What Is A Zen Life And What Does It Have To Offer?

I’ve promised myself and you, dear reader, that I’d address this question:

What is a Zen life and what does it have to offer?

So here it is.

But before I get into the “what,” first let me address the “why” question – why Zen?

Zen offers a path of awakening to the truth of this one great life. It really does. It really is.

If you’re a person who sees through the hollowness of the American Dream (pseudo-fulfillment through reflectionless absorption in the consumer, warrior culture) and instead you insist on realizing directly rather than solely believing others’ stories, Zen is for you.

What is a Zen life?

It is simply to become a zazen person, hiding yourself in zazen and playing peek-a-boo with the 10,000 incredible things. In becoming zazen people we become who we are – the many faces of zero.

A Zen life for the zazen person includes dharma study and work.

To study the dharma is to embody the sutras – the threads that connect us to the buddhas and ancestors and run through us toward the misty future – including the examination of teachers living and dead, through koan or other forms of contemplating dharma, digging out the marrow.

The work of a Zen life is to sing the great song of the bodhisattva through all the activities of sitting, standing, sleeping, lying down, and yes, even falling face first in a dung pile. As Ginny Whitelaw puts it in Zen Leadership, Zen work is about moving from “it’s all about me” to “I’m all about it.” Joko Beck once called this “the talk nobody wants to hear.”

What does a Zen life have to offer?

Simply what it is, of course.

“You will have lots of spiritual experiences but they are just scenery,” Katagiri Roshi told me in our first meeting. “You must be long-distance train, anyway. Do you understand? Long-distance train. Most important point is to reach terminal station – you are exactly Buddha. From there you can go anywhere.”

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