On Wednesday, June 21 kathychen wrote:
Thanks for your questions. They are all very good and important. I will
tell you what I think about just one on your list and leave the other ones
for other forum participants.
[Kathy...] Can we just sit, as Bill suggested, and find all our knowledge,
inside? Can we do this with no training or guidance? One of the
central aspects of Zen practice is having a teacher. What is their
function, if not to pass on knowledge?
You can just sit. There is nothing else needed.
You won't, however, find 'knowledge' by just sitting - if by 'knowledge' you
mean the names and order of the Patriarchs, the content of the 'Five, Eight
and/or Ten Precepts', or the names and descriptions for 'The Eight
Consciousnesses'. You won't find knowledge by just sitting, but KNOWLEDGE
IS NOT WHAT IS NEEDED to 'see your Original Face'. (That is usually the
phrase I use to describe the indescribable. You can call it whatever you'd
like: awaken Buddha, discover Buddha Nature, experience Satori, etc... - the
phrase is not important). Your Original Face will be revealed if you just
Now 'just sit' means just what it says: Just Sit. That means you are not
engaged in any other activities like thinking about how you are doing,
wondering how long you've been sitting, becoming annoyed at your aching
knees, being pleased that you are sitting so strongly, etc... You must JUST
SIT! Another term for 'just sit' is 'zazen'. That's a transliteration of
Japanese and means: za=sit, zen=zen (untranslatable).
So how do you learn to do zazen? You can learn by yourself. You don't
absolutely NEED a teacher. That's apparently the way Siddhartha Buddha and
some of the Patriarchs learned. They just sat, probably at first thinking
about all kinds of things, and eventually - maybe from exhaustion or sheer
boredom - stopped their mind's activities. That's a tough way to learn.
It's probably best if you learned from someone who practices zazen regularly
and is qualified to teach. They can give you pointers on helpful postures
and techniques (like counting breaths, silent mantras, non-logical sayings
or puzzles - koans) that can help you get started in quieting-down your
active analytical mind.
And, a teacher can most importantly be an example for you so that you will
have FAITH and BELIEVE that there IS an Original Face, and that eventually
YOU TOO will be able to see it. This is very important. Without faith I
believe it is virtually impossible to put forward the effort needed to get
to the point where your Original Face is revealed. I think this is the most
important factor a teacher can bring, much more important than teaching
There is an old zen saying that goes something like: 'A sincere student can
become enlightened practicing under a false zen master; but even the most
accomplished zen master cannot enlighten an insincere student.'
So, to sum up by referring back to your question:
- We can 'just sit'. We won't find knowledge by doing so, but knowledge
- We can lean to sit with no training or guidance, but I wouldn't advise
- A teachers' function is to guide and nurture, but most of all to engender
All for now...Bill!
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