Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The practice of "no practice"

This past Sunday we had a very small turnout at OMZS, by which I mean that one person attended. Andrew's a regular and so, since there was only two of us, we sat and talked for and hour and a half. That's right, we didn't chant or meditate, we just sat and talked. That was our practice for the evening. It's what my teacher would call sangha building, and that's exactly what we were doing.

And it was damn good practice.

We talked about all sorts of things--film, writing, my book project for the summer, a film he is directing, Buddhism, and of course Zen. A reoccurring theme in our conversation was Zen practice--in particular, what is it?

For me as a Zen priest and a member of the Five Mountain Zen Order, practice is whatever you are doing right now. Wherever you are, that's your practice. Let go of all attachments and engage this moment wholeheartedly. Period. That's it.

When you're mowing the lawn, mow the lawn; don't dilly dally in fantasy land (yes, that's right, I said "dilly dally"), entertaining fantasies. When you're driving, just drive; when you're driving and listening to the radio, drive and listen to the radio.

When you're meditating, just meditate. But by no way does that mean that Zen is limited to the cushion. The cushion is fertile soil for our practice, but the true field is our lives. If we can't embody, live, Zen practice, then what are we really engaged in?

One point that I raised during the conversation was our attachment to sitting meditation itself. This is a thorny issue. We can easily get caught by our expectations of what Zen or practice is, or especially, is not.

To that I say, don't make anything; just go straight. That's a popular expression of Zen Master Seung Sahn, and one of my personal favorites. It means, let go of it all--what we think life, or Zen, or spirituality is or should be, and just practice.

As a father and husband, there are days where my familial responsibilities do not allow me to meditate. That's when I feel all itchy and anxious inside, I suppose like obsessive people do when they can't act on their impulses. So my practice at that moment is not meditating.

And to be perfectly honest, it's a great teacher. It teaches me that I need to let go of all of my attachments, including Zen and seated meditation itself.

For if Zen is about letting go of everything, then that must apply to Zen itself.

On Sunday night our practice was talking. Right now my practice is writing. Soon it will be teaching, and tonight it will be sitting meditation. Or maybe not. But if I can't meditate, then that's my practice--not meditating.

Image borrowed from Creative Commons flickr user: Matthew Knott.


  1. No practice is Great practice! This means life just functions and whatever appears that needs attending to, we just do it. Ah, two similar posts in the same day, thank you for all your hard non-practice.

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  3. Do'an Sunim wrote a similar post on his blog today.

  4. Thanks for reading and for your endless support, guidance, encouragement, and Bodhisattva work. 108 bows, Son Sa Nim.