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Lions Roar : July 2019
There are so many people out there now who claim they are Buddhist teachers. How do I know whether they are qualified or not? Is there any kind of diploma or set of standards? Traditionally, each Buddhist school had well-defined standards and require- ments for who could be teachers (although there were always outliers, including some of Buddhism’s most innovative and important teachers). Today, it’s more of a free-for-all. It goes from self-proclaimed “Buddhist teach- ers” who’ve done a few weekend retreats or had their own personal epiphanies to people who’ve undertaken long and intensive teacher training programs, such as those required in the Insight Meditation and major Zen communities. Judging authenticity and legitimacy is always difficult, and there’s no single place to check. If you’re interested in a particular teacher, you’ll have to do your own research. Are they authorized in a recognized Buddhist school? How many years of practice and study have they done? Who are their teachers? Do they have any ethical issues? In the end, though, you’ll have to meet and judge them for yourself. There are no credentials for wisdom and compassion. In Christian homes it’s common to say grace before meals. Is there a Buddhist equivalent? It’s common in all the world’s religions, including Buddhism, to express blessings and gratitude for food received. If you’re with fellow members of a Buddhist com- munity, you’ll recite the group’s formal meal chants together. If you’re not, one person at the table can lead a spontaneous contemplation. You could express gratitude to the earth and to all the beings who worked to bring you this food. Call it a prayer not to God but to interdependence. You may also offer the food to the three jewels—the buddhas, teachings, and community. At the end of the meal, you can dedicate the enjoyment and energy you have received to the benefit of all sentient beings. In fact, there’s no need to limit these sentiments to meals. You can express the same gratitude for anything you are given in life and dedicate its benefit to others. ♦ WHO WHAT WHERE Tell us what you’d like to know about Buddhism and meditation at firstname.lastname@example.org ZEN THE WORD ZEN is a Japanese transliteration of the Chinese word Ch’an, which in turn derives from the Sanskrit dhyana, meaning meditation. Zen is the Japanese lineage of a meditation-oriented Buddhist tradition that includes Ch’an (China), Seon (Korea), and Thien (Vietnam). In the West, the word Zen is often used as shorthand for the entire tradition. Zen traces its origins to two events in the Buddha’s life. The first, and best known, is the Buddha’s enlight- enment while meditating beneath the Bodhi tree, an awakening available to anyone who takes up the practice. The second is the event known as the Flower Sermon, in which the Buddha simply held up a flower before a large assembly. When his student Mahakasy- apa smiled, the Buddha transmitted the dharma to him, establishing the Zen lineage that continues to today. A thousand years after that famous encounter, the spirit of Zen was summarized this way by Bodhid- harma, the legendary Indian monk credited with founding the Ch’an lineage: “A special transmission outside the scriptures; not depending on words and letters; directly pointing to the mind; seeing into one’s true nature and attaining buddhahood.” Bodhidharma is said to have sat in meditation in a cave for nine years so, not surprisingly, a strong emphasis on meditation practice in Zen carries through to this day. But Zen practice also includes chanting, making offer- ings, doing manual labor, reciting gathas, and generally paying attention to one’s actions in the present moment. In North America, Zen is most often associated with its two main Japanese schools. Soto emphasizes the form- less meditation approach of shikantaza, while Rinzai also includes the contemplative inquiry of koan practice. TONYMATTHEWS LION’S ROAR | JULY 2019 31 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE