this bright world is yours to discover

Our Life is Awareness

Sitting & Ritual, Study & ArtsGuiding Teacher2 Comments

Today I want to return to the ongoing series of posts about the paramitas. As a refresher, the paramitas are the practices of a bodhisattva, a being whose vow is to work for the awakening of all beings, self and other. These practices were described in very early Mahayana Buddhism, around the beginning of the Common Era.

The fifth of these practices of a bodhisattva is dhyana, a Sanskrit word (in Pali jhana) which means meditation or concentration.  It is a word that was closely associated with the Buddha, Shakyamuni. The oldest texts of Buddhism tell of his entering and leaving four levels of meditative absorption during his awakening, his life, and his death.  These profound states of concentration are associated with achieving equally profound equanimity.  Today you might understand this process as one in which the practitioner experiences the fleeting nature of phenomena to such a degree that they can no longer be fooled into clinging to anything.

Is this possible for each of us? The Buddha, Dogen, Harada Roshi and many other great teachers emphatically tell us, yes!


The word zen is actually a Japanese derivation of the word dhyana as it was pronounced in Chinese, ch'an. Thus it becomes abundantly clear that the primary practice of the Soto Zen school is dhyana, albeit a formless sort of dhyana called shikantaza.  In fact, Zen teaches that it is not necessary to accumulate eons of merit over hundreds, thousands or millions of lifetimes in order to realize this. We simply need to sit and to carry the mind of sitting into our lives.

That said, you would be wise not to lose sight of the reality that ethics is an equally important aspect of practice. That is, you cannot rely on meditation alone to remove all hindrances to awakening if you are reinforcing those hindrances by behaving unethically in your daily life. That is why the precepts are at least as important as zazen. Here we again see the inter-relationship of the paramitas. Recall that ethics or sila is the second of the six paramitas. We also again see the value of zazen off the cushion, that is, profound awareness of cause and effect in daily life.

It calls to mind the story of the two monks who were boasting about their teachers.

One monk said to the other, ‘My Master is amazing! She can fly through the air, read minds and even disappear during meditation.’ The other monk said, ‘Yes, my Master is amazing too. She can eat when she’s hungry and sleep when she’s tired.’


Sometimes the most amazing thing is to be truly present for your life. I wish you an amazing day.