Tuesday, December 8, 2009

"Our Practice Is Japanese"

Precisely one month ago, I heard Zoketsu Norman Fischer speak at Green Gulch. The Zen Center offers dharma talks quite frequently, however this was my very first. The lecture is now posted on the San Francisco Zen Center website and I highly recommend you listen.

As both a poet and a Zen Buddhist priest, Norman Fischer is an inspiration in how he articulates ideas so clearly. He makes such sense when talking about something like religion; a universal concept which can be so complicated, confusing and overbearing. He touches on such abstractions when he asks, "What does nirvana have to do with the passing of the seasons?"

But what he says about Buddhism (specifically Japanese Buddhism as taught by the Zen master Dogan and SFZC founder Shunryu Suzuki Roshi) is so reasonable, to me at least. In the last half of the lecture, Fischer touches on Zen Buddhism as a way to be kind to ourselves through mindfulness. It is this tenderness towards life that draws me toward the practice.

One way of practicing such tenderness, he adds, is to feel with the heart and the body, rather than through over-thinking. And this is not to say we are overcoming our humanness, no. For example, this body and heart practice can be exemplified in meditation. When we sit zazen, we are opening up to our perfect way of being, our true humanness. And, in regards to sorrow and pain, these feelings and problems should be acknowledged but never something we attempt to solve. Through acknowledgment rather than correction, we discover for ourselves why there is a problem. We are learning. (It is at this point in the lecture when I lean forward and really focus).

I paraphrase, but Fischer emphasizes the following: when we seek and study something without knowing the outcome, our mind is open to everything. Such openness allows for more subtlety in attitude. As part of the Buddha-nature, as he calls it (or practice, or enlightenment) when we are seeking we are liberated. Knowing that we do not have to reconstruct ourselves (fix ourselves, solve the problem) offers a sense of healing in itself. Simply, with an open mind, we can be ourselves in order to be okay.

Listen forth, and enjoy Fischer's talk. His thoughts on Japan are particularly mesmerizing. He offers many quotes, further reading suggestions and personal stories. More importantly, his lecture for real is more comprehensive than my summary. I summarize in part to relive my experience of his talk and further understand the Buddhist way. It is still new to me which is in part why I am so interested and excited. As Fischer explains, it is most beneficial to learn about something you don't know about. It is through this journey that you will get to know yourself. Sounds like a plan.

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