Mystic Heart Meditation
Korean Zen Buddhism
What is Zen?
The four lines below are traditionally attributed to Bodhidharma, 28th Indian Dharma Ancestor and First Ancestor of Zen in China:
A special transmission outside the scriptures,
Not relying on words and letters,
Pointing directly to the mind,
And personally realizing Buddhahood.
Whatever someone says about Zen is only a finger pointing at the moon. If our gaze fixes on the finger, we miss the moon. If we try to grasp intellectually the essential teaching of Zen, without engaging in actual practice, words and concepts will themselves block us from directly experiencing the wholeness and splendor of the Full Moon of our own heart-mind.
In traditional Japanese Zen temples, the only instruction a new applicant typically received was to ‘go sit.’ We Westerners, however, generally need something more to ‘hook’ our hungry intellects and get us motivated to start practicing.
On one hand, then, we can say that Zen is a school of Buddhism. While some schools emphasize the study of a particular sutra, or chanting, or devotional practices, Zen is the sect that most emphasizes the practice of silently and directly looking into the mind, and the transformative experience of waking up to the deepest truth of one’s fundamental Buddha-nature.
When Buddhism migrated from India to China, it mixed with Taoism and Confucianism and gave birth to a new and vibrant practice known as Ch’an, the Chinese word for the Sanskrit dhyana, or meditation. Zen is the Japanese equivalent for Ch’an.
The foundation of Zen practice is zazen, a dynamic, one-pointed and penetrating practice that offers a time-tested way of diving beneath the waves of thought, into the radiant depths of our being. It is the way demonstrated by the Buddha himself some 2500 years ago in India, sitting in the lotus posture beneath the Bo tree – the way that erupted into his Supreme Enlightenment. Out of this earthshaking experience arose the vast body of Buddhist scriptures, with their core teaching of the intrinsic perfection, dignity and wonder of all existence.
But ‘Zen’ can also refer to the very Essence of existence itself. In this sense, Zen transcends all religious boundaries: pointing directly to the deepest truth of human nature, it is the core of every genuine spiritual teaching. For this reason, spiritual awakenings by people in every tradition and in every era share strikingly similar features and insights.
It is not necessary for anyone (including Buddhists) to believe in Buddha or his teaching if they do not wish to. It is up to the individual to understand what he teaches.
Michael O’Sullivan, Senior Dharma Teacher in the Kwan Um School of Zen, is the founder and abbot of The Three Treasures Zen Center, located in Oneonta, New York. He is the president of the greater Oneonta Interfaith Committee, and teaches meditation regularly at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York. Michael is a retired New York City detective and is the proud father and grandfather of three grown children and four beautiful grandchildren. He has been a Zen practitioner for over 25 years.
Michael has traveled extensively in Asia and has attended Buddhist peace conferences titled “The Whole World is a Single Flower” in Hong Kong, Mainland China, Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, Poland and the United States. He has visited and stayed at many temples in Korea.