Entries by Judy Roitman

What is the point of kong-an practice?

Kong-ans (the Japanese call them koans) are those extremely brief stories (often just a few lines) and associated questions that are unique to the Zen tradition. No other school of Buddhism uses them. And Zen practice depends on them — these stories deliver Zen teaching far more than sutras do.   You can make kong-an […]

Why all the prostrations?

If you live in Korea and ask your local Zen teacher what you should do when your life is falling apart, you will probably be told: do prostrations! 500 a day! 1,000 a day! Which may seem surprising — isn’t Zen about sitting still? And how can something that looks like a cross between squats […]

What is enlightenment?

The short answer is: a bad translation of a word that means “awake.” It’s not that the Buddha attained something we call enlightenment. It’s that he woke up. It’s like when you’re dreaming — you think you’re walking on water, or flying over Mars, but then you wake up and see where you are — […]

To practice Zen do I have to believe in rebirth?

The short answer is: no. There are no doctrinal requirements in Zen practice.   The longer answer is: what is there to be reborn? I.e., what is your fundamental nature? what is my fundamental nature? what is every human being’s fundamental nature? That is the basic question, independent of any belief or disbelief in rebirth. […]

How can I stay in a state of bliss?

Why would you want to do that? A state of bliss distorts our perceptions as much as a state of sadness. Bliss feels good, but still it is a distortion. Mental states come and go. Trying to hold on or push them away just adds to our confusion. But our true nature was never born […]

I try to find peace through meditation, but whenever I practice my mind jumps all over the place and I can’t make it be quiet.

If you try to quiet your mind then of course it will dominate, because you’re trying to quiet your mind, which is just another form of chasing after it. Don’t worry about whether your mind is noisy or quiet, just do your practice — counting your breaths, mantra, great question, whatever your practice is…. Do […]

Is Zen a religion?

In the Middle Eastern traditions which dominate in Europe and America, a religion is a system of beliefs and practices which claims truth and demands loyalty: you cannot simultaneously be two of Christian, Jewish, or Muslim. In Asia, at least until fairly recent European influence, the concept rather was that of ways or paths. Over […]