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Thread: Proselytizing the benefits of zazen

  1. #1
    Stephanie
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    Proselytizing the benefits of zazen

    I often find myself encountering folks about whom I think, "If only he or she would learn how to meditate!" I usually think this after recognizing some quality in them that gets them in trouble that is a quality I also have and that I've learned to deal with through zazen.

    I often want to try to convince people to deal with their "come to Jesus" moments not by coming to Jesus, but by meditating. But I've learned from my social work education as well as my life experience that trying to sell someone on something doesn't get anywhere. Yet I also have to consider that if no one had ever gone out there selling the benefits of meditation, I would have never learned of it myself.

    I'm sure that others among you have the same impulse. How do you deal with it? Do you ever mention meditation to other folks who aren't already doing it? If so, how? Have you had any success in getting other people to try sitting? At this point, pretty much all I do is mention it when there's an opportune moment, but briefly and without preaching. I think of it as planting a seed and keep in mind that's all I can really do--put the information out there and leave it to the other person to take it or leave it. But sometimes I even question this.

  2. #2

    Re: Proselytizing the benefits of zazen

    Buddhism, specifically zazen practice, is something I wouldn't wish on anyone.
    Really, it is best if people come to it on their own.
    When a friend or someone asks me questions about zazen, sitting, I try to answer simply.
    When someone wants to know how to sit I am able to give a very simple set of sitting instructions--it's very very simple, but it is a good set of instructions.
    There are many different kinds of meditation practices out there and I only practice one and only give instructions (if someone asks me) for the one I actually practice.
    I am not a teacher, so that's as far as it goes.
    Some zen centers hold what is called tangaryo (I think that's the name for it), which allows for prospective zen students to duplicate the experience of prospective monks seeking to be accepted to live in a monastery. They had to wait for days in meditation outside the monastery walls, showing their dedication. It is a kindness to let someone really stop and consider such a decision. In first reading about this treatment I thought it was mean not to take in these seekers right away. Now I see that sitting on the zafu requires so much, --it reminds me of something I learned ages ago about chicks hatching--you can't 'help' them out of their shell, they won't have exerted the necessary effort needed in order to be able to live! That exhausting effort required is precisely the effort needed.
    Something similar holds true for students of zen.
    Bottom line: your own practice of zazen helps everyone, it is not required to help other people find zen/zazen for themselves.

  3. #3
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Proselytizing the benefits of zazen

    Quote Originally Posted by Keishin
    Buddhism, specifically zazen practice, is something I wouldn't wish on anyone.
    Really, it is best if people come to it on their own.
    Something is very true and clear about this. You articulate well the source of my own misgivings.

    Yet there is also part of me that thinks, "What if I could open that door for someone, who might not otherwise hear or know about this?" But in response to such thoughts I find that I am completely devoid of any understanding of how to open that door subtly and elegantly without overreaching or overstepping. So I am left thinking perhaps it is best to remain silent.

    Thank you for your post, it is a very good and thorough answer to my questions. Also a good reminder to strengthen my own practice whenever my dedication to alleviating the suffering of others is renewed.

    I would also be curious to see others' thoughts on this, as I imagine there is some divergence of opinion on this.

  4. #4

    Re: Proselytizing the benefits of zazen

    I'm pretty much with Keishin on this.

    I think a good rule of thumb comes from Keizan Zenji: "Don't give the teachings unless sincerely asked 3 times."

    If we do give out any info, we better be sure it's the right info. Best to leave that to the teachers.

    G,W

  5. #5

    Re: Proselytizing the benefits of zazen

    Another thing you could do if someone asks, is refer them to a book or a website.

    G,W

  6. #6
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Re: Proselytizing the benefits of zazen

    I don't talk to people about zen, nor do I even tell many people that I sit zazen. However, I have suggested meditation to a few people (and, in a newsletter article, to a patients' group for people who suffer a medical condition I share). One, recently, is someone who gives me vision therapy. She was telling me how stressed out she was, and I told her I just look at stressful situations and take my time to let them fade and be less stressful. When she asked how, I told her I meditate. When I recommend meditation, though, I never recommend zen, but always Jon Kabat-Zinn's books, which are non-denominational. (Though I had Jundo write me up meditation instructions for the newsletter article I mentioned, and his piece was published following a more general section about Kabat-Zinn's books.)

    In short, since I don't see zen as a religion, I have no need to proselytize. As others have suggested, though, you might see people who could benefit from meditation, but when you see that, it's more the relaxing aspects of meditation you're thinking of; the deeper elements of zen are inscrutable enough that you can't tell if someone else would "benefit" from them.

    Kirk

  7. #7

    Re: Proselytizing the benefits of zazen

    Stephanie, i too feel like that sometimes...
    and i do talk a lot about zen since it is such a big part of my life. yet with time i have noticed i am more and more reluctant to speak of it. i feel it is something that is beyond words there for i could never give a good explanation of it.
    i only mention i practice zen buddhism, and if someone asks more about it i only say that if he really wishes i could explain some more but it is a very long discussion and i could not explain it all since it must be felt not herd. i also state that it is not for everyone and the fact it works for me does not mean it is the thing for them, with all that said i am very happy to explain my own personal feelings on the subject to anyone who TRULY wishes to hear them.

    about meditation itself. i always tell i am not a teacher but i practice it. i also give a very simple explanation that meditation could be anything at all ( driving; swimming; playing music; anything at all... ). i also say i could give some instructions if the persons truly wishes to know and try.
    it is a very simple set of instruction and i have actually given a very short instruction once to patients in a mental ward as a relaxation tool.

    the bottom line is i simply mention that i practice since it is a big part of my life, and leave it to them to ask questions about it, if they are really interested they will ask and i could try to talk to them about it. otherwise i do not waste their time...

    p.s.

    if it is a friend i am talking to and i notice he or she might benefit from something i could tell them or show them i suggest it and the rest depends on where or not they wish to hear it.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Kent's Avatar
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    Re: Proselytizing the benefits of zazen

    Perhaps simply being an example of living Zazen would be enough. Gassho Kent

  9. #9

    Re: Proselytizing the benefits of zazen

    Ok, so while in the first part of my answer I ended with "it is not required to help other people find zazen/zen for themselves," I did not mean to imply that we don't spread seeds of buddhism. Somewhere buried in the archives of past posted topics is a thread about how people got started in this practice.
    In my case: I worked at a restaurant, the dishwasher liked how I stacked the dishes in my bus tubs. He gave me a book written by his teacher, he invited me to his wedding at the Providence Zen Center. All the shaved heads weirded me out; the huge golden Buddha was tooooo much for me. But a year later and 3,000 miles further west and I was actively seeking for a place to start sitting--the 'seed' was more from conversations I had with him that had nothing to do with buddhism than anything else. The book was OK, I kept it and still have it--not because the book was so great, but because it is my connection to him. I don't remember his last name, and I don't remember his dharma name, (it was a Korean dharma name which meant 'empty brightness').
    I agree with you, Stephanie, that seeds are sown. It wasn't seeing the Providence Zen Center or being given a book about about buddhism which were the 'seed' it was his person and his sharing stories about parts of his life. With each of the encounters we have with others: we never know, we just never know what is set in motion and what ripples out from that...throughout space and time...

  10. #10
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Re: Proselytizing the benefits of zazen

    Quote Originally Posted by Al Coleman
    Kirk,

    Could you post the newsletter article?

    Gassho,

    Al
    You can download the issue from this link:

    http://www.angiomaalliance.org/docs/Sep ... letter.pdf

    Best,

    Kirk

  11. #11

    Re: Proselytizing the benefits of zazen

    Quote Originally Posted by no hobby for me
    Perhaps simply being an example of living Zazen would be enough. Gassho Kent
    IMHO, I think Kent is right. Then if someone asks, you can explain the foundations of your practice. Unless someone feels a driving need to deal with their suffering, meditation probably won't help them. Meditation may take a lot of patience to begin seeing benefits. Especially if the person is not introspective to begin with.

    Gassho,

    Linda

  12. #12

    Re: Proselytizing the benefits of zazen

    Quote Originally Posted by kirkmc
    You can download the issue from this link:

    http://www.angiomaalliance.org/docs/Sep ... letter.pdf
    Yes, I think that the Jon Kabat Zinn ''Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction' type of meditation is quite a good introduction to meditation, and it is increasingly being recommended by the medical profession. It has the advantage of having scientific accreditation (very important in the present age IMO where the scientific worldview is almost a religion), and of being neutral as far as religion is concerned. There are also Google videos of Kabat Zinn you can recommend: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nwwKbM_vJc[/video]]

    Kabat Zinn was a Zen practitioner himself for a long time and seems to have stripped away everything but the meditation part. I have debated the validity of doing that with myself and others, but all I can say is that the meditation relieves a lot of mental suffering, and people are free to add on the spiritual practice again if they want to,

    Gassho,
    John

  13. #13

    Re: Proselytizing the benefits of zazen

    If people ask, I tell them what I do. Otherwise, I keep it to myself. I figure if I am not living in such a way that people want to ask me, then I shouldn't tell them anything about what I do.

    You all have some really great answers. Keishin's resonated with me the most. I have to bite my tongue sometimes with my students because I will often perceive a need for some kind of meditation (for focus, etc). However, not being a Zen teacher I don't want to overstep, so I will simply say very generic things like "have you tried some meditation, or Tai Chi, or Yoga? to assist you?" But if they ask what I do specifically, I will tell them.

    Gassho,
    Bill

  14. #14
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Proselytizing the benefits of zazen

    An excellent thread full of excellent advice. Your clear answers have helped me to become clear about this.

    Quote Originally Posted by no hobby for me
    Perhaps simply being an example of living Zazen would be enough.
    Quote Originally Posted by lindabeekeeper
    Unless someone feels a driving need to deal with their suffering, meditation probably won't help them. Meditation may take a lot of patience to begin seeing benefits.
    Quote Originally Posted by DontKnow
    If people ask, I tell them what I do. Otherwise, I keep it to myself. I figure if I am not living in such a way that people want to ask me, then I shouldn't tell them anything about what I do.
    I think all of this is exactly right. If I want to "proselytize" for meditation, I simply need to embody what I value about practice. Either people will ask or they won't, it is not my job to try to "sell" meditation to anyone, which wouldn't work anyway.

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