Best Zen Teachings

Maria Johnson
• Thursday, 29 October, 2020
• 8 min read

Really, I daresay there are few beings as low-key and drama-averse as a Zen monk calmly sampling the fragrance of a rhododendron. A Vietnamese monk, teacher, author, poet, and peace activist, That Hand has published more than 100 books, traveled and taught around the world, and was nominated by Martin Luther King Jr. for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967.

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One particularly serene and worthwhile section of the book elaborates fourteen “mindfulness trainings.” These trainings represent the core substance of the Order of Interbank, an order of Zen founded by That Hand himself for both lay persons and monks. For your consideration, I’ll share these potent and instructive trainings here and briefly paraphrase/comment upon each of them in hopes of illuminating/scrutinizing a few basic aspects of That Hand’s teachings and Buddhism as a whole.

Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, we are determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist teachings are guiding means to help us learn to look deeply and to develop our understanding and compassion.

We shall learn and practice nonattachment from views in order to be open to others’ insights and experiences. If we are too attached to particular perceptions and opinions, we’ll fail to adequately open up to the thoughts and lives of others.

Truth is the flowing river, the warm sun, the llama that just spit in your eye. Our primary goal is to constantly be in touch with the world surrounding us, always ready to learn from it.

My thoughts: Mindfulness essentially means being in touch with the sensory experience of the present moment. For That Hand, mindfulness is of primary importance in the adventure of existence and the discovery of knowledge.

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While I often practice mindfulness, I also exalt the joys and delights of thought and imagination and see great value in a vivid inner life. The only thing we’ll ever do is help an extremist brother, with kind discussion, to calm down a little.

We are committed to finding ways, including personal contact, images, and sounds, to be with those who suffer, so we can understand their situation deeply and help them transform their suffering into compassion, peace, and joy. My thoughts: Buddhism, on the whole, is a religion primarily concerned with studying and releasing oneself from suffering, so it isn’t surprising to see this recurring theme in the trainings of the Order of Interbank.

Buddha originally taught that the Noble Eightfold Path would lead to the cessation of suffering. We are committed to living simply and sharing our time, energy, and material resources with those in need.

We will practice mindful consuming, not using alcohol, drugs, or any other products that bring toxins into our own and the collective body and consciousness. Paraphrase: Real happiness = peacefulness, reliability of character, freedom, and compassion.

My thoughts: I applaud these ideals, though I don’t necessarily feel the need to eschew sensual pleasure or intoxication in my own life. These forms of self-denial, or asceticism, are common to many world religions, and I think they are admirable practices depending on one’s aims.

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My current aims do not require such commitments, and I’ll leave it at that because I could write a lot more on this, but doing so is beyond my scope here. I’ll add that in his novel Siddhartha, Herman Hesse presents a fascinating synthesis of Buddhist ideas and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche.

My thoughts: Anger, hostility, fear, and misunderstanding are the root causes of so many of the world’s issues and tragedies. I generally try not to make a habit of this, but when I do indulge it, I keep it to myself and try to see it as a game to simply vent my frustration.

I also feel that on occasion, fury and outrage are warranted responses to human atrocities and can even be useful, rhetorically, to inspire action. We will try not to lose ourselves in dispersion or be carried away by regrets about the past, worries about the future, or craving, anger, or jealously in the present.

We will practice mindful breathing to come back to what is happening in the present moment. We are determined to learn the art of mindful living by touching the wondrous, refreshing, and healing elements that are inside and around us, and by nourishing seeds of joy, peace, love, and understanding in ourselves, thus facilitating the work of transformation and healing in our consciousness.

I believe all of these states are essential to the human experience and are full of life (this might be a purely semantic disagreement). Aware that lack of communication always brings separation and suffering, we are committed to training ourselves in the practice of compassionate listening and loving speech.

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We will learn to listen deeply without judging or reacting and refrain from uttering words that can create discord or cause the community to break. We will make every effort to keep communications open and to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

My thoughts: Inflammatory and thoughtless language is far too common in the world and a source of tremendous misery. We are determined not to say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people, nor to utter words that might cause division or hatred.

A spiritual community should, however, take a clear stand against oppression and injustice and should strive to change the situation without engaging in partisan conflicts. We will definitively oppose all oppression and injustice without joining imaginary teams and playing human games.

Aware that great violence and injustice have been done to our environment and society, we are committed not to live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. Aware of global economic, political, and social realities, we will behave responsibly as consumers and as citizens, not investing in companies that deprive others of their chance to live.

Paraphrase: We will refuse to work for or indirectly support anything which harms our planet or our fellow people. Through mindful consumption, we will cast our vote against companies with inhumane or unethical practices.

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Aware that much suffering is caused by war and conflict, we are determined to cultivate nonviolence, understanding, and compassion in our daily lives, to promote peace education, mindful mediation, and reconciliation within families, communities, nations, and in the world. We will diligently practice deep looking with our Sang ha to discover better ways to protect life and prevent war.

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, we are committed to cultivating loving kindness and learning ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals. We will forever be generous and respectful of others’ property, but we aim to stop others from profiting from suffering.

This passage sort of touches upon the fact that Which That Hand and many other Buddhists are vegan, refusing to consume or use any animal products. For a long time I’ve admired this ethic, especially in light of the terrible conditions found in large-scale slaughterhouses across the world.

Admittedly, I still consume animal products but plan to at least reduce my consumption as well as purchase from organizations with more humane practices in the coming months and years. I may end up ceasing altogether, but it will be difficult, as animal consumption is so much a part of the culture in which I was raised.

Aware that sexual relations motivated by craving cannot dissipate the feeling of loneliness but will create more suffering, frustration, and isolation, we are determined not to engage in sexual relations without mutual understanding, love, and a long-term commitment. We will treat our bodies with respect and preserve our vital energies (sexual, breath, spirit) for the realization of our Bodhisattva ideal.

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At this point, I feel I am able to let go, chill out, calm down, soak in, and accept things as never before, all while pushing in small ways toward a more peaceful and open world. If this frosted your proverbial cookies, you should follow me on Twitter or subscribe via email / RSS.

If this essay resonated, you'll enjoy my Dead Honest Newsletter, my list of Cage-Melting Books, and following me on Facebook and Instagram. Each of us has irrevocable freedom that cannot be stripped by any prison, situation, person or anything else in the world.

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No matter why they start, most people stay for the changes they see in themselves in ways we all long to improve. “Great martial arts schools are incredibly rare.

No matter why they start, most people stay for the changes they see in themselves in ways we all long to improve. For 10 years, Teachings has allowed me to develop in ways I would not have expected.

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