Q: What is Zen?
A: That's the proverbial question actually. Zen is in short a practice of self inquiry. That is inquiring into the fundamental question of 'Who is This?" reaching this deeper 'This'.
Q: Zen is like Yoga?
A: I wouldn't confuse Zen in anyway with the 'Exercise relaxation' form of 'Yoga' taught in recreation centres, that's not even really Yoga and certainly not Zen.
Zen is a form of 'Yogic' Buddhism, that means it places emphasis on meditation and the relationship between Mind and Body as One to reach 'This'. It has a meditation system passed down over 2500years of it's own, and deep meditation is the centre of Zen as opposed to ritual for example. But the Core of Zen is not 'getting calm or relaxed' though that certainly forms part of it, it is self inquiry into 'This', to do that it helps to get calm.
Q: Isn't Meditation a waste of Time? I could be doing something else, especially if Zen is about doing.
A: That depends entirely on what you do when your not doing meditation. That's where meditation and doing meet.
Q: Do I have to join Zen or become a Zen Buddhist?
A: No. You can eventually make a commitment to honour the ethical Buddhist precepts [Not Kill Life, Not Steal, Not tell Lies, Not misusing sex, Not abusing others], but practicing Zen and seeking a Zen teacher does not nessisarily assume this. Buddhism is ethical, ethics are not found in a bunch of written rules, unless you personally need that. You can be an Aethiest, an Agnostic, a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Jedi, and practice Zen. At least from a Zen standpoint! Since all things are, and things are only name. We have an Ethical statement at the Zendo which is based in the Precepts, we'd like you to honour that and do no harm and not come to Zen seeking gain. Our statement of Ethics used at Perth Zen Centre is similar to the statement of Ethics you would enconter anywhere else. Another step is to have a Precepts Ceremony called Gokai, this is more religious and is an undertaking to try adhere to the Five precepts, you can train in most Zen places without ever taking Gokai.
Q: Do I have eat in a particular way, dress in a particular way, live in a particular way?
A: No. Monks and Nuns follow conventions in training temples, but ordinary people don't, it would be strange to force yourself. If you start eating only Shojin ryori food at home and sit on the floor more when you watch TV or read, that's healthy, but's ceratainly not a rule. Zen is realizing your True Self, that isn't defined by a behavior, but our True Self can define our behaviours.
Q: What's a Zen master?
A: Short answer; There are none because Zen is an ever traveling stream. Long answer: Show us.
Q: Zen is a form of Buddhism?
A: Yes, it is a lineage of teaching master to disciple going back to the historical Buddha Sakaymuni in India, emphasizing direct experential understanding. All the Precepts and teachings of Buddha are there, but they are expressed mostly in life we hope rather than just worship or learning.
Q: Is there a Zen God? Can there be Zen extremism?
A: Zen says nothing about God, negative or affirmative, absolute or differential. So it's hard to be extreme about a tradition that is about asking yourself "Who am I?" When you take a position - who are you? You may push up the stream to become a Dragon, but once among the clouds, what view will you have then?
A person looking for absolutes is like a child, immature in thier Mind's eye, a person insisting it's all relative cannot focuss. In between is the True Adult.
Q: How often should I zazen?
A: It depends on you. It won't do it's self, only you can. Build up to it. Don't be put off by pains and cramps, if you can't concentrate at home come join in the group sittings. Most people doing zazen just at home give up, some will do just OK at best, to really get deeper, you need a Zen teacher, sorry that's the fact of it.
Q: Zazen isn't always comfortable, and Bowing and Chanting can be confronting right?
A: You learned to walk, and other things today you take for granted, even the ability to understand this response was a learned effort, but you don't notice that anymore. If Humility, Compassion and sitting with yourself is confronting, that's alive. When I'm dead my legs won't hurt during zazen, but I'll be dead, right now I'm alive, so any zazen pain is 'This' too.
Q: Why should I do other Zen stuff?
A: Zen is more than a meditation method. It's an outlook, derived from looking inwardly. Walking, going the garden, listening to a talk, brushing a picture are all a vehicle to bringing outer and inner together as one, just one.
Q: Many people these days are becoming Yoga teachers, how do I learn to be a Zen teacher?
A: Don't try, there isn't a teacher's course, Zen teacher's are usually people who didn't want to be, they are given their lineage by their teacher only after many years of their own selfless training. Don't dream of being a chief, just be an Indian, that's not a put down that's just the best ethical outcome for you and everyone.
A Zen teacher is someone who has completed 12-14 years of study, including languages (Classical Chinese and Japanese), Cultural studies (Confucianism, Zen Texts, Koans, Tea and Calligraphy) as well as training in Liturgy and Buddhist ritual). There are assistant group leaders but they are not authorized teacher's and like teacher's they are appointed.
Q: What are KOANS?
A: They are not riddles or tests, they are a collection of records of the interactions of previous generations used to help us break through delusive thinking and patterns. The role of a Zen teacher is not to test or trick the student with a Koan, a Koan creates a resonance in one's life. We walk, sit, eat, with the Koan we have at a particular point. A famous Koan is What is the Soundless sound? Can you tell us? It is not intellectual, you have to find the soundless sound in your life, a Zen teacher helps you walk through that. There is no right and wrong answer, there is your answer, but it has to be Truth.