PEOPLE: It just works


This is an interview I did for Stories of Devotion.

Originally posted on Stories of Devotion:

“I started having anxiety problems as a teenager. I tried medication and it made me a crazy person, so I got off the medication. I was looking for ways to deal with my anxiety. It was crippling, I couldn’t be around people at all. And then I learned about meditation,” replied Daniel Scharpenburg when I asked how he found Buddhism.

Daniel speaks deliberately. As I listen back to the recording of our interview, I’m surprised to find it’s only a little over thirty minutes and about a third of it is silence. There are long pauses between my questions and his answers, they are intentional and verging on awkward. And yet, they speak volumes.

He grew up with Christian parents, but he admits they weren’t particularly devout. He left the faith purely out of boredom and he wasn’t religious at all when he found meditation at the age of 22…

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Some of the Teaching I’m Giving at Zenfest.

I’m a true believer. I think our true nature exists under layers of delusion. Because it’s our true nature to be Enlightened, we can find it. It can come upon us all at once.

Huineng, the 6th Zen Patriarch, was an illiterate woodcutter. He heard someone reciting a text called the Diamond Sutra and he suddenly entered the stream. After that, he found a Zen teacher and started cultivating the seed of Enlightenment. This is the authentic spiritual journey that many people have gone through. It exists throughout history.

The purpose of Zen is Enlightenment, self realization, awakening to the absolute truth of reality.

It’s a path of transformation instead of salvation.

We have a constructed image in our minds of who we are and what the world is. Zen is about being in the moment without the constructs. Dropping ego. Dropping the past and our thoughts about the future and engaging with the present moment. Zen Master Dogen called it “The dropping away of body and mind”

Easier said than done. Our minds want to do anything but stay in this moment. Zen involves learning to quiet our minds and penetrate through these layers of delusion. Zen is teaching our minds how to sit still.

We do this by following a set of principles: Meditation, Mindfulness, and Morality.

Any discussion of Zen history has to involve Bodhidharma. The story of Zen says that it comes from the Buddha, the historical founder of Buddhism. The story says that he passed Zen teachings to one of his followers and it was passed from teacher to student for many many years. There’s not a lot of historical evidence for this. But that’s ok. What we do know is that it has been taught from teacher to student since around 400ad. The purpose of the teacher is both to set an example and to provide context for us for what’s happening as we progress along the path.

Zen as we know it started with Bodhidharma.

He taught what he called were the two entries to the path. He called them Conduct and Principle. He said both are necessary, but he clearly favored the teaching of Principle.

Conduct represents modifying our behaviors and spiritual cultivation. It also represents countering the three poisons: Greed, anger, and delusion.

He described 4 methods for Entry through Conduct.
1. Repaying wrongs: actions have consequences. Try to mitigate negative consequences from our actions as much as possible.
2. Adjust to circumstances: Accepting our conditions. Not being obsessed with changing our circumstances. It’s not that we shouldn’t try to change things. It’s only that when we only sit around thinking “When this happens I’ll be happy” that we have problems.
3. Non-seeking: Acting without attachment to success. Just doing our part.
4. Upholding the Dharma: Spreading the teachings to anyone that wants them.

Entry through Principle: Engaging our true nature. There are different methods of doing this. When we sit in silent meditation we are touching what my teacher calls the Empty Mind Ground. It’s available all the time because it is our true nature.

Our true nature is one with everything and the only reason we don’t see that is because we are in layers of delusion. When we meditate we clear some of that delusion. We have to dig ourselves out.

We train to realize our true nature. We investigate ourselves.

We just have to be present to perceive our true nature.

The path has been handed down for centuries.

In the early days it only consisted of transmission from one teacher to one student. They practiced together and over time the teacher would ask questions to help the student untie knots in their mind. Teachers would teach students to lay down thoughts and when the teacher could see a level of attainment, they would give dharma transmission, permission to teach and spread the dharma.

This changed over time. Teachers started taking many students and giving transmission multiple times. That’s not bad. We probably wouldn’t be here right now if that hadn’t happened.

Today there are lineages and organizations and schools. Many of them are very different. Lineages teach in their own style. Some require monasticism. Some, like the one I am in, discourage it. Zen has been evolving in different ways for hundreds of years.

Dwelling in the empty awareness.
No boundaries between self and other.
I do not know who or what I am.

Vast emptiness. Nothing holy.
Infinite completeness. Everything holy.

Oneness and Nothingness are the same.

Did Interest in Meditation Practice Skip a Generation?

I was listening to a great podcast called Mindful Cyborgs.
You can hear it here:

In it, Vince Horn states that when he started meditation practice back in 2003, there wasn’t really anyone his age practicing. It seemed to him as though there were many many baby boomers interested in meditation practice but very few in Generation X.

Fast forward to now. Millenials are interested in meditation. So, Vince made the claim that meditation practice seemed to have skipped Generation X.

This got me thinking. I was born in 1979. This makes me in Generation X, just barely.

I haven’t really been focused on the ages of individuals at the Buddhist temple I attend, but it seems like Vince’s assertion is correct. There are quite a few people younger than me around and quite a few that are much older, but in there mid 30s to 40s there do seem to be less.

Not that there are none. There are definitely some. But our lower numbers in comparison are noticeable when we pay attention.

I can think of some famous Buddhist teachers who are in my generation, Brad Warner comes to mind, but it’s worth noting that while he is Generation X, most of his students are Millenials.

I wonder if any studies have been done of this phenomenon.

In any case, I welcome the Millenials with open arms. I see meditation practice spreading in this era and that fills me with joy.

Bringing Zen to Zenfest

August 7th I’m going to an event called ZenFest to lead a meditation workshop. It’s at the Gaea Retreat Center in Mclouth, Kansas. It was at this same location that I led a meditation workshop at the Heartland Pagan Festival. I had a great time at that event and I’m sure I will have a great time at this one. I’m bringing my wife and kids and we are camping.

What is ZenFest?

It’s not a meditation festival. As far as I know I will be the only teacher of traditional meditation. I’m not sure why they call their event ZenFest. I suppose it’s just because the term Zen has largely been co-opted and just means relaxation to many people.

ZenFest is an event that includes numerous presenters of different workshops and activities. It includes many of what I would call hippie type activities like: fire spinning, yoga, contact juggling, and drum circles.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these activities. They are stretching the word ‘zen’ by using it, but that’s okay. I’m sure there are plenty of Zen Buddhists who bristle at the idea that such a festival exists. That they use the word Zen, which means meditation, for their festival.

But what does bristling at the idea accomplish?

I could be irritated that ZenFest doesn’t have any Zen. Or I could bring the Zen to ZenFest.

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