February 11, 2011
Roshi Pat Enkyo O'Hara, from Week 1 of her Tricycle Retreat,
I think a lot people associate Zen with a sort of sternness, a harsh quality, and while those qualities are indeed there, in my own experience of Zen practice what I've experienced most of all is actually a quality of joy and ease. It is a practice that lets us engage with the world with an open heart, a connectedness.
Even before I began to practice, what attracted me to Zen was its spontaneous and quirky aspects; the laughter, the jokes, the sense of being able to appreciate life and to laugh at oneself and the world. It wasn't so much about me getting something but rather, freedom to engage in the world.
One of the earliest Zen poems, the Shodoka, or "Song of Enlightenment" (download PDF here), talks about "the leisurely one…the one who does not strive……who walks the path of life with gentleness and wisdom." This same quality of ease is found in the very earliest of the Zen meditation texts, which refer to zazen [meditation] as the "dharma gate of ease and joy." This is an old and cherished saying. Zazen literally means "seated mind" or "the mind that sits in stability." The dharma is the teachings, the support. A gate is something that swings open, a way through. So zazen is "the supportive gateway through which we find ease and joy in our life." It's not a struggle or a sense of lack or grasping for something we don't have, but rather, meditation is a realization of the ease and joy that is already in us.
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