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Thread: Friday, 6/22 - Beginning Zen Practice p.3

  1. #1

    Friday, 6/22 - Beginning Zen Practice p.3

    Let the discussion begin! : :lol: :roll:

  2. #2
    I'm still waiting on my book to arrive... here's hoping it's in the mail today! Looking forward to reading others' thoughts.

  3. #3
    My dog doesn't worry about the meaning of life. Wow, we are off to a great start.

    First, Jundo great choice in book. Reading this first talk and student exchange sounds like I'm in an echo chamber. Nothing special, no solution outside of ourselves, watch out for trading course attachments for subtler attachments, Zen is our whole lives - a life long study. Who else has been telling us these same things. (Hint - he uses children's toys to illustrate the finer points in his talks.)

    This is all very encouraging. The ordinariness of it is almost overwhelming.

    Joko's differentiation between "technical thinking" and everything else is helpful. I have a sign on the wall I face at work that reminds me to "Don't believe anything you think." I get flack from fellow zennies that if I acted this way I'd never make it in society. Joko estimates that it is only 90% of our thinking that is opinions, judgments, memories and dreaming about the future. I'd say she under estimated things by a lot. I have some difficulty with this. Joko seems to point to two minds or is it one mind with two types of thinking. Which is it?

    My mind is about blown - so I'll go sit a while.

  4. #4

    beginning zen practice

    sorry, I forgot to log in properly.

  5. #5
    "Enlightenment is not something you achieve. It is the absence of something." (p. 5) That for me is the most interesting statement of this section. Rather than try to get somewhere, we need to accept where we are and let go.

    The dog bit, on the other hand, doesn't work for me; the author is suggesting that she knows what her dog is thinking, which she doesn't. Granted, she may not be far off, but we can never know what another creature is thinking. A stone, on the other hand, that would be a good example. :-)


  6. #6

    I think it's quite amazing how she tackles some major points of Zen practice in just the first few pages, using plain language and without overwhelming the reader. I've read the scheduled section a couple of times now, and there are many points which are really worth examining closely. The last question from a student regarding our daily activities and superficial thoughts which pretty much just get in the way is quite important IMHO. We had some heavy rain yesterday and it flooded our cellar, which created a pretty ugly mess of water, dust, dead insects, etc. It's really true that if you just concentrate on the task at hand and don't entertain thoughts like, 'Oh, I'd really rather be doing something else' or 'This is disgusting, why did this happen to us?' etc., it's really not bad at all. I've found that with most things which aren't considered 'fun', if you really dive into them and put your whole heart into it, it makes a huge difference. There's many other things I could comment on, but my wife and I are off to a Vesakh festival here in Frankfurt today. I hope to jump into the discussion again soon though.


  7. #7

    beginning zen practice

    I actually thought she was having fun in starting the book talking about her dog--because of that famous MU koan 'Does a dog have buddha nature?' (all cows know the answer to this one (ha, ha!))

  8. #8

    i agree with kieshin...

    i agree with kieshin about the dog and the koan.

    other than that i think you're all being very nice. yes, i think she has some nice points and they are plainly stated, but it seems to me these are statements we hear in many books on zen.

    i don't know as i have much else to respond to at the moment regarding this section, though i know there's plenty in the book that i would like to discuss. a big thanks to all of you for being here - it's nice to have a traveling zendo with me as i've just arrived in Australia.


  9. #9

    Re: beginning zen practice

    I read "Nothing Special" a while ago, but for some reason I thought that "Everyday Zen" didn't include the teacher/student Q&A. I'm glad that I was mistaken, in "Nothing Special" that was the part that I got the most out of.

    I liked what she had to say about "wearing thoughts out" vs "letting go of thoughts." I think that statement would probably seem pretty pessimistic to a newcomer to Zen practice...but then the 4 Noble Truths are pretty pessimistic too, aren't they? I currently attend a Linji Ch'an temple, when my health permits - people get awfully excited over the concept of "sudden enlightenment." The funny thing is, in reading the biographies of the patriarchs, it seems that they spent an really long time studying in monasteries or sitting in caves before their instantaneous, spontaneous satori. Kind of like how Nirvana (the band) liked to say that they became an overnight success in only 5 years!

    I also really liked what Joko says about Zen and work. I also manage to volunteer at the monastery (again, if I'm healthy enough). I really get a kick out of how they insist that every task be done in a certain way. I thought I already knew how to sweep a floor, but it turned out I was standing the wrong way and breathing at the wrong times. So I got a tutorial that ended with the declaration "It's just like T'ai Chi!"

    And I bet you all thought "Wax on/wax off" was just a silly stereotype!
    Quote Originally Posted by Keishin
    I didn't like talking about it, and still don't, I really don't know what to make with the glimpses of whoknowswhat and I liked what one of my teachers would say when I would bring it up (these rare very very brief experiences of whoknowswhat)just keep sitting.
    I really relate to that, Keishin. And I like the term whoknowswhat. It kind of feels like the more whoknowswhat I glimpse, the less I want to know about the "what."

  10. #10
    Hello everyone,

    I have not posted so far as each time I re-read the chapter I change my opinion in some way. Here goes anyway,
    To start with I am finding it a little confusing with the writers use of “we”. Does she mean “I”, “you” or “us”?
    Some of her examples appear to be over exaggerations or generalisations and a bit off putting. I also found some of the text rather preachy. I will keep this short but to paraphrase pages three and four,
    “Our lives are shit because we can’t do anything for ourselves, but when we practice and I mean practice like a hero, we become sane, but we don’t expect greatness.”
    Of course this is probably just a reflection of how I have been reading it.

    Now the pedantic bits are out the way. As a newbie to this subject I do like her example of bringing the “if only” from a materialistic environment to a zen practice. It is something I have been doing and not been aware of. I also like the sentence,”The flexibility and joy and flow of life..”

  11. #11

    beginning zen practice

    "What we really want is a natural life. Our lives are so unnatural that to do a practice like Zen is, in the beginning, extremely difficult."

    Well, I just don't agree with this--I don't think there is anything unnatural about any aspect of our lives. I used to think there were things that 'weren't natural.' But these days--if it's here, it's natural--it evolved from something, circumstances and situations applied various forms of pressure and voila! I think it is more appropriate, rather than to describe our lives as being 'unnatural,' instead as lives we have encumbered with 'extras.' It is the collection of these encumberances which can make zen practice difficult in the beginning and as we unburden ourselves of them, the practice becomes easier.
    (not dissimilar to an overweight (I'm talking about myself now) person starting an exercise program--hard to do it in the begining--can only do so much--start out slowly, build up--and with weight loss and increased fitness, it is easier to excercise) Ah, yes--so simple...
    gassho, keishin

  12. #12
    Slightly tangential, I was reading a book this weekend about neuroplasticity (the ability for the brain to change), that mentioned how, when people were doing some specific excercises it takes about six weeks to have progress. Apparently, there are two "systems" in the brain, one that learns things quickly, and another that learns them more slowly but consolidates them. The second one takes about six weeks to start "learning".

    So learning to sit should take at least that long, because meditation is a brain activity. I think that'd be the time it takes to start being comfortable with the attention excercise you do.

    As for the bat about lives being unnatural, I agree; the author is basically saying that the way we are is "wrong", and we want to make it "right", and I don't see that as a valid point.


  13. #13

    i'm long-winded.

    i'm glad that some other folks are finding parts a bit preachy and pessimistic. i'm fairly able to get past the pessimism, and willing to work through the preachy. i somewhat wonder if that's partly just the result of coming from spoken word - speaking generally involves more reiteration of a thought than written language.

    with the "no cookies" gig, well... it seems fine to me as its just dropping expectations. for me it relates well to Chogyam Trungpa's "cool boredom" and things like that. and Jundo's constant reminders we're "just sitting" and that the zendo is where nothing happens - literally. though i would have to say that i do believe things happen, just more internally. i definitely notice some differences between this year and last year, and i have strong reason to believe that these are based on my practice.

    as for the "unnatural" vs. "natural" debate, i got the impression that Joko is referring to the actual event that has happened vs. our interpretation of what is happening based on our emotional reactions, our filter of how things turned out in similar past situations, etc.

    so, based on my extensive personal experience of reacting like a jerk, this might interpret as my girlfriend making a (joking) comment about how slow i am to play a word in Scrabble and me getting frustrated and upset and acting like a jerk because i don't sense the joke and take it as a personal attack since recently i had been taking a long time to do things and it was frustrating her. so the actual event was she made a joke/comment and the event that i perceived was she made a mean comment to me because she was still holding frustrations.

    i may be way off on that interpretation of unnatural vs. natural, and when i write the words here it does make it seem strange that she would phrase it as such.

    apologies for the long post.

  14. #14

    beginning zen practice

    Hello CD
    It isn't so much (at least not so far) that I find Joko's writing to be preachy or pessimistic. What she is saying feels like truth to me--kinda like how my face looks like under the lights of the dentist chair--mabe a little TOO true for my liking.
    When you look at the date this book was first published--this makes her extremely frank/demystified approach quite a groundbreaker.
    In reading the preface I got to learn that she came to zen well into her 40s (I'd like to hear how that came about--I'm always fascinated about 'how couples met' and 'how people get into zen'--not that it matters one bit--I just like to hear the story).
    My issue with this term 'unnatural' is perhaps nitpicking. But she seems to be telling the truth, telling it exactly, in the rest of this chapter--so I just want this to be 'accurate' also.
    I am not a scholar in these things, but I think she is the first contemporary zen writer to have brought the practice to the right here and right now in this day and age with ordinary examples (I mean, cleaning the oven!)
    And then, I know for me, it takes a while for me to settle in to the writer's 'voice' -- so I really appreciate the points you're making, it certainly allows me to take another look.
    gassho, Keishin

  15. #15

    writer's voice...

    It wasn't you (Keishin) that seemed to think she was preachy or pessimistic - i just saw some other people had mentioned it.

    I read most of the book before i realized we were breaking it down as closely as we were, and I think she has many useful things to say - and I think that the most impressive part is that she does bring it into daily life practice.


  16. #16
    I must admit, I've been a bad student. I have not done the assigned reading yet! Instead I've been reading hiking books and other assorted materials.

    After reading the comments I'm very interested in digging into the book. I like the fact that there is a lot of discussion on both sides, people finding pros and cons. . .I suppose this will always be the case when something as deeply personal Zen practice is discussed. . .it would be impossible to present everything in a way that everyone would agree with.

    I get the feeling that I'll like the book. I don't mind a book that may seem slightly pessimistic; in most cases I consider that realism. As far as the discussion about how unnatural our lives are, I would say that in many aspects our modern society and "human" way of life is very unnatural and out of whack with true reality of things. Just take a look at how unsustainable and destructive our lifestyles have become. I don't consider myself a pessimist, I think the changes that we need will come, and I love the opportunity and experience that life as a human being brings. . ,we are the only species able to practice the dharma.

    Well enough for now, I'll keep my mouth closed until I finish my reading!!!



  17. #17
    I don't get it; the book isn't that old, it's copyright 1989. You're talking like it's something from the 60s. I don't see it as groundbreaking.


  18. #18
    I said I thought it was a bit preachy. This is from the point of view as a person new to Zen who is apprehensive. I am NOT suggesting that other more experienced Zen students will just accept things Joko says more easily, but perhaps I am reading the book from a more paranoid or distant perspective.

    Anyhoo the reasons why I find this section of the book a little preachy are the generalisations of ”we” think this or that, I would find it easier if Joko says “I” found this or that, or perhaps,” you may find”…Perhaps this is a no-self zen thing?

    Also sections like;-
    “The flexibility and joy and flow of life are gone. And that rather grim possibility faces all of us, unless we wake up to the fact that we need to work with our life, we need to practice.”
    Does to me, sound more preachy religious rather than a discussion or explanation from a Zen perspective.

    Kirk said “As for the bat about lives being unnatural, I agree; the author is basically saying that the way we are is "wrong", and we want to make it "right", and I don't see that as a valid point.” I agree.
    (Could you let me know what the book about neuroplasticity is, it sounds interesting?)

    I should also add that my copy of the book arrived the day I went into hospital for a small operation on my foot. After the opp I read a fair bit of the book and have to say I found the book very interesting and helpful (it could have been the painkillers :shock: ). Now I have been rereading the same bit over again, I appear to be reading it quite differently. Is anyone else experiencing this?

    All the best,


  19. #19
    The book on neuroplasticity: ... 067003830X

    As for rereading and having different feelings, that's natural, especially after thinking about it in light of the comments here.


  20. #20
    “As we sit, we find that the primary thing we must work with is our busy chaotic mind. ... opinions, judgments, memories, dreaming about the future – ninety percent of the thoughts spinning around in our heads have no essential reality. And we go from birth to death, unless we wake up, wasting most of our life with them.”

    I can easily see how busy my mind is. Busy mind while sitting, busy mind while commenting on Treeleaf Zendo Forum. The encouragement to "wake up" is helping in my practice. Joko, is helping me pull the curtain back to reveal the mind for what it really is.

    My mind appears more and more like a Cookie Monster. Always grasping for one more cookie. I tell myself the stories to justify my striving for yet another cookie by refining my ideas of what an appropriate cookie is. I wonder if I can trick this Cookie Monster into thinking that "waking up" is just another cookie. Little does it know that by waking up there would be no more cookies and no more Cookie Monster???

  21. #21
    It is good to read everyone's reponse to the text and I don't know if I can add anything to the discussions on preachyness and natural/unnatural. I do have a quote that stuck with me and made me smile when I read it.

    "The best way to let go is to notice the thoughts as they come up and to acknowledge them. 'Oh, yes, I'm doing that one again' - and without judging, return to the clear experience of the present moment."

    This may be the best answer I have ever heard to the question of how to let go of thoughts.

  22. #22
    I don't know, I'm coming to appreciate the "no cookie" approach to cultivation. I started my meditation practice in an out-patient hospital programme teaching zazen to the chronically/ critically ill. I've since heard this referred to as "bompu Zen." :?

    The class was free, and I wasn't promised anything, so I really have no grounds for complaint. And daily practice did seem to help me deal with stress and physical pain. But I was expecting a much greater "return on investment" in terms of my underlying medical condition. One hour zazen every day for months and the net improvement was a great big bupkis. Which really ticked me off.

    Starting over with a teacher who took the whole "sit without expectations" and "there is nothing to attain" approach worked a lot better for me.

  23. #23
    Thanks for the link kirkmc, the book looks interesting.

    paige wrote
    Starting over with a teacher who took the whole "sit without expectations" and "there is nothing to attain" approach worked a lot better for me.

    That is an apect I like about the book too, hopefuly it will continue throughout.

  24. #24
    I don't think Joko is preachy, rather I think she cuts through the BS and the fluff. I appreciate her direct style and her willingness to get to the heart of the matter in a pragmatic way.

    I look forward to reading the rest of the book and hearing others' insightful opinions and views.

    Take care everyone,

  25. #25
    My book arrived just in time for me to read and add my post before we move on to the next section.

    I've read Charlotte Joko Beck's other book, "Nothing Special: Living Zen." One poster over in the Zen forum on E-Sangha mentioned that many Zen books give the impression that Zen is the Marine branch of Buddhism, the hardcore no pain, no gain set. Initially my similar perception of the no-BS, no pain no gain attitude of Zen was off-putting to me, but I realize now I just didn't like the idea of having to let go of all the reading and intellectualizing to actually "get anywhere." I'm way too dependent on it everywhere in my life and it was a truth I didn't like. Reading this book now, I think she has a decent mixture of warmth + cutting through the BS.

    My favorite part of this opening is where she talks about sitting as playing the same movie 500 times until we just get tired of the movie, her idea of "wearing thoughts out." I think this is one of the most effective analogies I've read for the incentive to keep sitting, not to reach some huge goal or to attain enlightenment, but just to wear out our thoughts. My thoughts definitely need a few hundred thousand spin cycles before they start to soften.

  26. #26
    "Enlightenment is not something you achieve. It is the absence of something."
    That something is our our dualistic thoughts and actions. I'm reading another book that is following a similar track. Wanting Enlightenment is a Big Mistake by Korean Zen Master Seing Sahn. He gives the same kind of down-to-earth encouragement to let go of the dualism in our lives.

    I also was drawn to the "wearing thoughts out".
    "There is the actual task we are doing and then there are the considerations we have about [them]."
    Wearing out the thoughts and considerations of the mind is a slow process. Like laying in a field watching clouds. The more the clouds change them more they seem the same until suddenly we notice the sky has cleared.

  27. #27
    Finished reading the chapter a few days ago.

    Great book, not negative or preachy at all. I agree with the other post, Joko really does cut through the BS. This sort of flakey approach has become all to prelevant in the new age and "dharma book industry". I appreciate her frankness, and find the realism presented in the opening chapter very refreshing.

    I was prepared to be reading a sappy, feel good "Zen Book" and was pleasantly surprised with its serious content and "no cookies" approach.

    In addition the notion of "wearing out our thoughts" is a great perspective for Zazen practice. When sitting I find that for the first several minutes my mind is very overactive. . .but as I continue to return to the moment the throughts do peter out. . .its a good way to describe this practice



  28. #28

    Re: Friday, 6/22 - Beginning Zen Practice p.3

    Finally the book has arrived. Hope to catch up with you guys :roll:

    First of all, I appreciate that the book was pusblished on 50% PCW recycled paper. 8)

    Secondly, having read the few comments in this thread and the first pages of the book I started wondering if I was reading the right book: some guys here were referring to the author as a "she" but as far as I can tell the author was a male (not that it matters but this together with calling the author "Joko" it made me insecure :shock: Moreover, I did not see any mentioning of a dog on the first pages but of a tree (persimmon).
    Can someone please explain? :?

    Meanwhile, I will keep on reading the book that I got since this is what I have.

    I find the connetion the author makes between truth and undeniable reality very interesting. In fact, it made me think of what I put into the notion of truth and could not think of it without somehow bringing reality into it. I was really intrigued by Uchiyama's conscious striving to actually find the truth that is connected with life, not devorced from it by some idea of absolutism. I am somewhat sceptical though that one can actually reason one's way to this kind of truth and curious about what comes next.



  29. #29

    Re: Friday, 6/22 - Beginning Zen Practice p.3

    I think you have started at the beginning of the 'Everyday Zen' thread by mistake, Irina.


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