If someone asks me about Zen, I inevitably refer to the book, Everyday Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck.
The late Charlotte Joko Beck and her dharma heirs operate The Ordinary Mind School a non-hierarchical organization that uses an adapted Zen practice free from traditional patriarchal trappings with elements of vipassana meditation and the conscious engagement of emotions.
Everyday Zen is not achieving some blissful state or cultivating special powers or having happy feelings. It is about a simple meditation practice that removes external stimuli so that we are free to experience the most challenging part of reality: ourselves.
Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru.
Zen practice isn’t about a special place or a special peace, or something other than being with our life just as it is. It’s one of the hardest things for people to get: that my very difficulties in this very moment are the perfection. When we are attached to the way we think we should be or the way we think anyone else should be, we can have very little appreciation of life as it is.
Enlightenment is not something you achieve. It is the absence of something. All your life you have been going forward after something, pursuing some goal. Enlightenment is dropping all that.
Wisdom is to see that there is nothing to search for. If you live with a difficult person, that’s nirvana. Perfect. If you’re miserable, that’s it. And I’m not saying to be passive, not to take action; then you would be trying to hold nirvana as a fixed state. It’s never fixed, but always changing. There is no implication of ‘doing nothing.’ But deeds done that are born of this understanding are free of anger and judgment. No expectation, just pure and compassionate action.
Practice can be stated very simply. It is moving from a life of hurting myself and others to a life of not hurting myself and others. That seems so simple — except when we substitute for real practice some idea that we should be different or better than we are, or that our lives should be different from the way they are.
We have to face the pain we have been running from. In fact, we need to learn to rest in it and let its searing power transform us.
But sitting is not something we do for a year or two with the idea of mastering it. Sitting is something we do for a lifetime. There is no end to the opening up that is possible for a human being. Eventually we see that we are the limitless, boundless ground of the universe. Our job for the rest of our life is to open up to that immensity and to express it. Having more and more contact with this reality always brings compassion for others and changes our daily life. We live differently, work differently, relate to people differently. Zen is a lifelong study.