New to Zen


New to Zen or curious about Zen?
Here are some frequently asked questions of Zen.

How do I deal with wandering thoughts during the meditation?

When we are practicing the counting method for a while, we are calm and have some clarity of mind; and then we just focus and keep the concentration there without counting the numbers.  Without counting the numbers, our mind may stay in calmness but for a short period of time, the wandering thoughts may start to show up.  At this moment, we should keep our mind in calmness and clarity without being affected by the wandering thoughts. This is very important.  The moment when our wandering thoughts appear again, we are facing our habitual thinking patterns. If the clarity fades away and we start to think, at that moment, we lose our focus on meditation and we start to follow our habitual thinking patterns again.

Therefore, realizing our wandering thoughts, facing our wandering thoughts, and not being moved by our wandering thoughts are very important.  If the clarity of our mind is moved by our wandering thoughts, we lose the awareness and do not have the freedom to generate the thoughts we want.

What is karma?

Karma is the manifestation of your mind.

When your mind manifests the reality or the truth, the reality of that manifestation is your karma.  If you feel you are unhappy with the reality, you will want to overcome some hindrances from your reality. People call these hindrances negative karma. They refer to it this way, but actually karma is not always bad. Buddha manifests Buddha’s karma; Bodhisattvas manifest Bodhisattvas’ karma; and an everyday person manifests an everyday person’s karma. We call the mind’s manifestation—karma.

How to stay calm in hectic daily activities?

When the situation comes up, one must first perceive the situation as it is.

To do that, we need to have clarity and calmness of mind. We need to focus on what the problem really is. If we don’t pay attention to the core message of a situation, we will generate a lot of emotions. The existing problem is a problem already. We need a hundred percent of our energy and focus in order to handle it. A single problem can easily be handled when we give it our full concentration.

However, if we create a lot of emotions based on that one problem, it means we layer more problems on top of it. To do so only uses more time and energy. Worries and emotions rob a person of energy, and they consume effort. Instead, we need to figure out what the essence of the problem is and what we need to do in order to handle it. Look into the core of this problem, and you will see that we habitually over-react.

Why do we generate so many emotions? Why do we have so many worries? It is because we want to handle the situation correctly and get rid of the situation. One way or another, our handling of the situation only makes it worse. So, the situation gets more serious because we constantly over-react to things.

Sometimes in our family, we will create a huge conflict from just a small conflict if we become too emotional. For example,  a couple has a little argument, but then they start to generate lots of emotions, and soon a tiny thing can generate a lot of misery. It is because we can never see what the true problem is.

What is Zen?

Zen is essentially an answer to the quandary of human existence. Whereas we tend to be confused, Zen is focused; we are burdened by concerns and anger, but Zen is free and open; we are fearful and misguided, but Zen is calm and direct. Zen is a discipline through which the individual, whether as a student or practitioner, can cleanse his or her mind of impure thoughts, bias and worry.

An ancient branch of Buddhism, its primary exponent was the Sixth Patriarch Hui-Neng (638 – 713 BCE), a master who, in honor of the Buddha and his enlightenment, shared the teachings of strength through peacefulness and acceptance over many years, not only in his native China but also in Japan and Korea. So, what was originally called chan was pronounced by the Japanese as zen. The five schools of Zen can trace their lineage to Master Hui-Neng, and his teaching–as recorded in the Platform Sutra–is the essential source for the study of early Zen teaching. Today there are millions of Zen practitioners throughout the world, and for each the quest for spiritual fulfillment is a rich journey of discovery. Zen is ultimately an acknowledgment of “Mind” as the Creator, through which one seeks a place of peace amid all the realms of the universe.

What are the benefits of meditation?

Meditation is nearly as expansive a subject as Zen, but clearly meditation is a significant practice in the discipline of Zen. Similarly, meditation has many benefits but ultimately has just one benefit. Among the many, one can say it eases a racing, troubled mind; it steadies the pulse, refines the breathing and activates key centers of the brain; and it allows one to experience calm at a level that is rarely found in daily life. All these, however, are united within a single benefit, which is the ability to experience emptiness–the state of no thought–and open one’s entire being to the purity and power of Mind. If, for example, you are overburdened by concerns about work and interpersonal relationships, as you carry that burden you will be unable to think clearly enough to resolve them. In other words, your view of the true reality is obstructed by your deluded sense of reality. However, as you gather experience in meditation you free the mind of delusion and bias, which we call attachment. Thus you open yourself to the infinite wisdom and creativity of Mind. This is not mere theory, it is real and substantial. Consider this question: When you are fearful, do you feel joy? The answer is clear. So, through meditation we clear the clutter and distraction from our minds and invite the wisdom that sees all things exactly as they are.

How does one learn meditation?

Meditation is portrayed in various forms, such as quiet music, beautiful patterns, softly droning tones, chants and others. These may soothe the nerves to an extent, but they are not truly meditation. Zen meditation consists of a specific practice–a physical posture and method–that is handed down from a master to the student. Thus, the practice of meditation is learned from one who is thoroughly practiced in the art, just as one would study the violin with a trained violinist. A Zen hall, being the centerpiece of a Zen monastery, is an excellent place to visit, not only for the Buddhist but for anyone who truly wants to walk the path of peacefulness. There you can be taught the way to approach meditation, such as how to sit, how to begin, how to breathe and how to count in the proper cycle. However, as you continue to practice meditation you must be responsible for your own mind. No one but you can clear away the entanglements of worry and attachment. Only you can settle your mind so that it will not wander. Vairocana Zen Monastery invites practitioners and laypersons alike to meditate in the Zen hall, and we are pleased to guide you as you take up the journey to peace in a calamitous world. Additionally, our forthcoming Guide to Meditation booklet, with audio CD, serves as a step-by-step introduction and an exploration of meaningfulness in Zen practice.