How To Flunk This Course

  • I know a few people who meditate but refuse to read the sutras, refuse to follow the precepts, and hold such practices and other Buddhist practices, in contempt. They argue that meditation trumps everything and they can continue to cause misery to other sentient beings because they sit on meditation mats and nothing else matters.
  • They eat animals, smoke, drink, hunt, fish, own guns, support wars of aggression, and generally behave just like people who have never encountered the Buddhadharma.
  • That’s how we know that meditation alone is nearly worthless. If meditation has no impact upon our behavior, we are merely wearing out meditation cushions when we sit.
  • I have even met Zen meditators who don’t want to learn about the jhanas, the Four Foundations of Mindfulness or the Five Hindrances to meditation because they’ve never heard of them and don’t want to fill their minds with too much learning. Ignorance on steroids.
  • So let’s practice Zen with an open mind, unafraid to learn, unafraid to practice the full spectrum of Buddhist practices from multiple schools or sects.
  • Only a pure, wholesome mind can see itself and wake up. A defiled, unwholesome mind can meditate endlessly to no effect.
  • Zazen, sitting meditation, is important, because it is the eighth fold, samma samadhi, of the eightfold path, but it will not lead to awakening if the meditator ignores the precepts, sutra study, and the other folds of the path.
  • The Buddha taught that there are three worlds or three main divisions of consciousness.
  • We live in the bottom one, the one known, confusingly enough, as the six worlds. We have already encountered the bottom three of the six worlds and we encounter the remaining three in steps 4-6 of Intermediate Zen.
  • This bottom world is also known as the world of sense desire. We cannot transcend it until we experience the jhanas. We don’t reach the jhanas until step 6 of Intermediate Zen.
  • The jhanas exist only in the second of the three worlds, i.e., the world of form, also known as the fine-material world.
  • And the immaterial attainments exist only in the highest of the three worlds, the world of formlessness, also known as the world of the immaterial attainments.
  • We don’t reach the immaterial attainments until step 7 of Intermediate Zen.
  • Steps 4-7 of Intermediate Zen include the sixteen steps taught by the Buddha.
  • These sixteen steps have no use whatsoever unless they are supported by Steps 1-3.
  • The Buddha said that the meditation he taught required the foundation of mindfulness and precepts. Thus we offer Steps 1-3 in mindfulness training. We reserve the precepts for Step 5, the second step of Intermediate Zen.
  • We don’t tackle Zen koans until step 9 of Advanced Zen.
  • And we can only flunk this course if we give up.

Crooked Cucumber: The Life and Zen Teachings of Shunryu Suzuki

Intermediate Zen