Kanzeon Bodhisattva


Four Steps of Practice

Dennis Genpo Merzel, Roshi

One    Searching For The Way: Raising The Bodhi-Mind

What leads us to begin spiritual practice? For many of us, a personal crisis brings us face-to-face with human suffering. Perhaps our life feels hollow or meaningless somehow and we wonder if there isn’t more to it.

Maybe we have encountered a serious illness or calamity, or maybe a loved one has died. Feelings of loss or emptiness will cause us to experience deep suffering.

The inescapable truth of suffering was what drove the Buddha to seek and attain his enlightenment twenty-five hundred years ago, and it motivates many of us to begin the spiritual search today.

The mind that seeks the Truth is called Bodhi-mind. When life awakens Bodhi-mind within us, we embark on a journey to find Truth.

After searching far and wide without quenching our thirst, and perhaps after receiving guidance from a teacher, we finally understand that we must shift our focus 180 degrees and turn the light of inquiry inward.

Two    Stepping Onto The Path: Practice

If we are fortunate, we come upon a meditation practice that works for us and a good teacher to help us on the Path to liberation. We may go through many twists and turns in the initial stages of practice.

First we learn the form of zazen and the delicate balance between tension and relaxation in which our body can settle and our breathing can assume a natural rhythm. Then we learn the tools that calm the mind.

Skills of concentration and focus are gradually honed, and we grow in the ability to sit zazen with attention and clarity. Our efforts are rewarded with the deepening of samadhi and joriki, the stabilizing power of zazen. T

The groundwork has been laid to realize our true nature.

Three    Returning Home: Realization

Realizing the Truth always comes as a surprise. We discover our true nature, our Buddha nature, and realize it has been with us all along. Buddha nature has always been our real home, but somehow we have forgotten.

Over time we have replaced our true Self with a concept, notions of who we are based on our conditioning. Zazen helps us to slowly strip away these notions so that the inner Truth begins to shine through.

At first we catch only brief glimpses of our true nature. But as we continue in our meditation practice, our faith in what we have realized deepens.

The realization of our true as no-nature becomes clearer, and we begin to carry that awareness into our daily life.

Four    Walking The Path: Manifesting The Liberation

Realization of our Buddha nature is just the beginning. Our practice now becomes one of manifestation, closing the gap between the truth we have experienced and how we relate to the world.

If we are truly one with the universe, no other than this great earth and all it contains, how do we live this truth? As realization opens our eyes to interconnections and responsibilities that reach far beyond each of us as individuals, modern-day challenges can seem overwhelming. Yet we need not fall into despair.

Practice has taught us how to return to the Source of wisdom and compassion. The more we let go of the small self, the clearer vessels we become for our boundless and intrinsically pure Buddha nature.

In this way, our daily life is transformed into the Path of liberation.

Dennis Genpo Merzel
The Path of the Human Being:
Zen Teachings on the Bodhisattva Way

Boston & London: Shambhala, 2003

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