Zen Master Ji Bong

Five Aspects of Zen Training

Excerpted from Zen Master Ji Bong’s
Introduction to Ancestral Zen Practice.

There are five principal aspects of Zen training:

First, we must find our direction. We reinforce that direction by two processes, 1) vows and 2) precepts. Each morning we recite the four great vows to remind ourselves of the basic components of our path. As we mature as students, we take various precepts, which establish more firmly our obligations to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. Perhaps the greatest vow that we must take is with our teachers. In that vow we, as students, give our trust and loyalty to the teacher. This allows us to slowly release our attachments to our opinion, condition and situation during the extended process of training. The teacher responds by sharing his or her unconditional compassion, thereby allowing the transmitted Dharma Light to shine into the students’ hearts and minds.

A second aspect of training is the process by which we “clean our karma”, so that we are able to fully receive that Dharma Light. Therefore, we bow every day. Correct bowing means that we must, with each prostration, allow our “small (karma) I” to repent and take refuge in our “Big (universal) I”. In addition, we perform many acts of “together action” at our Zen Centers and, also, in the extended community. Every deed of merit helps to clean our karma. It is very hard to change our karma if we live and practice in isolation.

The third aspect of our training involves learning how to focus our attention, so that we may experience “before-thinking” mind. This allows an experiential contact with our original nature. Sometimes this experience is called “kensho” (to perceive one’s nature). Meditation, Zen walking, various types of yoga and martial arts are all useful in this training. We feature “sitting Zen” as the core of this training.

The fourth aspect of training involves expanding our “generosity of spirit”. In Zen we call it refining our “Bodhisattva intention”. Chanting helps to open our hearts, which is the seat of our “Bodhisattva intention.” Zen Master Seung Sahn once told me that we must chant for many years in order to “develop a tear” in our voice. Literally, we are able to move the focus of attention in our tan-t’ien (belly) gained from sitting Zen, upward, so that it is able to energize our chest (and heart) through the process of correct chanting. It is also necessary to share that feeling of generosity by being helpful to other people in our sangha (and the extended community) through genuine service.

The fifth aspect of training is, essentially, wisdom training. This is the area of interviews, kong-an study, and Dharma talks. Our tan-t’ien energy and heart energy must already be strong if wisdom training is to be truly effective. In addition, we must take our vows quite seriously and be willing to work hard on “cleaning our karma”. Assuming that all of the above is true, we are ready to take on the process of kong-an training.