The Eight Gates of Zen: A Program of Zen Trainingby John Daido Loori
This accessible introduction to the philosophy and practice of Zen Buddhism includes a program of study that encompasses practically every aspect of life. The American Zen teacher John Daido Loori shows us that Zen practice should include not only meditation, the study of Zen literature and liturgy, and moral and ethical action, but should also manifest in work, artistic, and everyday activities. The Eight Gates are:
1. Zazen, a type of meditation described as "sitting Zen"
2. Face-to-face meetings between teacher and student
3. Academic study of the sutras related to Zen training, other schools of Buddhism, Buddhist history, psychology, and philosophy
4. Zen rites and rituals and their meaning
5. The moral and ethical requirements set in the Buddhist Precepts
6. Art practice as an extension of Zen practice
7. Body practice as an extension of Zen practice
8. Work as an active function of zazen
Beautifully illustrated with Loori's own photographs, this edition also includes a new introduction and an updated reading list.
"Sufficiently deep, yet clear and easy to read, this has the potential to become a fundamental handbook broadening practice in this country."— Publishers Weekly
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Read an Excerpt
In the early sixties a number of Japanese Zen masters arrived in North America carrying the seeds of their twenty-five-hundred-year-old tradition to a new and fertile ground. Very quickly, these Eastern pioneers discovered they had the problem of adapting an essentially monastic tradition to the needs of a majority of Western lay practitioners, and that they could not train their new
American students in the way that they themselves had been trained.
Japanese students arrive at a Zen temple or monastery, they already come steeped in a background of Buddhist history and education. Those preparing for the monastic life are usually born into a temple family and follow a parental lineage of monks and priests. They become ordained as novices at eleven years of age and begin their training by assisting in the home temple chores. Most attend a Buddhist elementary school and then continue on to a Buddhist university, where a high percentage of the students receive at least a Master's degree in Buddhism.
By the time prospective novices enter into full-time, intensive monastic training,
they already have completed a prolonged course of instruction in both Buddhist academic studies and the elaborate ritual and ceremony of monastic life.
Indeed, a prerequisite for entering a training monastery is to be familiar with the ceremonial etiquette of a Zen temple. New trainees must have memorized—and know how to chant—the sutras, the dharani, and other liturgical materials of
Zen, most of which are written in Chinese. They must know how to wear the monastic robes, handle the ceremonial surplice, and make devotional offerings to the Buddhist deities enshrined throughout the temple. Furthermore, they must be able to perform memorial rites, prepare and serve food for the formal meals,
and minister to visiting lay practitioners.
Members of the lay sangha (community), on the other hand, provide financial aid or labor to the temple and so derive merit for supporting the monastics in their work. The lay sangha's involvement in temple affairs revolves around the celebration of Buddhist holidays, funerals, memorial services, and for some of the more devout, the receiving of the Buddhist precepts. The continuing presence of Japanese lay practitioners who actually study and train with the monks is rare. As a result, the system of Japanese Zen training has retained a largely monastic form, just as it has in China and other Asian countries.
Japanese teachers in America faced the dilemma of how to adapt the teachings of an ancient Buddhist religious tradition to a contemporary, non-Buddhist culture. Added to this were the cultural barriers that set a typical twenty-year old American in the sixties far apart from a Japanese of the same age, particularly around the issue of relating to authority. One of the main reasons Westerners were attracted to Eastern religions at the time was their disenchantment with what they perceived as the "trappings" of the
Judeo-Christian traditions. Their turning to Zen was often a turning away from a religious framework they found too constricting.
Ironically though, the Judeo-Christian framework these students were trying to get away from became the filter through which they assimilated—and consequently misinterpreted—the new religion of Zen. Liturgical services became identified with worship, Buddhism with theology, and the Buddha as a deity. Buddhist terms took on Judeo-Christian connotations as Sanskrit words that had been used for thousands of years were translated into English.
for example, was translated as "suffering," but suffering is just one of the aspects of dukkha. The full meaning of the word has profound philosophical implications that are not communicated with the word
The same is true of "wisdom"
as the translation of
Many of the Buddhist terms are untranslatable and should remain so in order to retain their original meanings.
Facing the cultural barrier, the Japanese teachers' response was one of simplification. They stripped down complex doctrinal, devotional, and ethical
Buddhist teachings and taught meditation practice and employed abbreviated liturgical services. Students were able to take the precepts—and even go through full monastic ordination—without undergoing the extensive study that traditionally prepares the way for such ceremonies. The formal hierarchy of the traditional monastery was replaced with more democratic forms, and the process of learning through close observation and imitation was replaced with instruction manuals and elaborate verbal instructions. Gradually, Bodhidharma's maxim, "Zen is a special transmission outside the scriptures, with no reliance on words and letters," lost its original meaning and became more and more intellectualized.
As a result of these shortcomings, a large portion of the teaching was not communicated from the first generation of Japanese teachers to their American counterparts. If this process continues, each successive generation will make further changes or omissions so that slowly even Zen Buddhism will begin to shift into something it was never intended to be, or it will possibly fall apart.
The danger we face is that we will end up with an ersatz Zen with little or no relationship to its original. The challenge to me and other first-generation
American Zen teachers has been to fill the gaps in the teachings that have been lost along the way, while creating a training matrix that is alive and relevant to twenty-first-century Western practitioners.
Zen centers train men and women who come from diverse backgrounds, but who are usually householders, professionals, and college students. Many are parents or grandparents. Their ages range between early twenties and eighties. Some live great distances from a training center or monastery, others are housebound,
handicapped, or incarcerated. Yet all are responding to a strong spiritual imperative.
Any training matrix that wants to maintain the integrity of the Zen tradition and address these diverse needs must provide training in liturgy, home practice,
the moral and ethical teachings, koans, advanced methods of meditation, the arts of Zen, academic study of Buddhism, physical labor, the connection between mind and body, the unique teacher-student relationship that exists in Zen, and the development of a different kind of learning process that is not linear and sequential, but rather direct and intuitive.
The first twelve years of Zen Mountain Monastery involved an exploration of how to develop and refine a training program that was equally applicable to monastics and lay practitioners from different walks of life. We studied the golden ages of Chinese and Japanese Zen with an eye on key elements of practice and training that contributed to the vitality and authenticity of these periods.
The result of this work was the development of a sound systematic training and practice regime in eight critical areas of Buddhist teachings: The Eight Gates of Zen. In addition, we divided the training matrix into ten stages of spiritual development corresponding to the Ten Ox-Herding Pictures of antiquity. The purpose of this categorization was to define and track students'
degrees of accomplishment in each stage and to assure continuity in their training.
Eight Gates of Zen
was first published in 1992 as a manual describing this course of study. In the past ten years, thousands of students have also used it as a guide to Zen practice at home. The first edition was originally published in limited quantities by the Monastery's publishing arm, Dharma Communications Press, for use by students of the Mountains and Rivers Order. However, because of its wide appeal to Buddhist practitioners, or those simply interested in Zen training and meditation, this second edition is now being published by Shambhala
Publications in order to make it more readily available.
There is no question that Zen has changed dramatically since its inception in China.
Yet, one of the strengths of the Zen teachings has been their unique ability to metamorphose and adapt in accord to the imperative of time, place, position,
and degree. On the other hand, at the core of this ancient tradition remains a critical, immutable truth: the heart of the Buddhist teachings, which has been conveyed for the past two thousand five hundred years in Zen's journey across the face of the earth.
It is my sincere wish that the readers of this book will discover for themselves that the spirit and authenticity of these teachings are still alive and intact on these pages.
Meet the Author
John Daido Loori (1931–2009) was one of the West's leading Zen masters. He was the founder and spiritual leader of the Mountains and Rivers Order and abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery. His work has been most noted for its unique adaptation of traditional Asian Buddhism into an American context, particularly with regard to the arts, the environment, social action, and the use of modern media as a vehicle of spiritual training and social change. Loori was an award-winning photographer and videographer. His art and wildlife photography formed the core of a unique teaching program that integrated art and wilderness training by cultivating a deep appreciation of the relationship of Zen to our natural environment. He was a dharma heir of the influential Japanese Zen master Taizan Maezumi Roshi and he authored many books.
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