Beginning

Zen has been called "the religion before religion..." This phrase evokes the natural religion of our early childhood, when heaven and the splendorous earth were one. For the new child in the light of spring, there is no self to forget ... Not until years later does an instinct come that a vital sense of mystery has withdrawn. The sun glints through the pines, and the heart is pierced in a moment of beauty and strange pain, like a memory of paradise.

After that day, there is no beauty without pain, and at the bottom of each breath, there is a hollow place that is filled with longing. That day we become seekers without knowing what we seek, and at first, we long for something "greater" than ourselves, something far away... To seek one's true nature is, as one Zen master has said, "A way to lead you to your long-lost home."   Peter Matthiessen

Reflect on the seeker in you that comes to this course.

To practice Zen is to realize one’s existence in the beauty and clarity of this present moment, rather than letting life unravel in daydreaming of the past and future. To rest in the present is a state of utter simplicity, although attainment of this state is not as simple as it sounds: most of us need training.

Many of us cast about for years for a vague outline of a path. Often in our search we come across accounts of Zen that tend to emphasize puzzling dialogs or portray the practice as inhumanly difficult. Something is missing, some organic link that can bring us ordinary people into this important and very human tradition.

Somehow we sense that in those encounters between Zen teachers and their students and in those images of quiet sitting there may be a clue to help us resolve the questions that waken us in the night — What am I doing here? Where am I going? What is my life? ... But what a gulf seems to separate us from those enlightened masters and hard-bitten ascetics!

If you come to this course with notions of impossible states of mind and body, I hope this instruction will bring Zen practice home to you — Zen practice as a way to, at a minimum, clearer, less confused living. In zazen, ideas dissolve, the mind becomes transparent, and in the great stillness there comes an intuitive understanding that what we seek lies nowhere else but in the present moment, right here, now, where we have always been.

To travel this path, one need not be a “Zen Buddhist” — call yourself a zazen Buddhist if you like! “Zen Buddhist” is only another idea to be discarded, like “enlightenment” or “Buddha” or “god.  Peter Matthiessen


This course is based on John Daishin Buksbazen's teachings and his book Zen Meditation in Plain English (Wisdom Publications, 2002).