Before reading anything else, perhaps check out MyZen 101 to get a feel for whether the information here might be for you. If that resonates with you, then I encourage you to explore more. Start anywhere that feels good to you; there is no specific order of events beyond a few basics that may help get the wheels in motion for you. Those basics are outlined below.
Reading through any of the “ZEN JOURNALS” (under construction) will give you a good idea of the questions that came up and continue to come up for me as I clarify my own truth. There are an infinite number more to write about, but there are only so many hours in a day. Then there’s the “DHARMA DISCOURSES” (under construction) which are based on short stories called “Koans” that are nothing more than devices to help you clarify your own truth.
KEY POP QUIZZES
For me, there are two very easy “pop quizzes” that provide a great reference point for where I am in my present personal journey and clarify whether or not I am living authentically. The first one is what I call “Response or Reaction” and the second is called “Mirror Mirror”. Read about them in detail on the “KEY POP QUIZZES” page and get a quick check on where you might be on your own personal journey of discovery.
STEP 00: A HEALTHY MIND
No matter what I discovered or thought I discovered, no matter how much I thought I was “getting it,” no matter where I looked, what books I read, teachers I spoke with, or spiritual practice I decided to engage in, none of it truly made sense to me until I spent several difficult years peeling away the layers of conditioning and indoctrination that I was convinced didn’t exist. This key aspect in realizing our own Buddha Nature is discussed in detail in the “HEALTHY MIND BEFORE ZEN MIND” page. I’m not saying that enlightenment can’t come to those who haven’t been through therapy, but learning about Zen Buddhism was virtually identical in many regards to my own personal therapy sessions. As I was growing into a healthy man, all of the books on Zen and Buddhism that I’d been studying for the past 20 years, finally, for the first time in my life, began to click. And, I found myself hearing teachings in a way I had never heard before. During this time, I read a book very similar to one I planned (and may still choose) to write. It’s called “Breaking Down is Waking up: The connection between psychological distress and spiritual awakening”. It’s stunning to see what a rare opportunity a life of abuse or of childhood abuse affords some of us. It can sometimes take a life-shattering event to shake us awake, and one thing that is shockingly potent is waking up to the realization of how much damage emotional and physical abuse in our youth or current life may have caused or is causing us. Most of us has only learned to bury or cope; few of us actually take the long journey back to health. After speaking with several therapists, there is one fact that all of them had agreed upon: They never get to actually heal people, they only help people manage. Most don’t want to go through the agony of waking up, and like many addicts, return to the familiarity of the abusive situation, or retreat into the pattern of behavior that they know. turning away from a path of health is also turning away from our own True Nature and the possibility of freedom from our suffering while still here on Earth.
STEP 01: ESSENTIAL READING
I can only offer reading that was essential for me to help strengthen that framework and context for all I was discovering. It all started with an audiobook called “Breath Sweeps Mind” by Jakusho Kwong Roshi. I found it only because I was looking online for an online Zen course. This is a perfect place to begin because it actually offers a series of sessions that would be offered if one were to study at a monastery. This is one of the only audio courses I’ve found and it was a beautiful place to help frame my own practice. Anything by John Daido Loori, my mentor-in-spirit, is a worthwhile read or listen, and always cuts to the very heart of the matter in plain English. Visit the “ESSENTIAL READING” (under construction) page for my favorite books.
STEP 02: FINDING YOUR PRACTICE
For me, the very essence of Zen Buddhism is my practice, a large part of which is meditation practice. We don’t need to shave our heads, put on robes and join a monastery to experience Enlightenment. We don’t need to go to Bible study classes and attend Church every Sunday to experience the Kingdom of God that Jesus spoke about. Living authentically, realizing that somewhere underneath the layers of conditioning all of us have been subjected to most of our lives is truly an illusion is they key to finding the path that will point the way to your own practice. I once dreamed of being a potter and purchased a pottery wheel expecting to churn out works of art the next day. I realized that anything worth doing takes patience and practice. This is no different when it comes to rediscovering our Original Selves, or Divine Nature, our connection with God, the Universe, our Buddha Nature. Read about this on the “WHAT IS PRACTICE” page.
STEP 03: RENUNCIATION OR NOT
This is something that I struggled with for quite some time. I have no desire in this moment to give up my home and friends and my computer. Some have tried to argue that I am not fully realized because of these attachments. But, awakening to oneself doesn’t have to be all or nothing. As Buddha said; “We are all perfect and complete, just as we are.” I eventually realized that I can be Buddha enough to embody my own truth in whatever moments I choose in exactly the way I choose. My Zen is my own and no one else’s. It has deep meaning to me, and despite so many fibers of my body having told me differently, that’s all that really matters. No one knows my heart better than I do, and if someone else knows my heart better than I do, then I don’t really know my heart. As mentioned above, living authentically and trusting our hearts wholly and completely is the sole key to enlightenment. Seeing beneath the surface of life and being brave enough to live what you know to be true is at the very core of every spiritual teaching is the struggle. It’s O.K. to be frustrated and discouraged; the true path to your heart is one wrought with all kinds of pitfalls and failures. The “Hero’s Journey” as Joseph Campbell called it, is what all mythological tales are about. Slaying the dragon has everything to do with fighting our own internal demons, which are as treacherous and fire-breathing as the ones we see in movies and read about in stories.
STEP 04: A BASIC FRAMEWORK
There were a few things that really helped me get started. One was simply knowing the suggested postures for Zazen, or sitting meditation.
Before reading anything else, it Might be a good idea to read MyZEN 101 to get a feel for whether the information here might be for you. If that resonates with you, then I encourage you to explore more. Start anywhere that feels good to you; there is no specific order of events beyond a few basics that may help get the wheels in motion for you. Those basics are outlined below.
Reading through any of the “ZEN JOURNALS” will give you a good idea of the questions that come up for me as I continue to clarify my own truth. There are an infinite number more to write about, but there are only so many hours in a day. Then there’s the “DHARMA DISCOURSES” which are based on short stories called “Koans” that are nothing more than devices to help you clarify your own truth. My ZEN JOURNALS are often inspired by the DHARMA DISCOURSES I have posted here; they’re just my own commentary rather than someone else’s. Read any of them at your own pace, use them as a springboard for your own realization and practice.
STEP 05: A COURSE IN ZEN
It might make sense to get a feel for who Buddha was in terms of the countless very readable stories about the life of Buddha. One of my favorite books, partly because of the beautiful art on every page, is “Prince of Dharma: The Illustrated Life of the Buddha“. It can give you an interesting and accurate introduction to one of the most famous spiritual figures and movements in our mutual human history. More comprehensive than that, though, is the complete 10 Module, 77 Lesson Course in Zen offered here on MyZen.org. This course was painstakingly documented during a decade-long healing process that simultaneously healed both my heart and my spirit. What started off as therapy sessions to understand and overcome several abusive situations in my life, expanded into awakening to my True Nature. “Awakening Your Buddha” isn’t just a set of static web pages; it’s an interactive course, with videos, images, quizzes, practical advice, and more, that will take you by the hand, and walk you through the process of Realization that all of us already have buried deep within us. It shows you how to free your heart, and how to subsequently free your life from suffering, opening you to the True Reality that is always around us. Claim your power, revel in the truth, and take the Hero’s Journey outlined in Awakening Your Buddha.