Lesson
16

Form

 

Why bother to sit with your hands is a particular position? Why should it matter if the left hand or foot is on top or bottom? Why sit and walk just so?

Form is the skeleton which supports any kind of practice, whether it be meditation or tennis or cooking. If we neglect these fundamental elements, this neglect will be reflected in the practice. And so form is indispensable to developing strong practice.

When Maezumi Roshi talked to about really doing the best zen, he said how you execute the forms is very revealing, If you sit slouched over, if you wear your clothing in a sloppy manner, if you come to the zendo  needing a bath and smelling bad, if you allow your thumbs to become tense and press upward or loose to the point that they drift apart  — all these give the teacher or monitor a clear indication of your state of mindfulness. So by correcting your posture or your mudra practice, they help bring your mind back to what it is you’re trying to practice.

You're not practicing postures and positions, but they do facilitate your practice. It’s a powerful aid to our practice.

Japanese Zen / American Zen

This course presents the ancient practice of zazen from Japan (previously from China) and the teachings of Japanese teachers such as Dogen Zenji and Maezumi Roshi. If you have been to a Zen center, it most likely had Japanese liturgy, Japanese robes and other manifestations of Japanese Zen. How do you relate to this experience? Are you drawn to it, troubled by, confused by it?

There’s no particular reason why one should consider Zen a Japanese or Chinese or Indian artifact. Zen is beyond  circumstances of ethnicity, culture, and geography. Nevertheless, as with any systematic practice, it exists in a context and it takes on some of the characteristics of that context.

And so here in America our teachers tended to be Japanese priests and monks who had been trained in a monastic setting,. The best of them have advocated that their successors, people who were Westerners and steeped in Western culture, should be the ones to develop the practice in this American context. And that’s what’s beginning to happen.

The important thing is not the trappings but rather the meaning, and the meaning has to be approached by personal experience.

Form is an important aspect of practice in a Zen center.

And while liturgy and talks are a part of the form, remember: