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Pagan Portals Zen Druidry
Living a Natural Life, with Full Awareness
By Joanna van der Hoeven
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2012 Joanna van der Hoeven
All rights reserved.
A Brief Overview of Zen
A Short History of Zen Buddhism
Zen doesn't have to relate to any religion at all. However, its origins are in the Eastern religion of Buddhism, and so we will start by looking at the history of Zen Buddhism.
The first thing that must be made clear is that the Buddha is not a god. Buddha was a man of the noble/warrior class in India, named Siddhartha Gautama. Siddhartha's father wanted him to become a great warrior leader, and not to pursue spiritual matters. He believed that if he could shield his son from any suffering, he would not need to turn to spirituality and therefore become a great warrior leader. Siddhartha was cut off from all contact with the outside world.
He grew up in the royal palace, never knowing or seeing anything of the outside world. He even married and had a child, still with no knowledge whatsoever of any external relationships. He never saw sickness in anything, be it person, plant or animal – these were carefully hidden from him. Flowers were not allowed to wither and die in the royal gardens, old age was hidden from him, death was a complete unknown to him. Eventually, he craved to know what life was like outside the palace, and snuck out in disguise for four nights with a single servant. What he learned shocked him to the core.
The first night he came across a very old man, and Siddhartha asked his servant why the man was so wrinkled and weary. His servant answered that the man was simply old, and that this is what happened to all men and women. On the second night, Siddhartha encountered someone who was lying sick in the road, and queried his servant on this. The servant replied that the man had an illness, and that all men and women were susceptible to disease. The third night, Siddhartha saw a dead body for the first time, and asked his servant why that person wasn't moving – was he asleep? The servant answered him no, and that the person was dead – all men and women would one day die. On the fourth and final night, Siddhartha saw a monk, travelling in search of truth, living in poverty but with a serene and fulfilled look on his face. Siddhartha again queried his servant, asking what was wrong with that man, as he had never known such a thing. The servant answered that the monk was searching for enlightenment, for the spiritual truth which would ease all suffering, and in doing so had forsaken all his material possessions.
Siddhartha was overwhelmed. Growing up as he had, with no knowledge of suffering, upon seeing the suffering in the real world it threw him into a spiritual turmoil. It was like standing under a waterfall, with all the pain of the human condition falling upon his head. He then vowed that he would find an answer to the suffering, and left the palace and his family to search out the truth.
Siddhartha's search lasted for six years. He began in poverty, and nearly starved to death. He studied many religions, with their adherents to the life of an ascetic, and discovered that was not the way to spiritual growth. He found that the path of moderation led to the most practical road in his quest to answer why all things suffered. Still he had not reached that answer, and one day, coming across a lovely bodhi tree (a fig tree) he sat down and vowed that he would not leave until he had gained the knowledge of why people suffered, the truth in all existence and the nature of the pure mind.
Siddhartha sat under the bodhi tree all night. The first thing he realised was the law of karma, of how all things are subject to a cause and an effect. The second thing he realised was how all things are related, and how there really was no separation. The third thing he realised was the true nature of suffering, and then how to alleviate suffering. As the sun rose he had attained enlightenment, reached nirvana and was a Buddha. He had discovered the dharma, or the truth of all things.
For forty more years up until his death he taught the dharma. He found and taught compassion for all things, and that all living things had a Buddha nature. Now the dharma is the teacher for Buddhism, flowing from teacher to student, from master to monk throughout the world.
Buddhism spread from India to China through a man called Bodhidharma. He went to China to teach the dharma, and went to meet with the emperor. The Emperor Wu of Liang was unimpressed, and turned him away. Bodhidharma then went to a monastery high in the mountains and found a cave where he sat and meditated, facing a wall, for nine years. He became the first of six patriarchs in Buddhism (those who have superior understanding and enlightenment).
Buddhism gained influences from Taoism in China, which greatly influences how we see modern Zen today. The principles of effortless effort, mindfulness, awareness and simplicity are all crucial to the Zen mindset. Buddhism then split into different sects, such as Ch'an (Chinese for Zen) which spread to Japan where it is called Zen (Zen means meditation in Japanese). In Japan, Zen gained further changes, with formalised and ritualised arts such as calligraphy, tea ceremonies, poetry and archery.
The Dharma Principles
The truth that Buddha realised was broken down and organized into many different parts – the Three Treasures, the Four Noble Truths, the Five Noble Precepts and the Eightfold Path. Many of these overlap with each other, to create a worldview that eases suffering and that holds ethical considerations high.
The Three Treasures
A very simple set of practices and beliefs in Buddhism are called the Three Treasures. It is in these treasures that everyone can find the path of least suffering.
Everyone has a Buddha nature Follow the dharma We are all one
Realising that everyone has a Buddha nature allows us to connect with others on a much deeper and more compassionate level. Compassion is key in Buddhism. There is a Zen Buddhist story of what one should do when one encounters Buddha on the road – kill him. Why? Because there is no Buddha outside ourselves. We must destroy this concept completely if we are to truly see reality for what it is. Seeing the Buddha nature in ourselves and thereby everyone engenders compassion. It can seem contradictory – Zen often is. It is often the crazy contradictions in Zen that allow the mind to be blown apart into thinking differently.
Following the dharma helps us to understand and reflect upon the ultimate truth. By following the Buddha's teachings we catch glimpses of enlightenment. As each day goes by with our understanding deepening of the dharma, those glimpses become longer and longer.
There is another Zen story about a fish, who kept asking the other fish, 'What is the ocean?' When he asked this question to a great master and enlightened fish, his only response was laughter. The fish is not separate from the ocean. The wave is a part of the ocean, even when it ceases to be a wave – it is still there, as the ocean. We are all like waves in the ocean.
The Four Noble Truths
The Four Nobles Truths help us to realise the problems we have in our life, and how to overcome them until we realise that there are no problems at all, simply life.
All living things experience suffering, or dukkha Suffering is caused by desire, or attachment Getting rid of desire shows us that we already have everything we need All things in moderation
Dukkha is an old Sanskrit word meaning suffering or dissatisfaction. It could be from a myriad things, such as losing your job, to stubbing your toe on the bed. Sometimes we cannot yet name our dukkha, but we have a sense of unease, or disease (dis-ease) that won't go away. Every human being experiences this, as do all living things. No one is perfect; we all deal with fear, anxiety, pain, depression and disappointment. For the most part it seems only humans make great drama about it – but we will cover that later on in this book. Life is impermanent, and as such life is imperfect and incomplete. It is only our reaction to this that establishes a life lived with a greater or lesser amount of dukkha.
Desire is not only things we want, physically or mentally. We may desire a person or an object – we may also have a desire that life be different to what we think it should be. 'The grass is always greener' syndrome is an element of desire. Desire can be as simple wanting things to be other than they are. What we desire is impermanent. By realising the impermanence in all things, our desire, or attachment can grow less.
Eliminating desire leads to an elimination of suffering. Constantly reaching for what we don't have, we often miss seeing all the things we already do have. Ceasing to desire, or nirodha, helps us to reach a state of nirvana, the place where desire cannot exist. Nirvana is freedom from all the things that cause us pain or suffering – worries, life problems, etc. Paradoxically, we should never desire nirvana, for in doing so we will never achieve it.
By living in moderation, or following the Middle Way as Buddha suggested, we eliminate desire, or at least ease it somewhat. It is the middle ground between hedonism and asceticism, where we find an 'easier' way to live – that is, to live with more ease and less struggle. The Middle Way is described in the Eightfold Path.
Five Noble Precepts
These are the key elements to living an ethical life. However, they are merely suggestions, not dogma. It is up to each individual to apply these to their own lives as best they can, and to continue to work on these with each and every day that passes. They are pretty self-explanatory:
The destruction of life causes suffering, so we learn compassion for all things and protect all that we can, whether it be the lives of people, plants or animals. We refuse to kill, or to condone any acts of killing.
Injustice exists in the world, and we vow to learn loving kindness so that we may work for the well-being of all, whether they be a person, a plant or an animal. We learn the value of sharing, of helping the community, and refuse to steal or harm in any way.
Sexual relationships must be treated with full respect, and we must not engage in any sexual misconduct, for this causes suffering. We must protect ourselves and others from sexual abuse and any other sexual misconduct.
Speech is a powerful thing – words have power. We must speak with attention to what we are saying, with loving kindness and working to resolve conflict. We must also listen with full attention to what others are saying.
Seek out the Middle Way – unmindful consumption causes suffering. We vow to create good physical health in ourselves and others by being mindful of what we eat, drink, and consume in our society to create the least amount of suffering.
The Eightfold Path
These contain the guidelines to easing the dukkha we all experience in our lives. It provides a strong platform from which to jump off and into a life of less suffering. It is the path to freeing one from attachments, and opening the mind to reality. The eightfold path is something to be lived, not merely contemplated.
Right view: through understanding that everyone suffers, and that life is impermanent, we begin to attain the wisdom to see the nature of all things. We see things as they really are.
Right intention: there is energy in our thoughts, and we must ensure that this energy is directed in a positive way. Our thoughts lead to our behaviour, and so with a compassionate mind towards all things, we refuse to engage in behaviour that cruel.
Right speech: words have power, words have weight. On the popular television show, Northern Exposure, this was stated with eloquence – words are heavy things – if birds talked, they could not fly. The importance of speech in our species is unquestionable. Buddha stated that we should not lie or attempt deceit, that we should not gossip or slander, that we should not hurt others with our words and that we should refrain from idle speech – speak less, think more.
Right action: this is also explained in the Five Noble Precepts. We should refuse to kill or act violently, we should not steal or be dishonest but live in a just way, we should abstain from sexual misconduct that harms others, we must talk sincerely and with honesty, and we should seek the Middle Way.
Right livelihood: in essence, this would be having an occupation that is in harmony with the Five Noble Precepts. It means having an occupation that is not harmful, such as the weapons trade. It suggests choosing a living that is just and compassionate.
Right effort: this means learning and living with a self-discipline that engenders compassion to all things. It is a conscious effort to live positively by preventing unwholesome states, to abandon any unwholesome states and to nurture and maintain wholesome states that have already arisen.
Right mindfulness: this is the controlled mental and physical faculty of being mindful all the time. We will look at mindfulness later, but in brief, it is being aware of things and seeing them for what they really are – your reactions to an event, your feelings, your environment. It is the recognition of all the other extraneous thought processes that occur after the initial impression of an event, such as judgement, anger, insolence and so on. The goal is to reach beyond these extraneous thoughts to a life of living in the pure moment with a pure mind.
Right concentration: often described as one-pointedness of mind, this is the development of the power of concentration by complete immersion in the present moment. It is achieved in Zen through meditation, where step by step we learn to deal with distractions and desires and achieve a fulfilled life thanks to our efforts in concentration.
Three Treasures, Four Noble Truths, Five Noble Precepts and the Eightfold Path – a lot to digest in one sitting! However, as stated previously, many of these overlap, and give a foundation for living a life without dukkha. It is all part of the dharma. They are not to be slavishly adhered to – they are not like the Christian commandments, with all their 'thou shalt not' – they are guidelines for a more wholesome life that only you can walk the path towards. There are several stories of Zen monks who followed all of these with strict adherence to the letter of the law, while missing the point entirely. Here are two of my favourites.
A monk and his student were standing at the crossing of a large stream. A beautiful woman stood nearby, upset that she could not cross as the current was too strong for her. Without a second thought, the monk picked her up and helped her across the stream, setting her down on the other side. As the monk and his student proceeded on towards their monastery, many hours later the student turned to the monk with a question.
'Master, why did you pick up that woman? Did you not know that in our monastery, it is forbidden to touch women? And she was beautiful!'
'Yes,' the monk said, 'but I put her down on the other side. I see you are still carrying her.'
A monk arrived late one evening at the monastery on a cold winter night. No one was around, so he built up a fire to warm himself. There was no wood available, and he was unable to chop any with the snowstorm that whirled outside the monastery windows. Looking around, he saw some wooden Buddha figures in alcoves. Picking up one of these, he set it alight and began to warm himself by the fire.
Another monk walked in, and saw what he was doing. 'You cannot do that!' he cried. 'That is a Buddha!'
'Do you mean that Buddha lives in this piece of wood?'
The other monk looked uncertain. 'No, that is impossible.'
'Excellent,' the monk said. 'May I have another Buddha for my fire?'
As you can see, Zen is a tradition that is steeped in common sense and the nonsensical at the same time – it is humorous and enlightening. All we can do is to strive without attachment to the ideals outlined in the above Dharma Principles to live a simpler, easier life with full awareness.
Excerpted from Pagan Portals Zen Druidry by Joanna van der Hoeven. Copyright © 2012 by Joanna van der Hoeven. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
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