Zen has a reputation for being mysterious and inscrutable; the hype generated from within Zen often doesn’t help.

In my experience, though, it comes down to something very simple: zazen (aka vipassanā or insight meditation) is like a gym workout for a very particular circuit in your brain: the “letting go” one.

Even if your brain is full of noise as you sit, each time you let go of a train of thought, that’s like one rep with a dumbbell.

Doing reps on the zafu builds up your brain circuit in a way that has benefits when you’re no longer on the mat; it gets easier to let go out in the fuss and bustle outside the zendo.

And it also has some weird side effects.


An important reason to have a teacher in Zen is to have someone to tell you to ignore certain side effects: voices in your head as you fall asleep, feelings of cosmic significance. That’s makyō, the devil’s cave. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Makyo

Ignore those, though, and you’ll eventually get occasional moments of peace and quiet, or what they describe as “thusness” or “suchness”; the things people talk about as “kensho” and “satori”.

These are just moments, though. They aren’t a matter of having crossed over to another shore. Even the Buddha kept sitting all his life; he didn’t become an “enlightened being” who didn’t need to continue practicing.

Even after the Buddha’s big awakening, he was still stuck in old assumptions. He wouldn’t ordain women until Mahāpajāpatī publicly shamed him over his continued attachment to old ways.

Having an awakening experience doesn’t make you “woke”.

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