The Birth of Zen

BUDDHA ONCE GAVE A SERMON TO AN ASSEMBLY OF THOUSANDS OF HIS DISCIPLES BY HOLDING UP A SINGLE LOTUS FLOWER.  Only one student got it.  Only one smiled.  His name was Kashyapa - the first Zen Patriarch.  Seeing his smile,  Buddha renamed Kashyapa: Mahakashyapa — the Great Kashyapa — and declared him his Dharma successor.  Ever since that first silent exchange between The Buddha and Kashyapa, Zen has been known as “The Straight path to Enlightenment that is beyond Scripture; Having No Dependence on Words or Letters.”

Trying to learn Zen from a book would be like trying to learn to ride a bike by going to the Library and reading about bicycles.  You could read all you want about bicycles, bicycle-riding, bicycle-making, bicycle-maintenance, bicycle-history, but until you actually put your feet on the pedals, your hands on the handlebars, and your butt on the seat, you will never truly learn how to ride.

The only way to learn Zen is by doing Zen.  And it is the same as learning to ride a bike.  We all learned how to balance ourselves on a bicycle by first losing our balance, just as we learned how to walk by falling.  In the same way we can only learn Zen — how to balance our lives — by first losing our balance and then finding it again.

In Zen one first learns Zazen - "sitting-meditation" - by sitting in Zazen.  There is no other way! Still, I believe there is value in talking about Zen. I believe it is important to know something about the history and tradition of these practices and where they originated.  If however you disagree or feel bored by this information — move on; move on...

REMEMBER: You can’t learn Zen from a book. 

Zen teaching is beyond thinking and beyond reasoning.  When Zen teaching occurs, it occurs though something called: Transmission — an instantaneous glimpse or an intuitive insight into the reality of thought and mind.  Just a wink or a nod or an all-knowing Buddha smile between master and disciple — and there it is: sudden realization; Instant Enlightenment!  The student suddenly sees what they have been missing all along.  They then take the lesson to heart; make the awareness their own and grow wings.

But, there’s more involved than that. There is preparation!  Discipleship.

Discipleship means “to practice self-discipline.”  So this “sudden occurrence” of “instant enlightenment” between any master and any disciple often only comes after years of dedicatedfaithful practice.

But once ready... Then just Buddha holding-up a flower and winking a bit and - if the student is properly prepared: “Ah! Just be like a flower!  How simple? Then there are no more problems.”

This legendary teaching is the pure essence of Zen.  It is said that Buddha “preached” this "sermon" towards the end of his life.  The legend says in order to accommodate the huge numbers of disciples crowding to hear him. The Buddha - Shakyamuni - “preached” his sermon from the top of Mount Gridhrakuta.

As someone raised a a Christian, it strikes me that this story about Buddha is reminiscent of the story of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.  But the case with Buddha, instead of telling his disciples to “consider the lilies of the field;” Buddha simply holds up a single flower and — without using any words at all — manages to say the exact same thing: "You worry too much; you need to relax and trust more in Life. Try being more like the flowers!  That will surely help!"

After his death, Buddha’s teaching left Nepal and spread to millions of people across the far East and down into what is now the Philippines....

This wordless transmission of the True Dharma between Buddha and Kashyapa is commemorated in many lands, but few have summarized it quite as neatly the Tibetans:


Om Mani Padme Hum — "Hail, the Adamantine Diamond at the Heart of the Thousand-Petaled Lotus!



OM: “The Sacred Sound of Primordial Oneness.”  When Tibetan monks chant Om, it is to say: “Hail! The Supreme Presence of the Divine Spirit.”  This I suggest is equivalent to beginning of our Lord’s Prayer: "Our Father, who art in Heaven, Hallowed Be Thy Name."

MANI: “The Adamantine Diamond”: is the diamond - the hardened crystaline truth-  “that cannot be cut or broken” and so is called: “adamantine” or “the pure everlasting essence” in nature. This fits nicely with: "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth — as it is in Heaven."

PADME: “The Thousand-Petaled Lotus”:  this image gets right to the “heart” of the matter! “Save us from the Thousand Illusions of our Mind.” Or: "Give us this day our daily bread, and deliver us from Evil."

HUM: Often called “The Tibetan Om” (and pronounced: “HUNG”) is the seed syllable for all Tibetan Tantra (meaning: “techniques”) — is primarily associated with Vajrayana Yoga—“The Diamond Path.” Also known as “the Straight Path to True Enlightenment in THIS body in THIS Lifetime!”  Or in Chritian Terms... "For Thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory Forever.

HUM ("HUNG") is also the closer of the Chant:  As "Amen" is the closer of the prayer...


When we begin to see the similarities between peoples and beliefs and stop being distracted by the many differences, we can see that Human Beings are really one big unhappy family. 

We begin to see we all live together on one planet: “Earth.”  And aside from our apparent differences, we are really one people: “Earth-people.”  There is only one Human Race, with all of us struggling to find Health and Happiness, Freedom and Peace.  Anyome can Practice Zen.  Anuone can practice Qigong.  Anyone can practice Yoga.  As anyone can Dance, Cry, and Sing...

To help us further see the similarities between peoples let us look a little closer at the seeming differences in Buddhism.  The Mahayana...  The Hiniyana...  The Vajrayana...  The Pure Land Schools...  Al follow the teachings of Buddha.  But they recieved their teachings at different times in history and through different lineages.

Tibetan Buddhism and Zen Buddhism are two branches of the same tree; both schools of discipline originally founded by Buddhist missionaries“ - Bodhisattvas” - traveling outwards from Nepal and India.

Tibet — which lies much closer to Buddha’s birthplace — received their “Dzochen” teaching through Saraha: the 4th Lineage holder descended through Buddha’s son: Rahul Bhadra.  Iisolated on their high Himalayan Plateau,  the Tibetans preserved what they believe to be the “purer form” of Buddhism (Vajrayana: "The Lightening Path").

While China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam and others received their “Dharma” teaching through Bodhidharma: the 26th Zen Patriarch in direct lineage from Mahakashyupa.  Once firmly rooted in Chinese soil, Indian Buddhism blended with native Chinese Daoism and gave birth to Chan Buddhism (Zen in Japanese).


We know each other more because of our similarities than our dissimilarities...


Hopefully you can see that any one of us “earthlings” can gain the health benefits that these “religious” or “spiritual” techniques have to offer.

From these brief insights into comparative religion - from examples from Buddhism or our own more familiar Judeo/Christian/Islamic traditions - I hope you can see that the techniques of prayer and meditation do not belong to any one group, race, nation, or spiritual tradition.  If you travel far enough back in time you can clearly see these practices are common to all peoples in all lands.

Zen as it is practiced here in the United States is pursued not so much a religion but as a psychology of stress reduction; meditation is a method for gaining insights into the psychology of the human mind.  In Zen Meditation, beliefs are neither a help nor a hindrance.  You can meditate to calm you mind by focusing on your breath just as easily as focusing on Jesus or the Blessed Mother. 

Emotions are Universal Truths.  Any Christian, Muslim, or Jew may safely practice Zen and remain happily-ever-after a devout Christian, Muslim, or Jew.

No one tradition can claim to hold a monopoly on what are considered by all Faiths to be Universal Truths.  Universal Human Truths are Universal to all Humans — and therefore they are common everywhere!

Around the World, if you just look with open eyes, you will see the sacred mudra we call "Praying Hands" in use everywhere! 

Down through the ages, no matter what religion, no matter in what land, monks everywhere live just like monks everywhere.  Mountain hermits everywhere live on their mountains just like mountain hermits everywhere.  We are all one people.  The differences can blind us...

Whether in the High Himalayas Mountains or the Cool Coptic Caves of the Egyptian desert — singing is still singing.  And chanting is still chanting.  It is only the words and the melodies - the languages - that differ.  Whether the faithful one is singing to God in a cave or in a church - chanting in a temple, a mosque, a cathedral, or the deep forest — the Quintessential Truth remains one and the same:


                Love is Love; Energy is Energy; Spirit is Spirit; and Qi is Qi.


Hao la!


--Pahka Dave