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Zen Monastic Practices at Home

Sometimes people ask me whether or not they can, and will, convey Zen monastic practices into their odd dwelling, work, and household lives. 

Should they follow strict schedules of ritualized habits? Must one search to be aware and sleek in each step and gesture? Should they chant extra throughout their day and in any other case restrict speech or undertake strict vows of silence? Would it’s good to take most meals in gradual oryoki ceremony, bow to the bathroom and sink earlier than every use, sleep on a tough mattress, sit zazen for hours on finish, and put on solely plain robes? Should one disconnect from media and, as a lot as doable, from all different distractions and worldly issues? 

Certainly, all these practices are highly effective, and lots of are glorious so as to add to our on a regular basis lives. They can remind us to be extra conscious of our small actions as a substitute of dashing by life mindlessly, as we frequently do. Words in gratitude and humility earlier than consuming can remind us of the reward of meals and all of the labors and pure wonders that convey it to our mouths. Bowing to the objects in our dwelling can specific our recognition that each one are sacred in their very own approach. Simpler and more healthy meals, fewer furnishings and possessions, practical garments and fewer materials issues impress on us that the actual treasures of life usually are not present in an extra of issues. Engaging in much less permits us to disentangle from the muddle of concepts and debate that floods our heads and coronary heart, revealing open readability as a substitute.

However, in looking for to “live more like a monk,” it’s critical to not confuse the outer look and types of ritual life with the knowledge and compassion that such rituals are supposed to instill. In different phrases, don’t confuse the jelly jar for the candy jelly inside. The actual fruits of those practices usually are not about dwelling as much as some romantic picture of a monk in a temple however about discovering the actual temple inside one’s personal coronary heart. 

Buddhist knowledge and compassion might be discovered on the town streets and within the tumult of our household and jobs, not solely in wood temple halls. Where is the Buddha not? Where is the Genjokoan, the koan of this actuality proper right here, not presenting itself endlessly?


Thus, I generally share these reminders when people ask me in regards to the integration of monastic practices and on a regular basis dwelling. 

On Strict Schedules

A regimented schedule could generally be beautiful, however one must also know the guts that floats free and at ease amid all of the chaotic adjustments and surprises of life. Even as you run round within the race of locations to go and folks to see, discover what Zen people name Ichi-go ichi-e: “each single encounter is the one meeting.” Find the stillness inside, irrespective of your working ft. Picking up the children at college, dashing in site visitors to the workplace, or dashing to gentle the altar incense are all the identical “stillness-running.” In this manner, one will get the chores completed, although there was by no means something to do, nothing ever missing. The monk, together with her each day rituals and schedules, ought to study nothing completely different, for in any other case, she is simply in a monastic rat race of her personal.

On Silence

It is sweet to not overtalk or get overly caught up in concepts and phrases. This is very true on this age of knowledge overload. But additionally, know the Silence (capital “S”) that’s each all phrases and concepts and all odd worldly silence, the Silence that’s current at the same time as infants cry, horns honk, and the TV runs. Chant the outdated chants at instances throughout the day, but in addition hear the mantra that by no means ends and doesn’t depend upon phrases. The monk, in silent reflection, learns nothing completely different. If not, he’s a prisoner of babble even within the quiet valley with a nonetheless tongue.

On Living Simply

Live extra merely, understanding the distinction between belongings you actually want for a wholesome and balanced life and the belongings you crave and chase after as a development, tire of, and throw away. Even the monk—with their few robes and possessions, launched from many mundane obligations—could neglect this in the event that they chase after fancier robes or sect promotions and titles because the calling turns into one other profession.

On Recognizing the Sacred within the Mundane

Bow with pressed palms to odd objects, to folks, and to any second of life. Know that one needn’t bow simply to Buddha statues or fellow Buddhists. The sacred place of observe isn’t solely the temple kitchen or Zen corridor flooring but in addition your family kitchen and disorganized storage. Cooking and cleansing at dwelling, doing workplace work, and coping with tough folks at work are simply variations of cooking and cleansing at the temple, balancing the temple books, paying for the temple roof repairs, and coping with tough folks at the temple. 

Whether cleansing and fixing your family items or temple items, know the guts of equanimity that leaps by all judgments of unpolluted or soiled, pure or impure, and full or damaged—at the same time as one continues dusting and fixing. The monk who fails to know this exact same nonattachment to outcomes and the dropping of opposites can also be a prisoner of judgments.

On Zazen

One can sit zazen every day for a time, and we do sit every day as a particular doing by which we put all doing down. However, if one turns into caught up within the notion that extra is healthier, that there are factors to earn by amount, and that there’s something to attain, then one will fail to know the readability and therapeutic present in freedom from all want to achieve, repair, fill, and obtain. 

Whether sitting lengthy or brief, sit for a while past all measures of “long or short.” Sit with out breaking life down into moments of a ticking clock. Do not fail to sit down, generally lengthy and generally brief, however sit each time as timeless. If a monk sits for days on finish however is certain to ideas of depth and progress, he’s distancing himself from what is correct in hand. If one sits, even only for a second, understanding this second as utterly this second, shining because the morning star simply shining, sitting simply to sit down, conscious that nothing lacks from this loopy second, and there’s no earlier than or after…then one sits in a second of Buddha sitting.


In such questions, maybe there’s a little jealousy of the monkish life-style, which is seemingly freed from all of the duties and entanglements of recent life. Or possibly there lies a perception that lay observe within the trendy metropolis and suburbs is in some way much less “real” than what goes on behind temple partitions deep within the mountains. However, monks have their very own issues, obligations, human entanglements, and emotions. One’s fellow monks are one’s household as a lot as a partner, grandparents, and youngsters. Some notice that the Zen monastic setting, removed from being a lifetime of peaceable ease amid a neighborhood of easygoing fellow seekers, is usually a exhausting grinding stone with its personal stresses and tensions, and Zen monks might be as diverse and attempting in character and hang-ups as any human beings. The tough stones rubbing collectively develop into clean, the challenges are our koans. 

Thus, whereas the monastic life-style is to be celebrated, and those that discover their path inside its partitions are to be honored, we additionally mustn’t overly romanticize such issues or confine Buddha inside these partitions. The Buddha declared repeatedly that “household life is crowded and dusty,” thus observe at house is “not easy.” But he by no means stated unimaginable! It, too, is a “life wide open” if the guts is huge open.

As Master Dogen reminds us in Bendowa:

Those who suppose that worldly duties can hinder the Buddha Dharma solely suppose there isn’t any Buddha Dharma in worldly issues; they have no idea that there aren’t any worldly issues within the Buddha Dharma.

It isn’t the outer type that issues however what you discover proper right here.


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