the taste of zen

To Be Mindful

Thich Nhat Hanh:

The process to Light Existence, Produce the Power of Concentration, and Bring Wisdom to Bloom is called in Buddhism the Process of the Three Studies. Sila, Samadhi and Prajna (Discipline, Concentration, and Wisdom) are the Sanskrit terms. The word “Sila” (Discipline) must here be taken to signify Awareness of Being. Sila does not denote rules to prevent immoral actions. To be attached to rules without grasping their meaning is to take a means for an end; it is to fall into what Buddhism calls attachment to rules, one of the major obstacles to knowledge. It is not by virtue of moral conduct that one can realize Wisdom, but by maintaining body and mind in the permanent Awareness of Being. That is why the application of thoughts leading to Awareness of Being is called the “Essentials of Discipline.

When a scientist works in his laboratory, he does not smoke, he does not eat sweets, and does not listen to the radio. He abstains not because he thinks that these things are sins, but because he knows that they impede the perfect concentration of his mind on the object of his study. It is much the same in Zen Discipline: the observance of this discipline must help the practitioner to live in Awareness of Being; it does not lead to moral objectives.

Zen Wisdom cannot be obtained by the intellect: study, hypothesis, analysis, synthesis. The practitioner of Zen must use all of his entire being as an instrument of realization; the intellect is only one part of his being, and a part that often pulls him away from living reality, the very object of Zen. It is for this reason that the Little Manual does not have as its object the preparation of a theory – it introduces the practitioner directly into the Way of Zen.

In the monastery, the practitioner does everything: he carries water, he looks for firewood, prepares food, and cultivates the garden. . . . Although he learns the way to sit in the Zen position and to practice concentration and meditation in this position, he must strive to remain constantly aware of being, even when he carries water, cooks, or cultivates the garden. He knows that to carry water is not only a useful action, it is also to practice Zen. If one does not know how to practice Zen while carrying water, it is useless to live in a monastery.

The Little Manual, as I have already said, introduces the practitioner directly into the world of Zen, even if the practitioner seemingly does exactly the same things as those who do not practice the way. The Zen Master observes his student in silence, while the latter tries to “light” his existence. A student may have the impression that not enough attention is paid to him, but in reality his ways and his acts cannot escape the observation of the Master. The Master must know if his student is or is not “awake.” In the monastery, one must be aware of all that one does. If, for example, the student shuts the door in a noisy way, he thus proves that he is not aware of his being. Virtue does not lie exactly in the fact of closing the door gently, but in the awareness of the fact that one is in the process of closing the door. In this case, the Master simply summons his student and reminds him that he must close the door gently; that it is necessary for him “to be mindful” of himself. He does this not only in order that the silence of the monastery be respected, but in order to show the student that he is not in keeping with the way of Zen; this explains the absence of “acts of majestic behavior” (uy nghi) and “subtle gestures” (te hanh). It is said that in Buddhism there are ninety thousand “subtle gestures” the novice must practice.

These gestures and acts are the expression of the presence of the Awareness of Being. All that one says, thinks, and does in this state of conscious awareness is described as having “the taste of Zen.”

If a practitioner hears himself reproached for lacking the taste of Zen” in what he says and does, he should recognize that he is being reproached for living without Awareness of Being.

Source: Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Keys, Chapter To Be Mindful




further reading: Wash Your Mouth Before Talking About Zen


korea zen monastery temple frescoes parable honey

Frescoes are usually painted in monasteries remembering instructive Buddhist parables. Parable of honey.

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