To study the Way, study the self
To study the self, forget the self.
To forget the self, be awakened by the myriad things.
To be awakened by the myriad things, drop away
body and mind of self and other.
Let all traces of awakening drop away.
Then life with traceless awakening continues forever.
From the Genjikoan, 1233 by Zen Master Dogen (1200-1253)
To sit more comfortably, we use sitting mats (zabutons) and cushions (zafus) which are placed under the buttocks. (Chairs are used if preferred). The body posture is upright, relaxed and alert, and the legs are crossed in front or in a kneeling position with the hands resting in the lap. The mind is directed towards the natural inhalation and exhalation and at first, beginners may be invited to count the breaths. Quietening the mind takes a long time but don’t worry. There’s no hurry! Thoughts crop up inevitably during meditation but as soon as you find yourself noticing you are thinking, it’s a chance to focus your attention back on the breath.
As well as weekly evening meditation and twice-monthly afternoon sessions, there are four retreats a year, usually held at The Carmelite Priory, Boars Hill, Oxford. Each Spring and Autumn the sangha meet for a day to discuss zen koans together and share aspects of their own practice.
Koans are stories, questions or statements used in zen practice to provoke students to drop their conventional dualistic thinking so that their spiritual intuition has a chance to spring out. Koans are frequently used in the interaction between students and teacher in the Dokusan room (room for private interviews). Our zen practice is Soto Zen with the inclusion of koans which are central to Rinzai Zen.
The Soto School is the largest of three traditional zen schools, the others being Rinzai and Obaku. It is the Japanese line of the Chinese Caodong school founded by Chinese Zen Masters Dongshan Liangjie (Tozan Ryokai in Japanese) and his student Zen Master Caoshan Benji (Sozan Honjaku in Japanese). It emphasizes gradual sitting enlightenment, focussing on the breath allowing thoughts to arise and fade away without interference.
Zen Master Eihei Dogen brought the Caodong teachings to Japan in 1227 after studying in China where he received Dharma transmission from his teacher Zen Master Tiantong Rujing. He returned home with many koan anthologies which form the basis for many of his Dharma talks. He advocated the realising of the True Self through zazen practice evoking a Chinese teacher’s phrase – “silent illumination”.
The Rinzai School is the Japanese line of the Chinese Linji School, founded in the Tang Dynasty by Zen Master Linji Yixuan (Rinzai Gigen in Japanese). Rinzai Zen was revitalised and organized by Zen Master Hakuin Ekaku in the 18th century and his system of the koan training serves today as the framework of formal Rinzai practice. It emphasizes the experience of kensho (seeing one’s true nature) as the gateway to authentic Buddhist practice, and for its insistence on many years of post-kensho training to embody the free functioning of wisdom within the activities of daily life.