In Quest of Zen Mind
By Janis Hashe
In a small, dimly lit room in the back of ClearSpring Yoga, a group of people sits cross-legged on black cushions, facing the wall. A faint smell of incense drifts in the air. At the sound of three gongs, each person makes a small bow and begins a session of zazen, the meditation period of Zen Buddhism.
Twenty-five hundred years ago, a young prince named Siddhartha Gautama, born in what is now Nepal, began asking himself, “Why does suffering exist?” His journey to find the answer to this question led to his awakening to the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism: Suffering exists; attachment and delusion are the causes of suffering; suffering can be ended; the way to end suffering is through the Buddhist Middle Way.
Gautama began to teach and his followers began to call him “The Buddha”, or “One Who Has Awakened.”
But Buddhism is a nonthesistic religion, which means practitioners do not worship a god. The Buddha is considered a great teacher, but only one of an infinite number. In the centuries that followed his life, Buddhism spread across Asia and into many forms, of which Zen is one of the most popular in the US. There are believed to be 400 million Buddhists worldwide and around six million American Buddhists.
Zen teaches that “just sitting” in meditation is the most important way to access awakening. Meditators focus on their breath and on being present in the moment, something that carries over into everyday life.
At the end of the final zazen session, two gongs signal the group to stand up, face each other, make three bows, and then chant the Four Vows. “Beings are numberless, I vow to free them…” The silence that has been maintained is now broken by the group’s friendly interchanges. They will be back on the black cushions next week.
(reposted from the Chattanooga Pulse, November 17, 2011)