Advanced Beginning Zen
We repeat our morning practices in the evening. We also add a few preliminary practices.
We begin our evening practice by walking in kinhin.
At the beginning of our kinhin, we mentally recite the Three General Resolutions of Zen:
- I resolve to avoid evil.
- I resolve to do good.
- I resolve to liberate all sentient beings.
Reciting these three general resolutions on a daily basis at the beginning of our evening kinhin helps us plant the seeds of happiness that will lift us from the tenth dharma realm and prevent us from returning to it.
Our resolve to liberate all sentient beings puts us in league with the Buddhas of the past, the Buddhas of the present, and the Buddhas of the future. Our job is not to enrich ourselves but to enlighten all sentient beings.
We don’t exist apart from all other sentient beings. It’s impossible to enrich ourselves without also enriching others. That makes us happy to practice; it’s not a selfish thing to do.
Every sentient being receives benefit when a single sentient being practices Beginning Zen.
After reciting the Three General Resolutions at the beginning of kinhin, we concentrate only on the kinhin. We feel the weight on our feet as it shifts back and forth, how it builds up and passes away; we pay attention to the present moment.
In the very early days of practice, it is best to skip the warm-up exercises. After practicing awhile, we can perform the first warm-up exercise, then the second one, etc., until we gradually build up to all of them.
We recommend the Eight Form Moving Meditation taught by Dharma Master Sheng Yen, founder of Dharma Drum Mountain Buddhist Association. We pay attention to the present moment as we perform the Eight Form Moving Meditation after our kinhin. Then we calmly sit for the morning Present Moment Awareness formal meditation.
Similar warm-up exercises are OK, of course, but this particular set comes to us from an awakened Master.
Master Sheng Yen, Founder of Dharma Drum Mountain Buddhist Association
We perform the Eight Form Moving Meditation in a calm frame of mind. We pay calm, light attention to the movements, thereby preparing us for the formal Present Moment Awareness sitting meditation to follow.
This gentle daily warm-up will invigorate us and help us cultivate happiness throughout the day.
Qigong practices can be followed as well for variety. The best book I have found on that subject is authored by Kenneth A. Cohen and is entitled Qigong, The Art and Science of Chinese Energy Healing. I don’t care for the author’s flippant attitude about eating animals but the Qigong exercises are good.
Since happiness/mindfulness is the foundation of all Buddhist practice, it’s our number one job to cultivate it all day, every day. With a strong foundation of happiness, the other nine steps of practicing Zen will easily become second nature.
Vigor is the fourth of The Six Perfections that are cultivated by Buddhas-to-be. So when we seek the ox with morning kinhin, warm-up exercises, and Present Moment Awareness, we not only climb out of the tenth, lowermost dharma realm, we also begin cultivation of an important perfection.
Bodhidharma, an Indian monk, spent nine years meditating in a cave before beginning his career as a teacher at the now famous Shao Lin (Small Forest) monastery in China. He is credited with introducing gong fu (kung fu) to the monks to help them remain physically fit despite long hours of sitting meditation. He is also the twenty-eighth and final Zen patriarch of Indian Zen and the first patriarch of Chinese Zen (Ch’an).
It’s difficult for a physically unfit person to practice zazen. If we are overweight, stiff and inflexible, we need to work on reducing weight and becoming more flexible. That’s why we add warmup exercises as an Advanced Beginning Zen practice.
One reader of this site suggested that I should remove all mention of exercise from the site, saying that sitting on a cushion requires no warming up and no degree of physical fitness.
I replied that the great chess masters exercise like Marines in preparation for their matches. Sitting for hours at a chessboard requires great physical stamina and sitting in a zendo does too.
After the recital of the Three General Resolutions, the kinhin, and the warmup exercises, using the same posture as we did for our morning practice, we repeat our Present Moment Awareness, metta, and Silent Present Moment Awareness practice at night before going to bed. A night sitting is known as a yaza sitting. “Ya” means night and “za” is to sit. Even for beginners, a single daily meditation builds a weak foundation. A night time sitting, just prior to retiring, is helpful.
At the conclusion of our yaza, we recite the four vows:
- All beings without number, I vow to liberate.
- Endless blind passions I vow to uproot.
- Dharma gates beyond measure, I vow to penetrate.
- The great way of Buddha, I vow to attain.
We then stand and perform three prostrations, reciting the following with the first, second, and third prostrations, respectively:
- I take refuge in the Buddha, and resolve that with all beings I will understand the Great Way, whereby the Buddha seed may forever thrive;
- I take refuge in the Dharma, and resolve that with all beings I will enter deeply into the sutra treasure, whereby my wisdom may grow as vast as the ocean;
- I take refuge in the Sangha, and in its wisdom, example, and never failing help, and resolve to live in harmony with all sentient beings.
- These are The Three Refuges, the taking of which is traditionally associated with entering the Buddhist path.
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