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Precepts Ceremony: Joining the Ancient, Wisdom Path of Zen in Canada

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  • Precepts Ceremony: Joining the Ancient, Wisdom Path of Zen in Canada

    To study the Zen way is to study the self.

    To study the self is to forget the self.

    To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things.

    ~Dogen Zenji

    Zen Heart - Great Heart: The first step into ‘formal’ Zen training, for most people is taking the 5 lay precepts (Dharma-Cari Precepts). When we take the Precepts at Peaceful Heart Lotus Zen Community and Bo Kwang Zen Centre in Brampton, we are aligning with the ancient wisdom path of Zen and are also setting a clear intention for our practice. A practice that starts from where we are right now. As we move along this path with a sincere heart, we come to see that this is an important doorway to awakening, liberation and healing.

    "There are several reasons why precepts are the starting point in all Authentic Zen Lineage's: It supports the foundation of practice and it helps ensure that less suffering is visited upon self, others and the planet. It actually supports us as we direct our lives to mindfulness, awakening, and being wise and compassionate in our everyday lives."

    Precepts are like a guide post that helps to minimize gaps in our practice. To all who start with a sincere ‘Beginners Mind’, the more we practice, the more we see gaps between our intentions, our actions, and what the practice has shown us we really are. If we are honest, we can see that our intelligence, integrity, humour and compassion bleed away through these unskillful, unmindful gaps. That is why these gaps are traditionally known as asrava or "outflows". We can see that when we completely connect with practice, when we just sit, just walk, just eat, just work, just think, just help, then no gaps are possible. We gain clarity of what is. We see things as they really are, including ourselves and others, with nothing artificially added. This is the doorway to becoming clear. To seeing into our pure, unstained, unborn essence. The Fukanzazengi by Japanese Zen Master Dogen zenji says, "The thing is, if there is the slightest gap, sky and earth are ripped apart".

    What is Buddhism? What is Zen? The Buddha, (which means “awakened” or “awakened one” in Sanskrit), was born as Siddhartha Gautama around the 6th century BCE in present-day Nepal. Raised in a “warrior” class in the small kingdom of Kapilavastu, at age 29 Siddhartha renounced the privileged life that surrounded him in search of answers to the impermanence of life.

    A famous quote from Buddha was: “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

    Buddhism has profoundly influenced society in Asia, and across the world. Buddhism is usually listed as the 4th largest religion in the world. (though the much-debated question of whether Buddhism is a religion or philosophy is up to you to decide for yourself).

    It is important to note that the Buddha did not wish to be worshipped or be seen as a god; he wanted to help others escape the suffering in life by experiencing their awakened nature.

    The Four Noble Truths: The core of what Buddhism is lies in what’s called the Four Noble Truths, which some see as a spiritual scientific method. Dukkha is what the Buddha sought to eliminate, which roughly translates to “unsatisfactoriness” or “anxiety.” (No English word adequately captures the full depth range and subtlety of the crucial Pali term Dukkha.)

    The Four Noble Truths, with simple explanations, are:

    Dukkha: The anxiety of old age, sickness and death. Attachment to things and all forms of life, which are constantly changing and ultimately impermanent.

    The origin of Dukkha: The origin of dukkha lies in aversion and craving, especially since everything is impermanent, and aversion and craving are conditioned by delusion of our true nature.

    The end of Dukkha: The Buddha explained that a path to the end of suffering exists.

    The path leading to the end of Dukkha: Siddhartha explained the path to nirvana, or the end of suffering, as the Noble Eightfold Path. The eight factors are always connected to each other.

    The Three Jewels: The Three Jewels is generally agreed upon to be the three factors which constitute someone being a Buddhist. A Buddhist will look for guidance, or take refuge in, the following:

    The Buddha - The Awakened.

    The Dharma - Simply put, the teachings of the Buddha.

    The Sangha - The Community.

    Karma - Karma is an important principles of Buddhist thought. Though the law of karma existed before the Buddha’s time, mostly with Hinduism, karma was sewn into the fabric of what the Buddha taught and is now a fundamental aspect of the tradition.

    Karma is the law of causality. We don’t think of it as a checklist of all the “good” and “bad” things one has done that needs to balance out, as it is viewed in Western pop culture. The existence of inequality in our world certainly involves our environment, the actions of others (which ties into karma and dependent origination) and heredity, but ultimately, as the Buddha said, “we are the heirs of our own actions.”

    Our minds are incredibly powerful, and we have a direct hand in our own paradises and hells. We can certainly become intertwined with another being’s paradise or hell (such as living in a country full of oppression), but our own actions influence our own life. Our actions reverberate through time and affect everything around us.

    The Middle Way: One of the central tenets of Buddhist practice is the “middle way,” which the Buddha explained as simply living in moderation. Extremes in any direction cause delusion, which increases our suffering.

    In the West, we thrive on extremes. Whether politically, religiously or socially, the “middle way” can be hard to grasp in the society we live in. Zen practice can help one find a middle ground to improve the world in and around them.

    Three Marks of Existence: These three points make up the core of what the Buddha taught:

    Impermanence (anicca): Every thing and every phenomena are constantly changing and shifting, and life is always coming into existence and leaving existence. Attachment to this, as in thinking people and things will last forever, causes suffering. As the saying goes, “nothing lasts forever.”

    Stress / Anxiety (Dukkha)

    No-self (anatta): The Buddha intended to teach us that we shouldn’t cling to something that’s “fixed” about ourselves. We are constantly changing, and therefore we shouldn’t cling to what we think is our “self.”

    Dependent Origination: Dependent origination is a particularly fascinating subject in Buddhism. The term means that everything, everything, exists upon multiple causes and conditions. Nothing exists independently. There can be an infinite number of things that have to happen for one thing to exist, such as a human being. In the sutras, this analogy is given: “Three cut reeds stand only by leaning on one another. If we take one away, the other two will fall.” Cause and effect are not separate, they are the result of an infinite number of causes and effects existing together. In reality, nothing separates you from your computer screen; there are billions of air molecules in the “empty” space in between.


    Favorite Video Links: Super Soul Sunday with Oprah and Jack Kornfield about Buddhism

    Here is first link:

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    What is Zen? Zen is very simple… What are you? In this world it seems, everyone searches for happiness outside, but they do not understand the “I” that is searching. Everybody says, “I” – “I want this, I am like that…” But they do not understand this “I.” Before you were born, where did your I come from? When you die, where will your I go? If you sincerely ask, “what is it?” what is this “I” sooner or later you will run into a wall where all attachment to your thinking is cut off.

    One practice in Zen is keeping this “WHAT IS IT” (in Korea we call this questioning a hwadu). When walking, standing, sitting, lying down, speaking, being silent, moving, being still. At all times, in all places, without interruption – what is it? Meditation in Zen means keeping “what is it” when bowing, chanting and sitting meditation. Mindfully watching as a way to unbind all inner turmoil. Zazen is a practice of coming clear. A practiced of returning back to True-Self.

    Because when we do Zen we sit quietly, some imagine we are supposed to be silent inside too. For most people, because they begin their Zen practice with this misunderstanding, they find the practice difficult. But for someone who understands the practice correctly, they don’t get caught in silence or disturbance; so they just go directly to their awakened nature. This Zen nature is referred to as ‘miraculous awareness.’ This awareness exists in each one of us. But because we are attached to ideas of silence and disturbance, our mind goes back and forth between being silent, being complex, being silent, being disturbed. - Venerable Hyunoong Sunim

    Why Take The Precepts? When we take the Precepts at Bo Kwang Meditation Centre in Brampton, we are aligning with the ancient wisdom path of Zen and are also setting a clear intention for our practice. A practice that starts from where we are right now. As we move along this path with a sincere heart, we come to see that this is a universal truth, teaching and discipline - as well as an important doorway to awakening, liberation and healing.

    The following are the five precepts (pañca-sikkhāpada) or five virtues (pañca-sīla). They are not commandments but awakened supporting commitments to strive for and are free of judgement. They support the body-mind as we walk the path of awakening.

    1. In my practice I undertake the training to abstain from killing. 2. In my practice I undertake the training to abstain from taking what is not given.3. In my practice I undertake the training to avoid sexual misconduct. 4. In my practice I undertake the training to abstain from false speech. 5. In my practice I undertake the training to abstain from getting drunk or taking intoxicants including herbs and chemicals to induce heedlessness.

    What if I break a precept after the ceremony? The 5 precepts (not to kill, lie, steal, do bad things out of lust, or take intoxicants in order to induce heedlessness) signals a serious commitment to practice. However, they are not commandments - but guide posts that help support us in the direction we are moving. Taking precepts is a commitment to our practice and to living a life of non harming of self and others. Adhering to the precepts, further supports meditation and mindfulness (to becoming clear). It also helps us whenever we lose our direction.

    Will I receive a Dharma Name in the Precept Ceremony?

    Yes, when you take the Precepts and the Three Jewels, you receive a Dharma name that helps inspire you on the path or it can be a name chosen to reflect your basic nature. A Dharma name may also be chosen as the medium through which your practice can complete itself. After a Zen Precept Ceremony, you can wear the ‘greys’ if you wish. “The Greys” are the name we use to describe the formal, "universal" Zen Uniform.

    For those who decide to take the precepts with Hae Kwang Sunim the requirements are:

    Meet individually with Hae Kwang Sunim to discuss your interest to take the precepts (after being in sangha / community for at least 9 month).

    Read at least two of the 'Basics' suggested books.

    Fees and Offering:

    You should also bring flowers for the altar that morning, and a donation for the Zen Center. Suggested donation is at least $50 but just give according to your circumstances.

    (Note: We offer this formal Mahayana Zen Precept Ceremony once or twice a year at Bo Kwang Meditation Centre in Brampton. Please contact Hae Kwang Sunim should you wish to join or for additional information: [masked]

    “Zen in its essence is the art of seeing into the nature of ones own being, and it points the way from bondage to freedom. By making us drink right from the fountain of life, it liberates us from all the yokes under which we finite beings are usually suffering in this world." - D.T. Suzuki

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  • Hae Kwang S. +9
    Bo Kwang Zen, Qigong & Meditation Centre, Organizer,
    Event Host

    Hae Kwang Sunim has been teaching in California for over 10 years. He is a fully ordained Zen... more

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