing the world before thought is the fruit of "not knowing". When we can truly let go of what we think we know about the world we can begin to participate more freely, more creatively. That's when meditation really flowers. Whether we're doing the dishes, attending a protest or caring for the person beside us, where alive to the miracle of being here together.

Call it Zen, call it the Way, call it the Tao, call it what you will - they're all just names for what cannot be named. Namely, your actual life.

Zhaozhou asked Nanquan, “What is the Tao?”
Nanquan said, “Ordinary mind is Tao.”
Zhaozhou asked, “Should I try to direct myself toward it?”
Nanquan said, “If you try to direct yourself you betray your own practice.”
Zhaozhou asked, “How can I know the Tao if I don’t direct myself?”
Nanquan said, “The Tao is not subject to knowing or not knowing.
Knowing is delusion; not knowing is blankness. If you truly reach the genuine Tao, you will find it as vast and boundless as outer space.
How can this be discussed at the level of affirmation and negation?”
With these words, Zhaozhou had sudden realisation.
mu caligraphy - susan murphy - B&W watermark.png
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