ulrike serak, 6. dan aikikai tokyo, shihan    max eriksson ohlwein, 6. dan aikikai tokyo

Experiences on the path of Zen

What does Zen mean?

The Chinese character for Zen consists of two parts: “simple” and “show”. A first approximation to the practice of Zen is thus “show simplicity”. Zen is not to be understood through thinking, since it is not a philosophy or an ideology, but a practice – without any thought of utility or success. To show simplicity: sitting on a pillow or bench, counting the breath, following the breath with mindfulness, or simply leaving everything as it is the practice of Zen. Do not add anything to the doing, or “Zen Mind” because there is no such thing.

My beginning at the Hosshinji monastery

30 years ago, I first came into contact with Zen, thru a Sesshin held by the respected Zen Master Harada Sekkei Roshi from Japan. But I continued meditating on Vipassana retreats, without having the feeling to have really made a beginning. This beginning happened only 10 years later when I visited the Japanese Hosshinji monastery for the first and stayed for two months. Here Harada Roshi has been an abode and Zen master for more than 50 years. Since then I continued to go there about 10 times and have been able to participate in the life of the nuns and monks, spent a lot of time on my pillow, worked a lot, and went to the monastery in the morning from 5:00 am.

Forget about Zen

At the end of our stay, Harada Sekkei Roshi gave us “Westerners” the advice to forget about Zen. After returning home, we should devote ourselves entirely to our respective tasks and fully absorb them. Also, he advised us to keep a small period of time for Za Zen every day, preferably at the same time, to devote ourselves to the ZaZen, depending on the possibility between 20 and 40 minutes.

Zen does not need rituals

For many years, I have always dived into the monastic life and have appreciated the strict routines of everyday life where everything becomes Zen practice, whether it is eating, sitting, resting, talking, or sutras reciting during the devotions. That is why I believe that monastic life or monastic rituals should not be imported into our everyday life. Zen is already present in our culture and habits of our normal life circumstances. Neither monasteries nor monastic rituals need to practice Zen in our environment and everyday life. Nevertheless, I am aware that it is precisely what attracts many people, this certain exoticism and the associated feeling something very special to do. All you need is a quiet place where you can sit undisturbed. A seat pad and a meditation cushion or bench, or a chair, are enough to practice Zen. Also, a group of like-minded people who want to go the same way and someone who is familiar with the way and who can be asked for the Dharma to avoid a completely wrong direction can be helpful.

Za Zen pracice in the Dojo

Following the breath (Zuisokkan) or just sitting (Shikantaza), are the usual methods in Soto Zen. To become one with the exercise, this is Zen practice. General, useful hints are given at the beginning of the sitting period, if necessary. Group discussions will be announced and can be used by everyone. For a personal talk, concerning the Zen practice, I’m also available.

It is possible to participate only in the first period. If you come for the first time, please call or send an email in advance.

Pictures from the Zen monastery Hosshinji in Obama Japan