Lurk about any establishment where Zen is rumored to occur and you’re likely find a bunch of uncommonly quiet (and, usually, very pleasant) folk struggling diligently with everything from reducing their levels of daily stress to the admittedly ambitious search for universal personal enlightenment. For a spiritual discipline that is perceived to be, at its very core, a minimalist endeavor, Zen is possessed of quite a number of ways and means to pursue the practitioner’s goals, whatever those might be.
Koans, sutra studies, techniques and approaches are all valuable and have their place in a vibrant Zen practice. That being said, each of these systemic cogs is, regardless of how much importance the zensu might choose to attribute to them individually or as a constituent, very often something our practice could just as easily do without. All you really “need” is yourself and a place to sit quietly and do nothing. Fancy zafu and zabuton cushions are all the rage (and quite nice), but a simple folded blanket will do in a pinch to support one’s backside during seated meditation. For that matter, a piece of ground to sit on and a tree to lean against will often yield more results if the practitioner is willing to focus on the practice rather than divertissements. Can you still your mind? Will you still your mind?
Through the years I have often encountered those I classify as “Runner’s World” Zen students. Who are they? Think of the runner that has the latest in high-tech foot wear, a drawer full of moisture-wicking attire, a pair of $180 Julbo Ultra sunglasses with photochromic lens, a digital heart monitor and, of course, a subscription to Runner’s World magazine. The problem, though, is that they never run. Forget the bells and whistles – just run. Or, in our case, just sit.
Zen asks nothing of us but our focus and our intent. Zen is greater than the sum of its parts. Walk through the woods. Listen to the song of a bird. Sit quietly. Do nothing. Don’t fret that you can’t remember the second of the Four Noble Truths. They’re written down. You can read the Noble Truths anytime your heart desires. What do you mean you can’t focus because your mind is too scattered? Let it be scattered! Sit anyway. Or stand. Or recline. Or chase your tail. Sooner or later you will tire and maybe then you will focus on the moment. Zen is.
©Billy Red Horse