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Traditions: An Introduction to the “My Zen” Series

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Seated Amitābha Buddha Statue, Borobudur, Java, Indonesia

 

Traditions: An Introduction to the “My Zen” Series

 

Face-to-face I see the top of Mount Tiantai;
Solitary in its height it stands above the common crowd.
Swaying in the wind, the pines and bamboo breathe in harmony;
When the moon shines the ocean tides roll continuously.
I look down below to the end of the green hills;
To discuss profundities, I have white clouds.
My happiness in the wilderness arises with these mountains and streams;
My original ambition was to enjoy fellow disciples of the Way.
My original ambition was to enjoy fellow disciples of the Way;
With fellow disciples of the Way, one can often get close.
Meeting, from time to time, guests who can overcome ignorance,
Daily welcoming visitors with whom one can discuss meditation.
Discussing the obscure on bright moonlit evenings;
Searching for the truth on mornings as the sun starts to rise.
When all teachings are destroyed without a trace;
Then one will know the original self.
  • Han Shan

 

 

Tumbling Into Meditation

“My Zen” is a four-part series of articles researched and written as a record of one American’s comprehensive investigation of the world’s most established Eastern meditative methods. Although this is the story of the author’s own personal journey and “awakening,” these articles are not about an individual. This series is about meditation and may be suited to be a practical, academic or professional introduction to Eastern meditation from a Westerner’s point of view. Future entries will focus on Western and global cosmopolitan approaches to meditation.

The dense information contained in this series can otherwise only be gleaned by sorting through dozens of encyclopedic articles and twice as many books.[1] These contain many pages of peripheral or redundant material and as a thorough overview this survey will save the researcher many hours of labor. Convenient references and links are provided. If one is interested in any particular topic within the subject of Eastern meditation, it is advisable to consult these resources in a library.

My Zen began when I was eight years old. That is when my parents enrolled me at the local gymnastics club to begin training for competitive gymnastics. It was a career that ended when I quit at age fourteen, after I won a small regional competition for my class (I had one competitor) and before I might have been obligated to compete in the Junior Olympics.

My main activity was gymnastic practice, which included multi-dimensional visualization of my routines on six events, painful flexibility training, and acrobatic exercises like back flips with full twists, walking on the hands, holding difficult poses, and spinning around on a metal horizontal bar. Gymnasts are judged to the tenth of a point on a ten-point scale on the placement of every part of the anatomy and every skill of their routines. They must be in complete control of their minds and bodies, balanced, aware and alert, and able to quickly recover from accidents.

We were taught to meditate to overcome fear, endure pain and prepare psychologically for our performance. This was an almost completely mental discipline of breathing, relaxation and concentration, with no particular posture involved. This meditation could be done sitting or standing in between sets or whenever possible. The meditative technique could be used in other situations whenever it might be useful in life.

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Shaolin Monastery, where Bodhidharma created Chan/Zen and wushu (kung fu)

 

Along the Way

After I quit gymnastics as a teen I started studying the Laozi,[2] Zen Buddhism, yoga, and the Western Mystery tradition. In my late teens I meditated with my first Zen Buddhist monk and began my training in Wing Chun gungfu (kung fu) and Yang Style taijiquan (tai chi), taking an interest mainly in the meditative aspects of the Chinese and Japanese martial arts.

Starting in autumn of 1993 I began studying the Yijing (with the commentary by the modern Daoist Hua Ching Ni) and studying Daoist internal alchemy, the Way of the Golden Elixir, as taught by Liu Yiming (1734 – 1821) of the Longmen Dragon Gate lineage, as translated by Thomas Cleary.[3] I studied wing chun under two masters, and learned forms of the taijiquan, xingyiquan and baguazhang of Mount Wudang Daoist wushu (Chinese martial arts). At this time I also began keeping a spiritual record or diary.

I continued Daoist and Zen Buddhist meditation, as well as astanga yoga, but for the next fifteen years I focused on Western philosophy, university and the Episcopal Church. I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in the Liberal Arts studying Business and Political Science at the University of Iowa. I was baptized, confirmed, and initiated into my life-long love of religious music, architecture and history. Certain historic sites, whilst of no consequence to meditation or enlightenment, are meaningful in terms of appreciating the scope and history of human wisdom and meditation. There are quite a few pivotal sites I have yet to visit – shrines, temples and monasteries – but the locations I have seen have inspired me to always “seek more Light.”

 

Zen Meditation

Westminster Abbey, London, England 2017

 

After college I enjoyed visiting historic religious houses such as, among others, the National Cathedral and St. Paul’s K Street in Washington, D.C.; Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia; Christ Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; St. Paul’s Chapel and Trinity Church Wall Street in Manhattan, New York; St. Basil’s Cathedral in the Red Square, Moscow, Russia; the Royal Chapel in Copenhagen, Denmark; Santa María la Blanca and the Museo Sefardí in Toledo, Spain; Notre Dame in Paris, France; Rosslyn Chapel in Midlothian, Scotland; Temple Church and Westminster Abbey in London, England; St. Alban’s Cathedral in Hertfordshire, England; and the cathedrals and several chapels at the English universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

I studied Lectio Divina, the Christian monastic tradition of meditation, staying for short retreats at two different American Benedictine monasteries, one being Saint John’s Abbey in Minnesota, the largest monastery in the United States. I was welcomed graciously by the Roman Catholic monks, even though I was a chorister with the Episcopal Church (and not an especially good one). I believe that the methods of Lectio Divina, which are also present in the Zen Buddhist tradition, are essential to a complete regular schedule of meditation. A deeper investigation of Lectio Divina will be posted in my blog article, “Meditation: The Art of Life.” LINK UNDER CONSTRUCTION

My interest in meditation blossomed when I joined a Mystery School lodge of Freemasonry in Washington, D.C. I was made a Mason in a courtesy third degree ceremony by Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22. The lodge was named such because George Washington served as the first Master of that lodge. I also became a 32nd degree Freemason in Alexandria, Virginia. I regret that I had not much time to become deeply involved with the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry before leaving to start my family in my wife’s native country, Indonesia.

 

Soto Zen Style Zazen

 

Zen Buddhist Meditation

In 2004 I began zazen, sitting meditation, with a Korean Jogye Order monk named Pohwa Sunim, founder of the World Zen Society. On the banks of the Potomac River in Alexandria, Virginia I received my Dharma name, Wu Yi, “depends on (or supported by) nothing.” In the Science Abbey blog series “My Zen” I have traced the Zen lineage of Pohwa Sunim through to its ultimate origins, with a little history to help explain the background of this particular tradition, the Jogye Order of Korean Soen. Soen is better known as Japanese ‘Zen,’ Chinese ‘Chan,’ or Sanskrit ‘Dhyana,’ meaning “meditation.” I think the most popularly known name is ‘Zen,’ which is the term I generally use.

The highest goal of meditation is Samadhi. This is a common term used in the various Hindu, Jain, Sikh, yogic and Buddhist schools. For thousands of years, meditation has been known as a three-fold process: Dharana, or concentration; Dhyana, meditation; and Samadhi, enlightenment. The Sanskrit root Sam means ‘together’ or ‘united,’ and dhi is ‘consciousness.’ Samadhi, then, is when the mind pulls itself together to become whole. Samadhi is the consummation of concentration, when the mind is still. It is the state of awareness in the present moment. It is translated as enlightenment or illumination. “Buddha,” itself, means “enlightened one.”

The man we know as Buddha was a sixth century BCE clan chieftain in an area that is today divided between Nepal and India. Buddha called the religion he founded Dhamma-Vinaya, or Truth-Discipline. The Science Abbey meditation blog series “My Zen” will follow the monastic order he established from its origins in India, its Chinese roots, and the Japanese, Korean and occidental branches of Zen. Future blog articles will delve into various other kinds of meditation around the world. My Zen, or my meditation, has developed of necessity from various traditions, to a path of scientific discovery.

 

Java

Candi Sewu, Mahayana Buddhist Temple, Central Java, Indonesia, eighth century CE

 

Beginning Zen

I received my dharma name Wu Yi (“Depends on Nothing”) with Potomac Sangha on the banks of the Potomac at Belle Haven Park in Alexandria, Virginia in celebration of Vesak Day (Buddha’s birthday) on Sunday May 28, 2004. I took the Upasaka vows (lay ordination vows) of Zen Buddhism, taking refuge with Triple Jewels (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha). The vows I took are the five precepts:

 

I take refuge in the Buddha, the Perfect Enlightenment of all Absolute Ones.

I take refuge in the Dharma, the Right Teaching of all Great Sages.

I take refuge in the Sangha, the Purity and Harmony of Our Original Mind.

 

To uphold life, we vow not to kill.

To promote abundance, we vow not to steal.

To purify spirit, we vow not to misuse sex.

To honor truth, we vow not to lie.

To retain clarity, we vow not to misuse intoxicants.

 

We wholly embrace these Three Jewels and Five Precepts.

We are fully prepared to follow the precepts of Zen.

 

My Korean Seon teacher, Pohwa Sunim, was a monk trained to teach his own authentic lineage to Americans. He had studied with the “secret monks” in the Japanese mountains. Students would get private time with Sunim face to face or email to address their koan. Our teacher did not recommend a lot of reading but he did introduce us to the eighth century Chinese poet Han Shan.

Pohwa Sunim began each session by making and sharing tea. The class, called the “sangha” in Buddhist terminology, would chant the Heart Sutra. The sangha would do zazen sitting on our meditation cushions (“zafu”) and do walking meditation. Sunim would give a “dharma talk” and answer questions. Sunim gave everyone their own koan, such as:

 

A student asked Master Yun-Men, “Not even a thought has arisen; is there still a sin or not?” Without hesitation, the master answered, “Mount Sumeru!” Why did the master answer, “Mount Sumeru?”[4]

 

HEART SUTRA

 

Zen Buddhism

Dharma name “Wuyi” by Pohwa Sunim 2004

 

Buddhist Temples

Appreciating my experiences with cathedrals and churches in Europe and America, I also had the privilege of visiting temples in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Thailand and Indonesia. I had the pleasure of meditating at the Temple of Heaven in the Forbidden City, home of the Chinese emperors in Beijing. I have been to the Daoist Louguan Terrace at Mount Zhongnan in Shaanxi Province, where Laozi is supposed to have written the Daode jing, and White Cloud Temple in Beijing, the headquarters of the Chinese Daoist Association. I have visited the prominent daoist Tai Shan Monastery in Shandong and Confucius’ Tomb in Qufu City, Shandong.

I visited the White Horse Temple, the first Buddhist temple in China, and the Shaolin Monastery, where Chan/Soen/Zen Buddhism and kung fu were born. I have been to Longshan Temple in Taipei, Taiwan. I travelled to Po Lin Monastery and the Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island, Hong Kong and stopped at the daoist Wong Tai Sin temple in Hong Kong. I have had opportunity to enjoy the Hindu Sri Krishnan Temple and the adjacent Chinese Buddhist Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple on Waterloo Street, Singapore.

I visited the ancient Buddhist temple ruin at Ayutthaya, the capital of Siam 1350-1767, outside of Bangkok, and the reclining Buddha at Wat Pho in Bangkok, Thailand. I explored Sensō-ji Buddhist temple in Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan, Tokyo’s oldest temple, originally of the Tendai sect, dedicated to Guanyin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy.

In Indonesia I meditated at Borobudur in Yogyakarta, the 8th-9th century Buddhist temple with 72 stupas with buddha statues inside; and two temples in Jakarta on the island of Java: the Chinese klenteng Kim Tek Ie Temple and the Buddhist Vihara Mahavira Graha Pusat. I also explored the Hindu Pura Besaki temple complex on the slopes of Mount Agung in Bali, and the Tanah Lot temple in Bali.

 

Tanah Lot

Tanah Lot Temple in Bali

 

An Online Community for Meditation and Science

My travels are far from over. There are many important temples and monasteries I still want to see in the East and the West. My blog articles may not always be fast-paced, intriguing reading but they do always leave a trail of breadcrumbs into the most interesting and informative stories in the world. I also condense a large amount of data into a short account. I consider my work to be more useful than entertaining. I hope my writings appeal to a large spectrum of society but they are sculpted primarily for the seeker of wisdom. To you, my brothers and sisters, I offer my service with humility and goodwill.

To date the lineage traditions I have received include the university liberal arts Bachelor’s Degree studying Business and majoring in Political Science, Confirmation in the Episcopal Church, Master Mason Degree in Washington, D.C. Anglo-Freemasonry and the Thirty-Second Degree in the Scottish Rite of Alexandria, Virginia, licensure in Therapeutic Massage, Yang style Wudang daoist taijiquan and lay ordination with Southern Chan Buddhism with the Seon Jogye Order.

For lack of accord with basic arbitrary doctrines and practices, I never became a Buddhist bikkhu, a Christian monk or a 33rd degree Freemason with Past Master status. I never followed up my taijiquan training with an education in, for example, a monastery on Mount Wudang for daoist alchemy, although I do find daoist religion intriguing. I never joined a Western esoteric order for an official grade in a tradition such as the Bavarian Illuminati, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Ordo Templi Orientis or the Scientific Illuminism of the A.’.A.’., although I have met with members and thoroughly researched these fascinating systems.

I cannot limit myself to any single tradition as it stands, except the one based on reason, science and human rights, which I have had to establish, myself. Neither could I divide myself between two traditions, but I must devote myself to one way: this noble experiment. Although with unlimited resources I would master every worthy method, I cannot justify spending the time, energy and resources necessary to relocate my family and master a similar system, such as training mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, within the Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford.

Perhaps one day I will be able to train in mindfulness and mindfulness teaching at a university, but until then, I have learned enough to prepare for the daunting task of founding the Order of Science. For the present and for the future, it must be done. On the one hand I see the eventual success of this system to be inevitable. On the other hand, I do not know if I will personally be rewarded, or if this great expense of time and energy will have been for naught. Either way, this is my Zen.

 

 

My Zen Part I: THE FIRST MEDITATORS: INDIAN YOGA

My Zen Part II: AGELESS CHINESE MEDITATION

My Zen Part III: ALCHEMY, QIGONG & TAIJIQUAN

My Zen Part IV: THE BUDDHA AND BUDDHISM

 

Notes

[1] Wikipedia is a good place to begin research but it is prone to errors, inaccuracies and omissions, and must be checked against a wide range of primary and secondary sources.

[2]Laozi” is the Pinyin; “Lao Tzu” is Wade-Giles. Pinyin and Wade-Giles are the two most used Romanization systems used for translating Chinese words into English. Wade-Giles was the most used until recently, when in 2001 the People’s Republic of China legally made pinyin the official Romanization system for Standard Chinese.

[3] Translated by Thomas Cleary, The Taoist I Ching, Shambala Publications, Inc., Boston & London, 1986.

[4] I taught my seven-year-old daughter how to do zazen and we chanted the Heart Sutra. When I explained koan to her with this example, she answered “Mount Sumeru!”

 

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