Archive for the ‘India’ Tag

Indian Jungle by Andrew

Via Flickr:

Morning light cutting through the deep indian jungle – follow the road!


Women in India

Traditionally in India, a woman has been addressed as a Devi, a goddess. This might seem like a very noble gesture; however, actually this contradicts an underlying expectation of lifelong sacrifices for others. This selfish motive is disguised with alleged reverence and results in a never-ending exploitation of women.

Quite a few girls end up entering college to just get away from their homes, to enjoy their temporary freedom but have no objective in life other than getting married. Indeed, often education is viewed only as a means to landing a sought after groom. Marriage cannot be the sole objective of any woman’s life. Marriage itself brings in a truckload of responsibilities and expectations. Unfortunately, this urge for marriage is further intensified sometimes when the girl sees her own mother being maltreated. She simply wants to escape this unhappy environment; little realizing that she is jumping from the hot pan right on to the fire.

It is not that all girls lack a will, a motivation to better their lives by education. It is a fact of today’s society that all the seemingly innocuous acts of girls ‘dating’ boys, going to the cinema, coffee shops; most of these apparently platonic encounters end up being an extended foreplay to sex. How would a girl know that the boy is a ‘safe’ boy? This is the reality and we cannot ignore it.

Because of the age, because of the hormonal changes, it is natural for a girl to experience sexual urges and they should not feel guilty about that. However, they have to take a level headed decision as to what will be the right time and right way to explore these urges. Romanticism is fine, but it has to be balanced by a composed, rational thinking. Friendship between the opposite sexes is absolutely fine, nothing wrong there. However, a girl should have a sharp sense of judgment; the boy should not end up taking advantage of her. Girls are emotionally more sensitive than boys; this is a well-known fact. Hence, they find it difficult to get over a broken relationship. This hampers their concentration on their education and also leaves a deleterious impact on their future life as well. This brings to the paramount question; why are woman studying? Just to get a license of eligibility to get married? What after marriage?

Education is not just about procuring degrees, which is going to impart with the qualities of fortitude, tenacity and self-belief. It is important to cultivate mental strength and resilience. Women need to examine themselves and see where they stand on this front, to deal with failures, with lack of fulfillment of desires, the prevalent cut-throat competitiveness. Girls need to become strong willed, independent individuals; this refers to both, financial and emotional independence. Acquisition of a mere degree is not enough. It certainly helps, but is not sufficient on its own. Those who don’t have an aptitude for higher education or professional careers should undergo some kind of a vocational training so that they can earn a livelihood.

It is every woman’s fundamental right to live a dignified life, be treated as a human being and work towards the fulfillment of her aspirations. Nobody should allow anyone to take this away. It should be a girl’s choice when to get married. Nobody should get married unless they want to and are well prepared for it. Look at the way marriages are being arranged today; the only compatibility people seem to be interested in sorting is wealth, prestige, physical appearance, social standing, and ability to give an enormous dowry.

Girls should not only be concerned with their physical appearance, after all no one needs to tell a woman on how to beautify her. However, it is more important to enhance and beautify one’s mental and intellectual abilities. The more knowledge one seeks, the more knowledge is gained, the more beautiful one becomes. All girls, all women should make it a priority to ‘beautify’ their brain, their mind. Reading gives the wings to soar high above the skies. They should cultivate some creative hobbies, like dancing. Dance is the best stress buster, best way to diffuse stress, anger. Dream and take efforts to fulfill those dreams. But this will not happen by simply praying to God. You will have to work diligently towards this goal, only then will they get divine blessings. Some people complain that despite working hard they don’t get success and then they blame God. However, it is not God but one’s previous karmas, which result in failure.

No one can negate the karma theory just because some Hindu sage or seer has expounded it. It is a law of life. Our own karma becomes an obstructive wall and we don’t get what we are looking for, but never be disheartened, always be grateful that one is alive and as long as one is alive, one can create more opportunities for oneself. So, why be disheartened? Never get discouraged by failures. One needs to remain optimistic, remain balanced, as there will be many more golden opportunities, which will enrich you. If you remain positive and calm, other doors will open; otherwise the negativity and depression will prevent one from seeing the other opportunities that have sprung up. So never ever be disheartened for anything. The only time tears should roll down one’s eyes is when one is ecstatic, delirious in love or as an expression of gratitude.

It is always mind over matter; hence believe in positive thinking and affirmations. Positive thinking combined with appropriate action brings in good karma. I hope I inspire zeal and zest for living life to its fullest, with dignity and freedom.

Posted May 13, 2013 by dranilj1 in Indian Culture

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Touch of Gypsy

Gypsy Woman


The word gypsy means a laborer who moves from place to place as demanded by employment a member of a nomadic, Caucasoid people of generally swarthy complexion, who migrated originally from India, settling in various parts of Asia, Europe, and, most recently, North America. Romany is the language of the Gypsies, gypsy is a person held to resemble a gypsy, especially in physical characteristics or in a traditionally ascribed freedom or inclination to move from place to place, also means informal like gypsy cab, an independent, usually nonunion trucker, hauler, operator, etc.

When I think of gypsies I can’t help but picture a cloaked fortune teller or dancer like Esmeralda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame or maybe you think of a band of traveling musicians and dancers in colorfully decorated wagons. The truth about gypsies is, of course, much more complex than a few outdated stereotypes. Because gypsies, also known as Roma, have been persecuted worldwide for much of their existence, they don’t typically trust outsiders and haven’t shared much of their story. But today, more gypsies are speaking up so the rest of the world can understand and appreciate their culture. Let us take a peek at their contemporary lives.

Gypsy Persecution: Gypsies have been harassed and persecuted throughout their history, but most people don’t know the Turks specifically executed gypsies during World War I, while Hitler wiped out more than 1 million during World War II. During WWII, not only were gypsies killed, they were also subject to medical experiments and sterilized. Those still alive in concentration camps were often blamed for crimes committed by others.

Gypsy Origins: Many people believe gypsies originally came from Romania, or perhaps Hungary. Not so. Research shows ethnic gypsies actually came from a group of diverse military people who gathered centuries ago in the Punjab region of northern India to fight Muslim invaders. Over time, the group drifted northwest to Persia and Armenia, then into the Balkan Peninsula, where Serbian and Romanian words and phrases crept into their language. Eventually, they split into smaller groups and spread throughout Europe and northern Africa, where several subsets developed, including the Romnichals in England, the Rom in Eastern Europe, the Ludar in Romania and the Black Dutch in Germany. There were also groups in Hungary and the former Soviet Union. Today, there are gypsies in countries throughout the world. When the gypsies began their migration, they weren’t welcomed by people in other countries because they looked and spoke differently, and they were often harassed or even physically harmed. This likely contributed to the development of their wandering lifestyle.

Typical Gypsy Jobs: Over the centuries, gypsies tended to work at occupations they could perform independently, that required little overhead, that appealed to people everywhere and that weren’t negatively affected by frequent travel. Some of these jobs included metalworking, woodworking, carpentry and horse trading. Often, jobs were tied to a sect. Many Ludar, for example, were animal trainers and show people, while many Rom were fortune-tellers. Gypsies worldwide are famed for their singing, dancing and musical skills; they’re credited with creating flamenco in Spain, while many Hungarian gypsies are musicians. As the times changed, so did the gypsies’ traditional occupations. Horse traders became used car dealers and repairmen, while metalworkers began hawking items like watches and jewelry. Members of the Kalderash clan, once Romanian slaves who worked as coppersmiths, now work in the scrap metal business.

Gypsy Taboo System: Ethnic gypsies have a very strong taboo system. Basically, gypsies consider the upper half of the body as pure, and the lower half — mainly the feet and genitalia — as contaminated. Pollute yourself, and you just might be ostracized for up to a year — or even expelled from the community. In practice, this means if a gypsy touches his lower body, he must wash his hands and anything your feet touch is considered perpetually contaminated. So there’s no such thing as the three-second rule when it comes to dropping food on the floor, and don’t even think about washing your underwear with, say, a tablecloth. While young children and the elderly are allowed some leniency when it comes to taboo situations, they’re strictly enforced on adults, especially married adults. Like in other traditional cultures, gypsy women who give birth are considered totally contaminated, as is the child being born, so both are temporarily isolated from the rest of the family.

Gypsy Attitudes Toward Schooling and the Sexes: Gypsies have a strong family and community focus. They neither want their children to learn foreign, non-gypsy ways, nor become polluted from contact with non-gypsies. Historically, only friends or relatives watch gypsies’ kids (through babysitting or day care), and kids only attend public school until age 10 or 11. Most of the gypsies’ education, then, comes from the home and community. Like other traditional cultures, gypsy women serve their men and defer to them in general, but women have some power and social standing. They’re respected for their money-making ability, for one thing. Fortune-tellers, who are all female, are sometimes the main source of income, so the husband serves as support staff, and a woman can pollute a man through various actions, sometimes resulting in his expulsion from the community.

Importance of Family in Gypsy Life: Family is paramount to gypsies. Those who still move about frequently tend to travel as an extended family, along with several other similar groups. Although family members often have their own homes, they’re still in constant contact with one another, often because the extended family works together as an economic unit. Marriages are typically arranged by the parents, with many couples marrying in their mid-to-late-teens and then joining the family business. New couples live with the husband’s parents for at least the first year or two, or until the first child is born. Most families have three or four kids, who are often part of adult conversations and endeavors, as children are expected to learn from and emulate their elders.

Whenever there’s a major event, such as a wedding or funeral, family members from all over gather, sometimes numbering in the hundreds or even thousands. Will we ever really know the gypsies? They’ve proved their resiliency through centuries of persecution, and many are proud they’ve never lost their strong cultural identity by assimilating into any of the countries they live in now. Perhaps the answer lies within a crystal ball — held by a gypsy, of course. If gypsies came from an assortment of people gathered in northern India, where did they get their name? The name gypsy is derived from the word Egyptian. At some point in their early history, people thought the Roma band hailed from Egypt, and thus assigned them that nickname, which stuck, and was used for all gypsies.

Gypsy or gipsy refer to Ethnic Groups of Romani people, a group widely dispersed throughout Europe; Dom people, an Indo-Aryan group; Lyuli, a Dom subgroup from Central Asia; Lom people, a group from East Anatolia and Armenia; Banjara, a group from India; Irish Travellers, Scottish Travellers; Yeniche people, a group from Europe, living mostly in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France; Sri Lankan Gypsy people.

The Romani ethnic group should not be confused with Romanians, an unrelated ethnic group and nation. The Romani are an ethnic group living mostly in Europe, who have been traced genetically to a group migrating from the northwestern Indian Subcontinent about 1500 years ago. Romani are widely known in the English-speaking world by the exonym; Gypsies or Gipsies. They are known collectively in the Romani language as Romane or Rromane depending on the dialect concerned and also as Romany, Romanies, Romanis, Roma or Roms. Romani are widely dispersed, with their largest concentrated populations in Europe, especially the Roma of Central and Eastern Europe and Anatolia, followed by the Kale of Iberia and Southern France.

The Americas are also home to large numbers of Romani. There are an estimated one million Roma in the United States; and 800,000 in Brazil, most of whose ancestors emigrated in the nineteenth century from Eastern Europe. Brazil also includes Romani descended from people deported by the government of Portugal during the Inquisition in the colonial era. In migrations since the late nineteenth century, Romani have also moved to Canada and countries in South America. The Romani language is divided into several dialects, which add up to an estimated number of speakers larger than two million. The total number of Romani people is at least twice or as large several times as large according to high estimates. Many Romani are native speakers of the language current in their country of residence, or of mixed languages combining the two.

The Romani people—once known as “gypsies” or Roma—have been objects of both curiosity and persecution for centuries. Today, some 11 million Romani, with a variety of cultures, languages and lifestyles, live in Europe—and beyond. But where did they come from? Earlier studies of their language and cursory analysis of genetic patterns pinpointed India as the group’s place of origin and a later influence of Middle Eastern and Central Asian linguistics. But a new study uses genome-wide sequencing to point to a single group’s departure from northwestern Indian some 1,500 years ago and has also revealed various subsequent population changes as the population spread throughout Europe.

Understanding the Romani’s genetic legacy is necessary to complete the genetic characterization of Europeans as a whole, with implications for various fields, from human evolution to the health sciences says Manfred Kayser, of Erasmus University in Rotterdam and paper co-author, in a prepared statement.

To begin the study, a team of European researchers collected data on some 800,000 genetic variants (single nucleotides polymorphisms) in 152 Romani people from 13 different Romani groups in Europe. The team then contrasted the Romani sequences with those already known for more than 4,500 Europeans as well as samples from the Indian subcontinent, Central Asia and the Middle East.

According to the analysis, the initial founding group of Romani likely departed from what is now the Punjab state in northwestern India close to the year 500 CE. From there, they likely traveled through Central Asia and the Middle East but appear to have mingled only moderately with local populations there. The subsequent doorway to Europe seems to have been the Balkan area—specifically Bulgaria—from which the Romani began dispersing around 1,100 CE. These travels, however, were not always easy. For example, after the initial group left India, their numbers took a dive, with less than half of the population surviving; some 47 percent, according to the genetic analysis. Once groups of Romani that would go on to settle Western Europe left the Balkan region, they suffered another population bottleneck, losing some 30 percent of their population. The findings were published online December 6 in Current Biology.

The researchers were also able to examine the dynamics of various Romani populations as they established themselves in different parts of Europe. The defined geographic enclaves appear to have remained largely isolated from other populations of European Romani over recent centuries, and the Romani show more evidence of marriage among blood relatives than do Indians or non-Romani Europeans in the analysis, but the Romani did not always keep to themselves. As they moved through Europe and set up settlements, they invariably met—and paired off with—local Europeans, and some groups, such as the Welsh Romani, show a relatively high rate of bringing locals—and their genetics—into their families.

Local mixing was not constant over the past several centuries—even in the same groups. The genetic history, as told through this genome-wide analysis, reveals different social mores at different times. For example, Romani populations in Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Croatia show genetic patterns that suggest a limited pairing with local populations until recently. Whereas Romani populations in Portugal, Spain and Lithuania have genetic sequences that suggest they had previously mixed with local European populations more frequently but have “higher levels of recent genetic isolation from non-Romani Europeans.

The Romani have often been omitted from larger genetic studies, as many populations are still somewhat transient and or do not participate in formal institutions such as government programs and banking. They constitute an important fraction of the European population, but their marginalized situation in many countries also seems to have affected their visibility in scientific studies says David Comas, of the Institut de Biologia Evolutiva at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Spain.

Finer genetic analysis of various Romani populations as well as those from the putative founder region of India will help establish more concrete population dynamics and possibly uncover new clues to social and cultural traditions in these groups that have not kept historical written records.


Posted February 26, 2013 by dranilj1 in Indian Culture

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The Land of Vedas

Image credit: Paul Gyswyt

Veda is the entire knowledge of nature. The word ‘Veda’ is originated from the Sanskrit verb – ‘ vid ‘ denoting ‘knowing’. Thus, Veda means knowledge. Veda is believably the first creation in the history of knowledge and education. It originated right from the beginning of this creation or when man started to breath, that’s why Veda interprets ‘sosham’ denoting Sanskrit-word – sah + aham = ‘that is me’ God says – "The point where you began and the point where you exist, as well as the point where you will end-everywhere I am dwelling. India, the land of Veda, and the origin of spiritualism have a huge store of religious and cultural knowledge and all of them are originated or interpreted from Veda; not only spiritual but material, scientific knowledge is also introduced in Veda. Everybody knows the oldest alive knowledge in Sanskrit was introduced by Veda. The Vedic knowledge is so deep and so large that it is absolutely impossible to interpret and spread it in a short time and limited space. It’s most important knowledge with an authentic interpretation and application system to let people know the way to leave in peace, harmony and successes.

There are four Vedas – The Vedas are believably ‘unmade’ because it is so huge with the deep knowledge one can’t imagine to compile in the pages and that is why Veda is called – ‘apaurusheya’ that is to say man can’t make it. When it was introduce there was no existence of paper or any writing material or activities, therefore, Veda was introduced and spread by hearing tradition the Sanskrit word – shrotra = ears, therefore Veda is called shrotra; to be hearable, and the people who practice Veda are called -‘ Shrotriya’ (Brahman).

Vedas are in 4 independent volumes and every volume covers such wide area of natural activities. In short, Veda covers – spiritualism-devotion, physics-mathematics, arts-commerce and astrology to medical sciences.

The Vedas are considered the earliest literary record of Indo-Aryan civilization, and the most sacred books of India. They are the original scriptures of Hindu teachings, and contain spiritual knowledge encompassing all aspects of our life. Vedic literature with its philosophical maxims has stood the test of time and is the highest religious authority for all sections of Hindus in particular and for mankind in general. “Veda” means wisdom, knowledge or vision, and it manifests the language of the gods in human speech. The laws of the Vedas regulate the social, legal, domestic and religious customs of the Hindus to the present day. All the obligatory duties of the Hindus at birth, marriage, death and so on owe their allegiance to the Vedic ritual. They draw forth the thought of successive generation of thinkers, and so contain within it the different strata of thought.

The Vedas are probably the earliest documents of the human mind and is indeed difficult to say when the earliest portions of the Vedas came into existence. As the ancient Hindus seldom kept any historical record of their religious, literary and political realization, it is difficult to determine the period of the Vedas with precision. Historians provide us many guesses but none of them is free from ambiguity.

It is believed that humans did not compose the revered compositions of the Vedas, which were handed down through generations by the word of mouth from time immemorial. The general assumption is that the Vedic hymns were either taught by God to the sages or that they were revealed themselves to the sages who were the seers or “mantradrasta” of the hymns. The Vedas were mainly compiled by Vyasa, Krishna, Dwaipayana around the time of Lord Krishna (c. 1500 BC)

The Vedas are four: The Rig-Veda, the Sama Veda, the Yajur Veda and the Atharva Veda. The Rig Veda being the main. The four Vedas are collectively known as “Chathurveda,” of which the first three Vedas namely, Rig Veda, Sama Veda and Yajur Veda agree in form, language and content.

Each Veda consists of four parts – the Samhitas (hymns), the Brahmanas (rituals), the Aranyakas (theologies) and the Upanishads (philosophies). The collection of mantras or hymns is called the Samhita. The Brahmanas are ritualistic texts and include precepts and religious duties. Each Veda has several Brahmanas attached to it. The Upanishads form the concluding portions of the Veda and therefore called the “Vedanta” or the end of the Veda and contains the essence of Vedic teachings. The Upanishads and the Aranyakas are the concluding portions of the Brahmanas, which discuss philosophical problems. The Aryanyakas (forest texts) intend to serve as objects of meditation for ascetics who live in forests and deal with mysticism and symbolism.

Although the Vedas are seldom read or understood today, even by the devout, they no doubt form the bedrock of the universal religion or “Sanatana Dharma” that all Hindus follow. The Vedas have guided our religious direction for ages and will continue to do so for generations to come and they will forever remain the most comprehensive and universal of all ancient scriptures.

The Rig Veda or The Book of Mantra is a collection of inspired songs or hymns and is a main source of information on the Rig Vedic civilization. It is the oldest book in any Indo-European language and contains the earliest form of all Sanskrit mantras that date back to 1500 B.C. – 1000 B.C. Some scholars date the Rig Veda as early as 12000 BC – 4000 B.C. The Rig-Vedic ‘samhita’ or collection of mantras consists of 1,017 hymns or ‘suktas’, covering about 10,600 stanzas, divided into eight ‘astakas’ each having eight ‘adhayayas’ or chapters, which are sub-divided into various groups. The hymns are the work of many authors or seers called ‘rishis’. There are seven primary seers identified: Atri, Kanwa, Vashistha, Vishwamitra, Jamadagni, Gotama and Bharadwaja.

The rig Veda accounts in detail the social, religious, political and economic background of the Rig-Vedic civilization. Even though monotheism characterizes some of the hymns of Rig Veda, naturalistic polytheism and monism can be discerned in the religion of the hymns of Rig Veda. The Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda were compiled after the age of the Rig Veda and are ascribed to the Vedic period.

The Sama Veda or The Book of Song is purely a liturgical collection of melodies (‘saman’). The hymns in the Sama Veda, used as musical notes, were almost completely drawn from the Rig Veda and have no distinctive lessons of their own. Hence, its text is a reduced version of the Rig Veda. As Vedic Scholar David Frawley puts it, if the Rig Veda is the word, Sama Veda is the song or the meaning, if Rig Veda is the knowledge, Sama Veda is its realization, if Rig Veda is the wife, the Sama Veda is her husband.

The Yajur Veda or The Book of Ritual is also a liturgical collection and was made to meet the demands of a ceremonial religion. The Yajur Veda practically served as a guidebook for the priests who execute sacrificial acts muttering simultaneously the prose, prayers, and the sacrificial formulae (‘yajus’). It is similar to ancient Egypt’s “Book of the Dead”. There are no less than six complete recessions of Yajur Veda – Madyandina, Kanva, Taittiriya, Kathaka, Maitrayani and Kapishthala.

The Atharva Veda or The Book of Spell is the last of the Vedas. This is completely different from the other three Vedas and is next in importance to Rig-Veda with regard to history and sociology. A different spirit pervades this Veda. Its hymns are of a more diverse character than the Rig Veda and are also simpler in language. In fact, many scholars do not consider it part of the Vedas at all. The Atharva Veda consists of spells and charms prevalent at its time, and portrays a clearer picture of the Vedic society.

Indian Way

Posted January 2, 2013 by dranilj1 in Indian Culture

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Indian Way of Life

Few countries in the world have such an ancient and diverse culture as India’s. Stretching back in an unbroken sweep over 5000 years, India’s culture has been enriched by successive waves of migration which were absorbed into the Indian way of life. It is this variety which is a special hallmark of India. Its physical, religious and racial variety is as immense as its linguistic diversity. Underneath this diversity lies the continuity of Indian civilization and social structure from the very earliest times until the present day. Modern India presents a picture of unity in diversity to which history provides no parallel.

Using the body as a medium of communication, the expression of dance is perhaps the most intricate and developed, yet easily understood art form. The fascination for Indian dance all over the world is indicative of the deep-felt need to use the human body to express and celebrate the great universal truths. Indian dance does just that in a heightened, reverential form. Also, since dance is physical and visual, it illuminates India’s culture in a direct manner, playing on the sensibilities of the onlooker. Thus, those who are attracted to India will find the idiom of dance the best introduction to India’s rich ethos and traditions. In India, dance and music pervade all aspects of life and bring color, joy and gaiety to a number of festivals and ceremonies. In fact, dance and music are tied inextricably to festivity of any kind.

India offers a number of classical dance forms, each of which can be traced to a different part of the country. Each form represents the culture and ethos of a particular region or a group of people. The most popular classical styles seen on the Indian stage are Bharatanatyam of Tamil Nadu, Kathakali of Kerala, Odissi of Orissa, Kathak of Uttar Pradesh, and Manipuri of Manipur. Besides these, there are several semi-classical and folk dances that contribute to the plethora of Indian dances. The common root of all classical dance forms can be traced to Natyasastra, ascribed to Sage Bharata who is believed to have lived between the 1st and 2nd Century AD. The Indian dance forms are based on the instructions in the Natyasastra. It also contains deliberations on the different kind of postures, the mudras or hand formations and their meanings, the kind of emotions and their categorization, not to mention the kind of attire, the stage, the ornaments and even the audience. All dance forms are thus structured around the nine rasas or emotions, hasya (happiness), krodha (anger), bhibasta (disgust), bhaya (fear), shoka (sorrow), viram (courage), karuna (compassion), adbhuta (wonder) and shanta (serenity). All dance forms follow the same hand gestures or hasta mudras for each of these rasas. The dances differ where the local genius has adapted it to local demands and needs.

Indian dance is divided into nritta – the rhythmic elements, nritya – the combination of rhythm with expression and natya – the dramatic element. Nritya is usually expressed through the eyes, hands and facial movements. Nritya combined with nritta makes up the usual dance programmes. To appreciate natya or dance drama, one has to understand and appreciate Indian legends. Most Indian dances take their themes from India’s rich mythology and folk legends. Hindu gods and goddesses like Vishnu and Lakshmi, Rama and Sita, Krishna and Radha are all depicted in classical Indian dances. Each dance form also draws inspiration from stories depicting the life, ethics and beliefs of the Indian people.

Essential Art of Zazen

Zazen means “seated meditation.” Zazen is a place of refuge far beneath our everyday involvements, a place where we turn inward for peace, for answers to the deepest questions of life, and for the ability to meet our lives with wisdom, love, and compassion. For twenty-five hundred years the practice of Zen meditation and the essence of Buddhism have been passed from teacher to disciple. The method of this practice is simple and direct. However, like any discipline, knowing of it is not enough; Zazen requires time and effort sitting on the cushion, training the mind, and doing the work that leads to transformation. Zazen brings a state of stable, focused concentration by the act of repeatedly bringing the mind back to the present. Absorption, is the form and method of zazen — the practice of letting go and returning to the present. Cultivating this prevents distraction, but it is not a way to escape or ignore the conditions around us. Zazen happens in and with the world, not apart from it. The result of meditation is an ever deepening experience of openness and serenity in the midst of life.

In Soto Zen, we use the method known as Serene Reflection. The meditation involves staying alert, aware and still, and “just sitting.” It is an objectless method of meditation, simple and straightforward, but radical in its acceptance of conditions. Serene Reflection is profoundly deep when practiced over time. This meditation helps us see our minds clearly, for there is nothing to do but watch how our habit patterns distract us from the present moment. Seeing our mind clearly brings awareness of both the impermanence of everything in the mind — each thought, feeling, pattern, idea — as well as the limitlessness of mind itself, a vast space that lies beneath all the clutter. The practice of Zen is a direct method of finding this place of real truth within ourselves, and learning to function with this wisdom. Within every moment of thought you should see yourself that your fundamental nature is pure. You should cultivate for yourself, practice for yourself, and accomplish for yourself the enlightenment of buddhahood.

Universally recommended instructions for Zazen is the way originally perfect and all-pervading. How could it be contingent on practice and realization? The true vehicle is self-sufficient. What need is there for special effort? Indeed, the whole body is free from dust. Who could believe in a means to brush it clean? It is never apart from this very place; what is the use of traveling around to practice? And yet, if there is a hairsbreadth deviation, it is like the gap between heaven and earth. If the least like or dislike arises, the mind is lost in confusion. Suppose you are confident in your understanding and rich in enlightenment, gaining the wisdom that knows at a glance, attaining the Way and clarifying the mind, arousing an aspiration to reach for the heavens. You are playing in the entrance way, but you still are short of the vital path of emancipation.

Consider the Buddha, although he was wise at birth, the traces of his six years of upright sitting can yet be seen. As for Bodhidharma, although he had received the mind-seal, his nine years of facing a wall is celebrated still. If even the ancient sages were like this, how can we today dispense with wholehearted practice? Therefore, put aside the intellectual practice of investigating words and chasing phrases, and learn to take the backward step that turns the light and shines it inward. Body and mind of themselves will drop away, and your original face will manifest. If you want such a thing, get to work on such a thing immediately.

For practicing Zen, a quiet room is suitable. Eat and drink moderately. Put aside all involvements and suspend all affairs. Do not think “good” or “bad.” Do not judge true or false. Give up the operations of mind, intellect, and consciousness; stop measuring with thoughts, ideas, and views. Have no designs on becoming a Buddha. How could that be limited to sitting or lying down? At your sitting place, spread out a thick mat and put a cushion on it. Sit either in the full-lotus or half-lotus position. In the full-lotus position, first place your right foot on your left thigh, then your left foot on your right thigh. In the half-lotus, simply place your left foot on your right thigh. Tie your robes loosely and arrange them neatly. Then place your right hand on your left leg and your left hand on your right palm, thumb-tips lightly touching. Straighten your body and sit upright, leaning neither left nor right, neither forward nor backward. Align your ears with your shoulders and your nose with your navel. Rest the tip of your tongue against the front of the roof of your mouth, with teeth and lips together both shut. Always keep your eyes open, and breathe softly through your nose.

Once you have adjusted your posture, take a breath and exhale fully, rock your body right and left, and settle into steady, immovable sitting. Think of not thinking. Not thinking—what kind of thinking is that? Nonthinking. This is the essential art of zazen. The zazen I speak of is not meditation practice. It is simply the Dharma gate of joyful ease, the practice-realization of totally culminated enlightenment. It is the koan realized, traps and snares can never reach it. If you grasp the point, you are like a dragon gaining the water, like a tiger taking to the mountains for you must know that the true Dharma appears of itself, so that from the start dullness and distraction are struck aside. When you arise from sitting, move slowly and quietly, calmly and deliberately. Do not rise suddenly or abruptly. In surveying the past, we find that transcendence of both mundane and sacred, and dying while either sitting or standing, have all depended entirely on the power of zazen.

In addition, triggering awakening with a finger, a banner, a needle, or a mallet, and effecting realization with a whisk, a fist, a staff, or a shout – these cannot be understood by discriminative thinking, much less can they be known through the practice of supernatural power. They must represent conduct beyond seeing and hearing. Are they not a standard prior to knowledge and views? This being the case, intelligence or lack of it is not an issue; make no distinction between the dull and the sharp-witted. If you concentrate your effort single-mindedly, that in itself is wholeheartedly engaging the way. Practice-realization is naturally undefiled. Going forward is, after all, an everyday affair.

In our world and others, in both India and China, all equally hold the buddha-seal. While each lineage expresses its own style, they are all simply devoted to sitting, totally blocked in resolute stability. Although they say that there are ten thousand distinctions and a thousand variations, they just wholeheartedly engage the way in zazen. Why leave behind the seat in your own home to wander in vain through the dusty realms of other lands? If you make one misstep you stumble past what is directly in front of you. You have gained the pivotal opportunity of human form. Do not pass your days and nights in vain. You are taking care of the essential activity of the buddha way. Who would take wasteful delight in the spark from a flint stone? Besides, form and substance are like the dew on the grass, the fortunes of life like a dart of lightning—emptied in an instant, vanished in a flash.

Please, honored followers of Zen, long accustomed to groping for the elephant, do not doubt the true dragon. Devote your energies to the way that points directly to the real thing. Revere the one who has gone beyond learning and is free from effort. Accord with the enlightenment of all the Buddhas; succeed to the samadhi of all the ancestors. Continue to live in such a way, and you will be such a person. The treasure store will open of itself, and you may enjoy it freely.

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