Living the Season: Zen Practice for Transformative Times

Living the Season: Zen Practice for Transformative Times

by Ji Hyang Padma


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As the Rig Vedas and Buddhist sutras foretell, as well as the Hopi and Mayan calendars, we are in the midst of complete transformation--ecologically, economically, politically, culturally. This graceful introduction offers creative safe passage through the sometimes overwhelming transition, drawing on ancient and contemporary spiritual practices particularly useful for these times. The endings we experience are always the beginning of something else. Hence author Ji Hyang Padma organizes teachings around the four seasons. In living connected to natural rhythms--the stillness of winter, the renewal of spring, the ripening of summer, the harvest of autumn--we touch a wholeness that is the source of healing and happiness. Practical exercises at the end of each chapter promote this state of being and bring the mind home to its innate clarity. Ideally suited to anyone experiencing personal change--through career, relationships, or world events--the book provides a way into Zen for beginners as well as a refresher for the more advanced.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780835609197
Publisher: Quest Books
Publication date: 10/01/2013
Pages: 176
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Ji Hyang Padma combines an academic career as Director of Spirituality and Education Programs at Wellesley College with her role as a Zen teacher. Ji Hyang has done intensive Zen training and teaching in Asia and North America for 20 years, 15 of these as an ordained nun. She has completed several 90-day intensive retreats in Korea and North America. She also teaches Zen workshops annually at Omega Institute and Esalen Institute. While her practice has been situated within the Korean Zen tradition, she has had the benefit of studying with teachers across a wide spectrum of Buddhist lineages.

Ji Hyang has also served as Director and Abbot of Cambridge Zen Center, one of the largest Zen Centers in the country. Additionally, she has served as a meditation teacher at Wellesley College, Harvard University and Boston University. She is gifted at finding an entry-point into practice for people who are just beginning their journey.

Currently Ji Hyang is completing a Ph.D. in Transpersonal Psychology at Sofia University with a research focus on Buddhist practices of healing. She serves on the board of Education as Transformation, an international organization that works with educational institutions to explore the impact of religious diversity and the role of spirituality in the learning process.

Ji Hyang's recent writing has been published in Our Neighbor's Faith: Stories of Interfaith Encounters and Arts of Contemplative Care: Pioneering Voices in Buddhist Chaplaincy and Pastoral Work.

Read an Excerpt

Living the Season

Zen Practice for Transformative Times

By Ji Hyang Padma

Theosophical Publishing House

Copyright © 2013 Ji Hyang Padma
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8356-3087-0



* * *

The wonderful thing about Zen practice is that everyone has the capacity to awaken. As Jakusho Kwong Roshi, a contemporary Zen master, says, "Whatever clarity, wisdom, insight we are looking for is already there. We just have to know it is there."

Meditation practice is a practice of trusting our own eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, mind—our own deepest experience. As we bring unconditional awareness to this moment, our mind and body become one; inside and outside become one; we and our life become one. We touch our ground of being, which in Zen tradition we call Buddha-nature. However, that place of stillness cannot be described in words. It is beyond any name we can give it. This still point is something we touch in moments of awe, when we look out at the Sierra Nevada Mountains or watch the stars at night. We also source from this still when we are engaged in everyday activity—washing the dishes, folding laundry, making tea—and give ourselves to those actions with wholehearted attention. That experience of being awake to our life is our essence, our true nature. Practice is an act of trusting that essential nature and resting in that wholeness which we are. It is this intention to see the wholeness that then brings it forth in ourselves and others.

One element of this trust is developing an ability to rest the mind in the present moment. We are practicing being with ourselves as we are, and the moment just as it is. Woven into this is an element of letting go: letting go of our need to do something, our restlessness, our tendency to fill empty space with something—anything. We are nurturing calmness and self-acceptance. By creating this space within, our mind becomes clear like a mirror. This makes room for new ways of seeing and for the wisdom that is uniquely ours to emerge. In the Gospel of Thomas, there is a beautiful teaching attributed to Jesus:

If you bring forth that which is within you, what is within you will save you. If you do not bring forth that which is within you, what is within you will destroy you.

As we gain more confidence in our original nature, we are able to bring forth the insight and energy that is our treasure. This act of seeing the luminosity within is also the way that luminous awareness is cultivated. The seeds of wisdom and compassion awaken: we find our way.


Placing your feet a shoulder's-width apart, stand in your natural, fully aligned posture, feeling your presence within the body. Breathe fully through the body: through the lungs and deeply through the lower abdomen. Place one hand three fingers below the navel, sensing the breath and its movement through the fingers of the hand. Let the out-breath be slightly longer than the in-breath, breathing in to a count of eight and breathing out to a count of ten.

Notice whether the breath is flowing freely or if it is constricted in any way. Where it is constricted, try to breathe through that. See if you can relax and soften that area as well. Rest in that awareness for a few minutes. Then place the hands palm-to-palm at heart level near the chest. Breathing in, bring these arms up above the head, taking a gentle stretch. Breathing out, bring the arms down in a big circle, as if you are embracing a huge orange or a beach ball, with fingers extended slightly. As the arms move, continue to keep awareness on the breath rising and falling in the lower abdomen. Let the movements of your arms follow the natural rhythms of your breath. Notice any physical sensations that arise. Notice that sense of wholeness that has arisen; know that you can connect to that at any time using the breath. This is the beginning of Zen practice.



* * *

Interdependence is the true nature of our existence. This is not just an idea; it is physically true. All of the air we breathe has come through the forests; all of the earth's harvest comes to us through the work of many hands. All of our practice is training to recognize and trust the truth of our connection more than the illusion of separateness. This begins with recognizing the wholeness within ourselves—with our own ability to create space within and relax into this open space, with our ability to trust our experience just as it is. As we sit, many visitors will arrive at the gates of our awareness—thoughts, feelings, perceptions. Our practice is to let these visitors come and go without repressing them and without indulging them. Just as clouds come and go but the sky remains blue, our mind is not hindered by these visitors that come and go. When thoughts and feelings arise, we train in letting these be as they are. We are staying open to everything—pleasant and unpleasant feeling, the ecstasy and grief—without discarding or rejecting anything. Discovering this place of wholeness within, we have eyes to recognize this deep connection everywhere.

This practice of seeing with eyes of wholeness and connection is sourced from our body-centered awareness. We are rediscovering within our modern culture how essential it is to balance mind with heart and gut. More precisely, within the gut there is a place two inches below the navel called the tandien in Korean Zen, which serves as a reservoir of core strength. Tandien means "energy garden." Implicit in this designation is a strong value placed on body-centered and experiential knowing. In order for understanding to become wisdom, our mind must be well aligned with our heart and the power at our core. As my teacher Zen Master Seung Sahn would say, "Understanding is not enough. When you are doing something, just do it."

When we give ourselves to an activity one hundred percent, we experience the great power and energy that is available through being present. Within this experience of body/mind as a unified whole, and our ability to see with eyes of wholeness, there is a natural sense of ethics. Seeing how connected we are to everything in the universe, we naturally refrain from causing harm, as this would be causing harm to ourselves. In the beginning, this requires clear intention, but across time, we see this as a natural expression of our self, continuously coming into relation to the world.

This ethics of wholeness is profoundly needed right now. Within our society, our collective acquisition of knowledge currently outreaches our expression of wisdom. As Albert Einstein once said, "The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking ... the solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind." The technological advances of this century have given us greater mastery of the physical world without requisite co-development of the heart. Thus, as a species we have resistance to our own unfolding at this critical time. In order to take the next steps together to make a future possible for our children, we need to reawaken our inner compass by connecting with that hidden wholeness, our awakened heart/mind, and take action that reconnects whole communities. In order to live well, it is necessary to come into alignment with family, community, the natural world—discerning and honoring all our relations. We then find ourselves within a sacred and undivided circle.

This undivided circle is represented within Tibetan Buddhist tradition by the mandala. A mandala is a traditional geometric design, often circular. Carl Jung succinctly described the purpose of the mandala:

Within the mandala there is a central point or focus within the symbol from which radiates a symmetrical design. This suggests there is a center within each one of us to which everything is related, by which everything is ordered, and which is itself a source of energy and power.

A mandala simultaneously represents an inner landscape and the physical realm within which every element of experience is unified, balanced, and complete. In Tibetan tradition, to see a mandala is considered a great blessing, as it conveys a deep impression of wholeness, bringing about healing and peace. Mandalas can be created with varied materials, including grain, precious metal, and flowers. The most intricate and beautiful mandalas have been made with particles of colored sand. Each element of the sand mandala has precise symbolic meaning. In the Tibetan practice of the sand mandala, psychodynamic energies are represented through five colors, each one containing the potential for expression in either its static or dynamic, awakened form.

The color blue represents the sharp piercing blue of the spring sky; this lucidity and clarity can manifest as anger or as the sword that cuts through delusion. The color yellow represents the golden energy of increase: fertility, prosperity, abundance; this energy can give rise to pride. At the moment we truly apprehend the blessings always pouring forth, it becomes a sense of natural appreciation and generosity. Red represents the attachment of passion. Through luminous awareness, the red thread of passion opens the door to compassion: we see that others are also rendered vulnerable by their pursuit of happiness. Like the lotus that arises out of muddy water, we discover a way of enjoying the world without grasping tightly onto anything. Free from grasping, "enough mind" naturally magnetizes to itself all that is beneficial. The color green, when operating in a static form, arises as competitiveness and jealousy. When we open to awareness without reference point, we are free from the illusion of scarcity. Free from fear, one can see the resources at hand and thus take action. This energy becomes the wisdom that accomplishes and completes all things.

At the center of the mandala, the color is white: the ego defense that is cured at this point is the root error of ignorance, the mental confusion that brings about our other misperceptions. When one sees past the illusion of separation to the truth of our interdependence with each other and this world, the seeds of anger, attachment, and fear have no place to take root. In a dynamic sense, the white color represents the illumination of complete realization.

The geometric structures portrayed within the mandala are the structures of human consciousness. The surrounding circle represents dynamic awareness. The square symbolizes the four directions, the physical world. At each side of the square, a gate is constructed. These represent the four immeasurables: loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity; through these practices one enters sacred ground.

Of all these exquisite gifts of beauty, the greatest teaching of the sand mandala is actually within its dismantling ceremony. Upon completion of the sand mandala, there is a powerful ceremony that celebrates its completion and recognizes its impermanence. The mandala design is cut with the point of a vajra, or as it is known in the Tibetan language, a dorje: a ritual instrument symbolizing the indestructible nature of pure consciousness. The word dorje translates as "king of stones." Pure consciousness is diamond-like in its brilliance and adamantine quality. The light of awakening cuts through illusion. In this case, the dorje cuts through the mandala so that we see clearly—this mandala form, so intricate and precious, is like the human body, also of the nature of impermanence.

It is significant, too, that the ceremony does not end with the sweeping up of sand. The sand is not a static ingredient. By some Tibetan translations, the Tibetan word for mandala, dkyil 'khor, means "to extract the essence." With any sand mandala, the essence being extracted is the essence of earth. This extraction is not done with the intent of using or exploiting this essence; "extracting the essence" refers to a process of accomplishing, and lifting up to awareness, the essence of earth. Having received so much life force from the earth, the mandala raises this to awareness as a gift of beauty and harmony. So it is with all sand mandala offerings that upon completion the sand is ceremonially gathered and taken to a body of water through which it is offered to the water and all beings within it. The reciprocal relationship between earth and the practitioners is thus brought into perfect alignment.

The gift of the mandala is in its power to transform our own minds and the environment around us into a celestial realm, awakening us to the sacred aspect of earth, our inseparable connection to all people and other forms of life.

Our life is a mandala, unfolding before us. As we come into relationship with others and this world, bringing each situation into balance, this creates a pattern of harmony and beauty around us. The emotions of passion, aversion, even fear—when fully met with unconditional presence—are transformed into their jewel-like essence. Every person that enters our life is bringing us exactly what we need to complete the circle.

When I lead meditation, I set the cushions in the shape of a circle so that we can benefit from the tangible experience of the ways in which we are all in this together. Our collective dynamic awareness is the foundation of our meditation session. Whoever enters the circle is exactly who needs to be there. Each visitor bears a gift for our collective awakening. We are breathing together, each breath a tidal rhythm that connects us to the whole. Each person's presence and clarity affects the entire circle.

This can be described scientifically using neuropsychology through the paradigm of resonance: body/mind systems attune to other body/minds. There is also a natural process of attunement. When we drop into our body-centered awareness and attend to another from this place of deep listening and wholeness, it has a healing effect upon the other, which ripples out into their relationships. When one person practices empathy, it is scientifically proven that people three degrees away begin to become kinder. This awareness of the unbroken circle is also powerfully expressed in traditional wisdom teachings, practices, and ceremonies. In many indigenous practices, this mandala is expressed as a circle that includes all living beings and this natural world. This powerful sense of connection to all our relations is also found within Korean Zen teaching. My teacher Zen Master Seung Sahn often said, "If you have a question, ask a tree. The tree will give you a good answer." All the natural world presses us to come more fully into our own experience: mind and body becoming one, inside and outside becoming one. Our own inner universe—earth, water, air, and the fire of life—reflects the sacred earth; the wholeness of our body rhythms reflects the interconnectedness of natural rhythms, the dynamic change we witness as tides rise and fall. In receiving teaching from tides and this great earth, we find our innate wholeness, the mandala that is our life.


Excerpted from Living the Season by Ji Hyang Padma. Copyright © 2013 Ji Hyang Padma. Excerpted by permission of Theosophical Publishing House.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

Embodied Knowing

Origins: Way-Seeking Mind


Part 1 Winter: Finding Light in the Darkness 23

1 Bringing Forth that which is Within 25

Exercise: Centering

2 An Unbroken Circle, An Undivided Prayer 29

Exercise: Sitting Zen

3 Hope 39

Exercise: Feed Your Spirit


Part 2 Spring: New Life Beginning 45

4 The Lion's Roar 47

Exercise: Mindfulness of the Body

5 Empathy 53

Exercise: Metta Practice

6 Spring Cleaning - Traveling Lightly 59

Exercise: Clean House

Exercise: Setting Our Course

7 Indra's Net-See the Connections 69

Kuan Yin/Kwan Seum Bosal

Exercise: Being Trees

Exercise: Mantra Practice

8 Applied Zen-Creating the World Around Us 77

Exercise: Ways of Seeing

9 Taste and See 87

Part 3 Summer: The Blossoming of True Nature 91

10 Creativity 93

Exercise: Walking Meditation

11 Authenticity 99

Exercise: Remember to Play

12 Ecology of Mind 105

Exercise: Turning Compost into Flowers

13 Encountering the Sacred Feminine 109

Exercise: Coming Home to the Body

14 Inyoun-Cause and Effect 119

Exercise: Namaste

15 Listen 125

Exercise: Listen

16 Dakini, Sky Dancer 135

Exercise: Sky Gazing

17 Applied Zen-Compassion in Action 137

Exercise: Creating Our World

18 Interpersonal Mindfulness-Zen and Relationships 141

Exercise: Seeing Ecosystems

Part 4 Autumn: Everything Changes 149

19 Wholeness and the Implicate Order 151

Questions from the Sangha

Practice: Working with a Great Question


20 Writing with Water 159

Ji Jang Bosal

Practice: Heart-Centered Closure

21 Practices of Reciprocity and Gratitude 167

Exercise: Practices of Reciprocity and Gratitude

22 Making the Connections: Zen and the Mind 175



Epilogue: One Continuous Practice-Try Mind 185

Appendix: The Five Precepts 189

Notes 191

Glossary 201

Index 209

About the Author 228

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