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Buddhadharma : Winter 2008
13 winter 2 00 8 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 13 illustrations by Kim scafuro first thoughts sitting with god Brenda Shoshanna talks about deepening her faith in God and Judaism through the practice of zazen. The entire basis of zazen practice is to cut the dependent mind. It insists that we stop tossing and turning, stop clinging to objects, and turn instead to the very source of our life. But what is this source of life? How is it differ- ent from God, who is constantly called out to in Jewish prayer? Some say that Zen has no God, is coldly indifferent, and rejects life. But for many, the opposite is true. Because I was taught there was only one way to find God, for many years I could not understand why the more I did zazen, the deeper my experience of God became. On the surface it seemed contradictory but not in prac- tice. I don’t know if I ever would have been able to go back to synagogue without the deep sense of well-being and acceptance that developed for me as a result of zazen. The more I sat, the deeper my trust in life grew. And as my concentration deepened, I was more able to let go of the extra- neous thoughts. After a while, during zazen I began to remem- ber the old prayers I had loved so much as a child. They started softly but over time became more persistent, eventually causing me to return. Later on in synagogue, I was able to pray with deeper intention (kavannah) and concentrate more fully. I came to experience the prayers and teachings in an entirely different way. Sitting in zazen, rather than thinking about the meaning of life, you directly absorb all that life has brought you. This is not a rejection of God. It is simply a refusal to name, define, or limit what happens. Every person’s experience is allowed to arise as it will. For each it is different. Whatever it is called or named, as practice deepens, that which is vital and joyous surfaces and turns a per- son’s life around. It brings strength, wisdom, and endless compassion. As this happens, not only do loneliness and separation dissolve naturally, but lives become hallowed and strong. From Jewish Dharma: a GuiDe to the Practice of JuDaism anD Zen, by brenda ShoShanna. PubliShed by da CaPo liFelong, 2008. crying is Practice too The line between formal and informal practice is purely artificial, explains Zen Master Wu Kwang. It is true that we already have whatever it is we’re looking for, but we usually do not recognize it. The reason we do not recognize it is that we be- come too caught up in all of the complications that our ego makes with our mind. You can make many egocentric complications about Zen prac- tice. That is why Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, one of the teachers in the Tibetan tradition, pub- lished a book he called Cutting Through Spiri- tual Materialism. His point was that there is a tendency to make something out of spiritual pur- suits, just as there is toward acquiring anything else. Nevertheless, doing something (sitting, bow- ing, chanting) in a very simple way with a partic- ular intention is helpful in letting our thinking fall away and letting the unhindered original mind emerge. Formal practice helps us with that, but it’s important to realize that everything we do is in fact formal practice. Eating is formal prac- tice; talking to someone is formal practice; sitting down is formal practice; standing up is formal practice; laughing is formal practice; crying is formal practice. Everything is practice. Therefore making a division between formal practice and informal practice is artificial.