The Serene Reflection Meditation tradition (a lineage within the Soto Zen school) embodies:-
- The practice of meditation
- Keeping the Precepts
- The teaching that all beings have Buddha Nature
- Awakening the heart of compassion
‘Zen’ literally means meditation, and zazen or seated meditation is the heart of our practice. There are two main aspects to the meditation. The first is ‘serenity’, in that we sit physically still in a meditation posture, so that we can be fully present and rest in the stillness of ‘just sitting’ as it is often called. The second aspect is ‘reflection’, whereby we are open and aware of thoughts, feelings and physical sensations arising and passing, neither adding anything to them nor pushing them away.
To practise zazen is to learn to see beyond our thoughts and feelings and not to be driven by greed and anger, fear and desire. In meditation, we can see through our mistaken perceptions and we can learn to accept ourselves and the world as it is. If we believe that we are separate from everyone else, then we act selfishly to get what we want. If we know the interconnectedness that is the true nature of existence, then we already have all that we need – this here now is enough. This is a process of discovering what we already have within ourselves rather than seeking outside for what we believe we lack. This approach is both affirming and challenging, requiring us to look intently at the reality of the present moment, with the willingness to see ourselves as we are, without judgement. Profound transformation becomes possible once we know things as they are.
The Precepts are a description of enlightened action, of how compassion and wisdom manifest through our thoughts, speech and behaviour. The Precepts are not something imposed on us from outside – living by the Precepts arises from our own true wish to express meditation in our everyday life.
So, we take refuge in the Buddha (the source of the teaching), the Dharma (the Buddha’s teaching) and the Sangha (those who practise the teaching). We commit ourselves to refrain from doing what causes harm, instead doing what is good to do and doing good for all beings. To help us live in this way, we undertake to refrain from killing, stealing, coveting, saying what is not true, indulging in intoxicants, speaking against others, being proud of ourselves while devaluing others, being mean, indulging anger and denying the Buddha Nature of ourselves and others.
By understanding and embracing the darker side of ourselves in meditation, we come to understand how going against the Precepts causes suffering for ourselves and others.
All beings are fundamentally pure, but out of ignorance we create suffering, thereby obscuring our real nature. We can all learn to meditate because we all have Buddha Nature (or, as Great Master Dogen stresses, we all are Buddha Nature), even though this may be as yet unseen. All beings are Buddhas and should be respected as such, whatever the manner of their life.
Compassion and Wisdom
Compassion is aroused when we experience our unity with all life. When we realise this non-duality of existence, the desire to help all beings arises naturally and it is this expression of the compassionate heart that is true wisdom. Compassion and wisdom comprise our true nature, Buddha Nature, which is uncovered as we deepen our meditation and do our best to live according to the Precepts.