Simply Being with Life

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Dear Still Water Friends,

This past week I attended a zen retreat. The guest teacher, Rev. Issho Fujita, called attention to a distinction made by the 13th century founder of the Soto Zen tradition in Japan. Eihei Dogen, distinguished shuzen, the learning and teaching of meditation, from zazen, simply sitting.

  • Shuzen is applying methods and techniques. We have a problem now. We want to do something to fix it, so that at some point in the future the problem will not be there. Shuzen is goal oriented.

  • Zazen is sitting naturally and acknowledging reality as it is. It is a way of appreciating the infinitely supportive world we are inextricably part of. There is no need to add or subtract anything. Zazen is manifesting our understanding through our way of being. Zazen is process oriented.

Like many people I know, since childhood I have had a sense of lack, of not being good enough. Over the years I’ve looked for ways of being better, in order to be good enough. I wanted to be approved of and to be loved. I wanted to reduce the emptiness in my heart.

There are many ways we can improve ourselves. We read books; go to workshops; find coaches, therapists and teachers; and learn spiritual practices. We enhance our skills, become better communicators.

Often these self-improvement strategies have positive results. We accomplish things. We built things. We learn to become more at ease with our difficulties and the difficulties of others. We feel comfortable in our new spiritual family. But often, a sense of lack, discontent, or alienation remains.

All of this is shuzen.

Rev. Fujita pointed out that learning zazen is like falling asleep in the sense that we don’t need to do something or add something, we just need to let go of things. Rather than developing skills, rather than working harder, we relax our bodies, hearts, and minds. Acceptance, gratitude and love naturally arise.

Thich Nhat Hanh (in Beyond the Self: Teachings on the Middle Way) reminds us that the opening can occur not just in sitting meditation, but through the day:

"If in our daily lives, while we are washing up, cleaning the vegetables, driving the car, working in the garden, or watering the plants, we use that time to truly look at ourselves and each other to see our true nature and the true nature of others, we can gradually get out of the ropes that bind us. Our fear, our sorrow, our complexes are all born from our discriminating ideas of coming and going, self and the other. Looking deeply in our daily life like this is the true work of the practice, the cream of Buddhist teaching."

You are invited to join us this Thursday evening. After our meditation we will share our experiences with self-improvement (shuzen) and with simply being with life (zazen).

A related reading by Suzuki Roshi on Dogen’s practice is below.

Many members of the Still Water community will be attending parts of the Kalachakra for World Peace occurring at the Verizon Center from July 6 to 16. If you would like to coordinate rides, meals, breaks, or other activities with other Still Water practitioners, please send an email with contact information to Scott at .

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner

Senior Teacher

Saturday, July 2: Buddhist Cave Temples Exhibit and Lunch

Sunday, July 17: Lotuses, Food, and Mindful Friends

Sunday, July 24: Touching Life Deeply: A Day of Practice

Dogen’s Practice

by Shunryu Suzuki, from Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness

Dogen Zenji . . . did not get caught up in these word games so much. Rather he emphasized how to get out of word games by fully appreciating things moment after moment. He was more interested in a koan like, "When it is cold you should be a cold buddha; when it is hot you should be a hot buddha." That’s all. To be completely involved in what you are doing without thinking about various things is Dogen’s way. This kind of attainment is reached through actual practice, not through words.

Words can help your understanding of things. When you are very dualistic, when you are getting confused, they can help you. But if you are too interested in talking about these things, you will lose your way. We should be interested in actual zazen, not in these words, and we should practice actual zazen.

Dogen Zenji’s way is to find the meaning in each being— like a grain of rice or a cup of water. You may say a cup of water or a grain of rice is something that you see in brightness. But when you pay full respect to the grain of rice, I mean when you actually respect it as you respect Buddha himself, then you will understand that a grain of rice is absolute. When you live completely involved in the dualistic world, you have the absolute world in its true sense. When you practice zazen without seeking for enlightenment or seeking for anything, then there is true enlightenment.