Zen Practice and Lay People


Zen practice is both the simplest and the most difficult spiritual practice. While its simplicity is expressed by the method that requires nothing more than full presence, maintaining full presence turns out to be the most difficult task in the modern world that relies largely on the analytical mind.

The path to full presence is supported in traditional Zen monasteries by constant teaching, which is transmitted directly or indirectly through practice, silence or words. In such an environment, it is easier for a teacher to monitor student development and to direct teaching in accordance with their state of mind.

In contrast, laypeople, especially those who only visit Zendo once a week, rarely have the opportunity to delve deeper into zen practice. Because of this, it will be difficult for them to recognise the pitfalls or achieve liberation in this way. The challenge increases when practitioners develop expectations that result from their own conditioning. This makes it more difficult to apply traditional teaching methods, such as teaching without words or through paradoxes. Indeed, modern man, led by intellect and ego, shows resistance to such methods, unable to understand them and recognise their effects. Even more, it is not uncommon for this type of teaching to cause impatience, irritation, or anger in ego driven mind.

In order to overcome this, the methods used in the teaching of the laity deviate somewhat from the traditional way. This is an attempt to deceive the ego, which otherwise quickly falls into impatience, boredom, and irritation when it is not sufficiently stimulated or feels attacked. For this reason, lay people are often guided by methods known to the ego, that is, those that use the intellect. However, since the ultimate goal of the path is a state beyond the intellect, such methods should only be understood as initial support that must be discarded to allow further development. Namely, the path to the original nature never leads through the intellect and the ego, and even when methods use the intellectual ability of the practitioner, their ultimate role is only to break the ego and purify karma. However, since the intellect of today's man has become the general of the ego, if the methods fail to break this connection, the effect may be the opposite of what is desired - rather than weakening the ego, they make the ego even stronger.

This is why, proper understanding and application of the methods is extremely important. If this is lacking, the focus is often placed on satisfying the desires of the ego, which manifests itself in perfecting the techniques or gathering a lot of information. When such an approach gains in exclusivity, it becomes an obstacle to further progress, and instead of being simplified, the path becomes more difficult.

To avoid such an effect, the teacher takes on the role of a guide who instructs the student to understand the principles of the practice without losing sight what the primary goal of these practices is. In this, when the teacher wants to reach a wider audience, she may use wordless and paradox methods only sparingly, while she will continue to use such teaching for devotees, considering that such an approach is the best way to break the dualistic perception and attain a goal - less state of mind that leads to the realisation of empty and timeless non-dualistic essence. And with that, to liberation from suffering.


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