What is Zen:

A Brief Explanation by Eido Tai Shimano Roshi Abbot of The Zen Studies Society

A special transmission outside the scriptures;
No dependence on words and letters;
Direct pointing to the mind of man;
Seeing into one's nature and attaining Buddhahood.


The special transmission of Zen is the realization of the Buddha's enlightenment itself, in one's own life, in one's own time. This experience has been realized by Zen students and confirmed by their teachers for over 2500 years.

Central and indispensable to Zen is daily Zazen practice. It is this practice that is the "direct pointing to the mind of man." Zazen melts away the mind-forged distances that separate man from himself; leads one beyond himself as knower, to himself as known. In Zazen, there is no reality outside what exists here and now. Each moment, each act is inherently Buddha-nature. While sorrow and joy, anxiety and imperturbability cannot be avoided, by not clinging to them we find ourselves free of them, no longer pulled this way and that. With this self-mastery comes composure and tranquility of mind, but these are by-products of Zazen rather than its goals.

Zazen is a Japanese term consisting of two characters: za, "to sit (cross-legged)," and zen, from the Sanscrit dhyana, meaning at once concentration, dynamic stillness, and contemplation. The means toward the realization of one's original nature as well as the realization itself, Zazen is both something one does - sitting cross-legged, with proper posture and correct breathing - and something one essentially is. To emphasize one aspect at the expense of the other is to misunderstand this subtle and profound practice.

In ordinary experience, being and doing are separated: what one does is cut off from what one is, and conversely. Such separation leads inevitably to the condition of self-alienation. Particularly in this century, this condition has become acute. With time and sincere effort in Zazen practice, mind and body, inside and outside, self and other are experienced as one. This condition of effortless concentration, is known as Samadhi.

In the clarity of Samadhi-liveliness, dissatisfaction and the sense of the meaningless of modern life vanish. No longer searching for answers externally, the student journeys within to reach the moving spirit of the Buddha - his own Self-Nature.

Through devotion and persistence, the aims of Zazen practice are eventually realized. The first is Enlightenment. With this experience, Samadhi is fulfilled; mind and body, the self and the universe are seen to have been one reality from the beginning. The second and more difficult aim is the actualization of the Bodhisattva (Enlightened Being) ideal. This spirit of love and compassion for all beings is developed through continual spiritual purification, the cultivation of a deep sense of responsibility, and most importantly, through self-discipline. As one's practice ripens, one becomes more alive, more creative; filled with the longing to actualize the Bodhisattva spirit in every moment and every aspect of daily life.

Dai Bosatsu Zendo Kongo-ji
Livingston Manor, NY

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