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Zen Center of Georgia



    What is Zen
Is Zen/Buddhism a Religion
Why Practice Zen
Zen and Buddhism
Karma
Suffering
What Do Buddhist's Believe
            What does it cost
Do I Need to Convert to Practice
What is Meditation
Is Zen Right for Me
Rebirth
Sin
What is Buddhism
                 


What is Zen

 

Zen is a school of Buddhism. Zen is a practice. Zen is a path to reducing suffering on one's life. Zen is a path to learning who you are; who you are beyond your name, beyond what you do, and beyond who other's think you are.


Contrary to certain views, while there is such thing as a Zen philosophy, that isn't Zen practice. Thinking/talking about Zen concepts is as much Zen as thinking/talking about Karate technique is Karate.


Is Zen/Buddhism a Religion

 

Is Zen a religion? That all depends on what you mean by religion. Most of us in the west are used to the Judeo/Christian/Islamic paradigm of religions: worship of God/Gods; concepts like sin; sets of beliefs concerning God and the afterlife. These are things one accepts on Faith. Then there is the exclusivity, i.e. you cannot be both Baptist and Muslim. Zen doesn't fit this mold of religion. It says nothing about worshiping God(s) or even if God exists or not, and it has no set of beliefs to be accepted. It doesn't matter if you are Baptist, Catholic, Jewish, or Muslim, you could also practice Zen. There is no dogma taught in Zen. A Zen student finds truth from within him or herself. It is a physical practice, one that's meditational in nature.


If religion is defined as requiring belief in a God, in a set of ideas, concepts, or truths, then Zen is not a religion. If religion is defined as a spiritual practice, one having priests, monks, nuns, and temples, then Zen is a religion.


Why Practice Zen

 

Why would a anyone, outside of work, spend fifty minutes motionless, in apparently non-productive activities? Insanity or masochism are the obvious choices, but let's not go straight for the easy answers. Most people try meditation to relieve stress, achieve some calmness in a hectic life, or perhaps to lower their blood pressure. These are all valid reasons. For people who stick with it for a while, those reasons are replaced by others. This is where the answers get harder, or maybe just harder to express. Not that they don't exist, but they are hard to put into words, even to oneself. A more long-term reason would be to achieve clarity, or perhaps to create a spiritual center in your life. While these terms mean very little to those never experiencing them, to those who practice, these answers are very real and concrete. The ultimate, long-term reason would be to find out who you are, in other words to achieve self-realization.


Zen and Buddhism

 

Understanding Buddhism isn't easy for those who've practiced it for some time. Buddhism arose from the teachings of Gautama Siddhartha, often called the Buddha. He was not a prophet, nor a god, only a human being who, through a great deal of meditative practice, learned how to end suffering. He spent the next approximately 50 years teaching this to others. This became Buddhism. Buddhism spread throughout India. This was around 500 BC.


From India, the teachings spread up into Asia. Given the basic teachings of the Buddha are not based on belief, many of the beliefs of the areas Buddhism moved into were absorbed and became part of the Buddhism in that region.


At the core, all Buddhist training has the same aim, but much of the trappings are different. Some, such as Tibetan Buddhism, have beliefs in rebirth between lives, which isn't necessarily shared by some other schools of Buddhism. Many of the schools of Buddhism have borrowed concepts of gods, demons, heavens and hells as instructional tools for getting concepts across about Buddhist training and states. While most serious students of these schools, that I've talked to, consider these teaching metaphors, there will undoubtedly be some who consider them part of objective reality.


Zen Buddhism is a direct transmission from Chan Buddhism in China, with almost all of the same practices. There are many Japanese influences in current day Zen, because of it's time there. Zen practices in the US have changed some, but it's not had time to adapt to how the west will ultimately affect it.


Zen Buddhism has much less of the scriptural teachings than virtually any other major school of Buddhism, opting to transmit the teachings from teacher to student. This transmission goes all the way back to Gautama Siddhartha.


What does it cost

 

We operate like a church, on donations. We don't expect you to pay to meditate with us.


That said, we do have expenses we have pay to keep going. There is a suggested donation of $20 a month, but no one will be asked for this and if you are not in a position to donate we would much prefer you come meditate with us than not. Don't let the lack of funds keep you from sitting with us.


Suffering

 

Suffering, when used in the context of Buddhism, means something a bit different from what we usually think. It's the closest meaning we can come up with, in English, to the term Dukkha. Dukkha means something closer to "a dissatisfaction with what is". I want to also make sure there is a clear distinction between pain and suffering. One can be in pain and not suffer, one can be suffering without being in pain. This doesn't sound right, but if you've ever seen a kid out playing, fall and hurt themselves, but keep on playing and having a good time, then when it was time to come in the pain causes them to start crying, that's an example. A less common example would be a parent that rushes into a burning building to save a child, getting burned in the process but the pain isn't an issue until they've got the child to safety, then the pain can become debilitating. You may normally start getting hungry at noon and ready for lunch. If you're working intently on something you may not really notice this hunger for some time. The hunger was there the whole time, but didn't become "discomfort" or suffering until your attention wasn't absorbed in what you were doing. These are all examples of suffering or lack of suffering.


What Gautama understood, as a result of his great enlightenment, was that it's our thoughts that "orbit" or are preoccupied by a desire that turns something into suffering. That may be a desire for food, a new toy, a cigarette, or the cessation of pain. The term attachment to desire is a description of thoughts that are orbiting some desire. They can be as simple as thinking about lunch or as complex as continuing to think about an argument you lost, continually rearguing it in your head, over and over. Each of these attachments leads to suffering.


An excellent example I've used before is something a parent will have seen in their children if they celebrate Christmas. Every child I've ever seen between the ages of 2 and 4, will have a Christmas morning where everything starts out great, but inevitably the child will start crying some time that morning. This comes from the fact that the child has the feeling that they will get everything they want and all will be right with the world because of it. They have blown this feeling or image up well out of proportion, well out of all bounds of reality. Inevitably, at some point, the reality can't stand up to the fantasy and it comes crashing down as a strong disappointment. As they get just a little older, they learn Christmas doesn't fix everything; their expectations are more realistic; so they are less likely to cry.


The core concepts for all Buddhism are encapsulated in four simple statements, usually called



  The FourNoble Truths


  1.   Suffering exists within life.
  2.   Suffering has a cause.
  3.   There is a way to end suffering in one's life.
  4.   Buddhist training is one way to end one's suffering.

What Do Buddhist's Believe

 

Technically, a Buddhist doesn't have to believe anything. Dogma isn't an aspect of Buddhism. Many of the beliefs Buddhists have are either aspects of a local school or personal beliefs they bring to Buddhism.


Many teachers, as does records from Gautama Buddha's talks, tell students to find the truth through their own practice, not by accepting "truth" from teachers, scripture, or other sources. Teachers and scriptures are meant to help guide the student along a fruitful path and helping them avoid blind alleys often given us by our own ego.


Do I Need to Convert to Practice

 

Buddhism, most accurately with Zen, requires none of the requirements of conversion. You may hold whatever faith you wish and still practice Zen, at least from the perspective of Zen. There are some faiths that hold meditation to be evil or a sin, which would keep you from practicing it from that faith's point of view, but Zen Buddhism has no problem with you following another religious faith while practicing Zen.


Buddhism tends to see other religions not as false, but as different fingers pointing at the same moon.


What is Meditation

 

Meditation is a form of unfocused concentration. It has many forms, but all have the effect of calming, sometimes silencing a person's thoughts.


The core practice of Zen is meditation. Primarily through a seated meditation called Zazen. Within this practice one learns how the mind works; not in a clinical, academic way, but in a manner useful to your life; learning not to be a slave to your desires nor the unthinking servant of your own emotions. Through meditation and introspection you start to see how thoughts arise, how negative emotions regularly manipulate your actions. You slowly start to achieve some control over your life. Through mediation a level of clarity of thought and action is attained. It is a perspective usually only seen from the vantage of time. Just as you wouldn't get mad remembering someone cutting you off in traffic, weeks before, Zen practice lets you start seeing the present in the same light as you view the past. The effects are very slow and often present long before you realize you have changed.


Another of the meditational practices is chanting. Chanting is a form of meditation using the breath and the sounds produced in the body to enter a meditational state. Our chanting is always in either Japanese or an old dialect of Chinese (with some Sanskrit thrown in for good measure) pronounced as Japanese syllables. Contrary to popular opinion, this isn't to make it difficult to follow or to make your head ache. The meanings of the words are unimportant, only the sounds and the way the breath is used is. Those from certain faiths might be leery of chanting words of unknown meaning. Most of the chants we perform have English translations, available on request. There are a few that don't have any meaning. Originally, long before the practice of Buddhism, they were thought to be magical in nature because of the ease at which they helped a person enter a meditative state. While their magical associations have long since been discarded, their use as chanting, remain valuable.


Is Zen Right for Me

 

This question only you can answer. My advice is to look at a number of places and see what resonates within you. Some people find Zen practice to be the best training for them, others find Tibetan training works best, some find Catholic Christianity works for them.


If you are set on Zen, then I'd advise you to again check out a number of places. Each place will have it's own feel. Our particular practice of Zen may be too rigorous for some, inconsistent with what they need for their path. People are different, so one path won't be perfect for everyone.


Karma

 

Karma is viewed very differently, within Buddhism, as well as compared to Hindu views of it. Some see it as a metaphysical balancing of the scales, something that punishes us for wrongs we've done against others.


In Zen, this is not an uncommon view for the beginners, but the view of many of the advanced practitioners is a bit less black and white, and more subtle. Because Zen and Buddhism's primary goal is the extinguishment of attachment and a cessation of suffering, it has no true concept of wrong, bad, sin, nor evil. It does acknowledge that most of us carry these concepts within us, as well as a strong sense of justice and injustice. When a person does something they consider bad or unjust, it is virtually always to satisfy some desire they have an attachment to. This tends to lead us away from the path toward extinguishment of attachment to desire. This is karma. Causing others pain for our own gain in turn causes us more suffering. This is not overtly apparent or no one would hurt others, but it becomes clearer the longer one practices and learns more about how their own mind works.


It's just as true that if I do something like helping others so people or even that I will see myself as a better person is karma. This karma has a negative affect on getting to the place I want to go because it was giving into an attachment to one of my desires, that of wanting others to admire me or because I wanted to feel good about myself. Only when the action simply happens, perhaps just because it felt like it was the right thing to do right then, and then mentally dropped does it contain no karma.


In Zen there is no good karma and bad karma, only karma.


Rebirth

 

Rebirth, often confused with reincarnation, also has a broad set of definitions, depending on what school of Buddhism you are enquiring into.


First and foremost: Buddhism has no concept of a soul, so the idea of a soul passing from a person that dies to a person being born isn't Buddhist. Rebirth, in the Tibetan and Theravadan sense (and I say this without a lot of knowledge of these schools, so this could be wrong), is the passing of Karma debt, from lifetime to lifetime. Each life passing it's Karma to the next person's life, much as a candle's flame ignites another candle.


The Chan and Zen views of Rebirth are not the same. These schools make no assumptions or hold beliefs as to what happens after one dies. Because of this, rebirth is seen as being born into each moment, dying and being reborn into the next moment. This isn't something to be taken on faith, but to understood through your own practice.


Sin

 

Unlike western religions, sin isn't a concept in Buddhism. The primary goal in Buddhism is to end suffering by coming to a complete understanding of one's self. There are behaviors that will lead a person away from self-understanding, those that give into desires or more accurately setting up a pattern of behavior for giving into desires.


What Is Buddhism

 

This question has been left for last. In a sense, all the previous questions try to answer this. That said, it isn't enough. Everything in Buddhist training is leading you to an understanding of yourself at a most basic level. Since no one can understand you better than you, this teaching and training has to guide you to the truth, not to give it to you. Someone else cannot give you something only you can understand fully.


This film will help give a flavor of what Buddhism is.


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