Why I Don't Practice Zen

Question: Recently, I received a message from a Catholic friend who shared a link to a website where a man claimed that practicing Eastern pagan meditation led to possession by Satan. My friend, aware of my Zen meditation practice at the Zen Center, felt the need to warn me.

Jason: There is a chant called the Evening Bell chant. The translation of the chant states: “Hearing the sound of the bell, all thinking is cut off. Wisdom grows, enlightenment appears, and hell is left behind.” In Buddhism and Zen, the concept of hell often refers to a state of mind, just as heaven and the pure land may also be mental states. Buddhism emphasizes that everything originates from the mind alone.

If someone warns me about the potential dangers of Zen meditation, I would express gratitude for their concern. It is crucial to understand that meditation, when practiced without a clear intention, can create a hell within our minds.

When I told my parents I was going off on a three-month retreat in Korea and pursue monastic training afterwards, my father warned against being brainwashed. I could have attached to his words and argued with him, but I realized his words were coming from love.

It is important to recognize that people who care about us may offer warnings. Even though their view may be narrow, their intentions are often sincere. Instead of dismissing these kinds of warnings, we can use them as an opportunity to clarify our own understanding and intention of our meditation practice.

If I received this warning, I would say “Thank you for your concern. This is why I don’t practice Zen meditation.” This response may spark their curiosity: “Then what, then, do you practice?” By redirecting the conversation, we can challenge preconceived notions about meditation and emphasize the importance of being clear in the present moment and responding to this world with some help.

Zen meditation, when practiced with a clear intention to help this world, can bring clarity to our lives. Rather than holding some idea about meditation or what other people think, we can wake up in this moment. What is happening right now? How can I help?


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