Is Sitting Zen Selfish?


There are many Zen practitioners who spend a lot of time sitting Zen and going off for weekend retreats. They also have other responsibilities, like family obligations, work, or school. Is it selfish to leave our responsibilities to go sit Zen? I usually travel by airplane several times a year. At the beginning of the flight, the flight attendants announce the pre-flight safety instructions. I remember one of the first times I was traveling without my family and one of the flight attendants was giving instructions about the oxygen masks and said, “If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.” Hearing that, I thought, “What? No way! I would put it on my children first!” But after thinking about it for a moment, I realized that I probably couldn't help anyone if I were dead!

I often tell one story about a pair of acrobats. One was the teacher, who was an older man. He had little money and his wife had died many years ago. The other was Sarah, a young girl and his student. These acrobats were street performers with an interesting act, and they made enough money so they could eat. The teacher would balance a tall bamboo pole on his head while Sarah climbed slowly to the top. Once she got there, she remained still while the teacher walked. Both of the acrobats had to focus intently to avoid any accidents. One day, the teacher said to Sarah, “I will watch you and you watch me so that we can help each other maintain concentration and balance to prevent any accidents.” But Sarah responded, “Teacher, I think it would be better for each of us to watch ourselves. To look after oneself means to look after each other. That way, I am sure we will avoid any accidents.”

This is the reason we take the time to practice Zen. There are many benefits of practicing meditation, but ultimately it means how we make our life clear and help others. We take the time to look inside and realize there is no difference between "self" and "other". Then it is possible to bring this clarity and realization into every aspect of our lives.

Excerpt from No-Nonsense Zen for Beginners

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