Aug 6, 2020
Martin Goodson

Advice on Starting out In Daily Life Practice

The fundamentals of Zen practice for both new and experienced practitioners.

Woman performing a "swallow dive", 1937.



Taken from ‘Advice on Starting out In Daily Life Practice’, a short article by The Zen Centre, London.

To begin with students will need to start with the daily life practice which is the beginning, middle and end of the training. Although it sounds easy only a fully-fledged Buddha can carry it out perfectly 24 hours a day!

Quite simply it is to – Give myself, whole-heartedly into what at this moment is being done anyway.

When I give myself into an activity then the feeling of ‘I’ - doing disappears and an open awareness arises. This happens quite naturally when I am doing something I really enjoy - a hobby for example. This is why I enjoy my hobbies because – ‘given into’ the activity – it ‘lights up’ and the awareness brings everything alive. ‘ I’ believe it is the hobby that works this magic and fills me with joy but in fact it is because I have given myself away into it that does the trick.

So why don’t we do this all the time? Well, ‘I’ get in the way, with my judgements that one thing is interesting and that thing or activity is boring. By picking and choosing in this way I will not give myself into those things that ‘I’ judge as uninteresting, unimportant or irrelevant to me and behold they are experienced as boring!

So the first thing is – as much as possible cultivate the habit of giving myself into all activities as whole-heartedly as possible, whenever awareness arises that I have ‘gone off’ into daydreams and thoughts or judgements then bring myself back with a physical jerk into the activity again.

To help with this we bring the body into the action – you will find it easier to use physical work as a doorway into this giving of myself – try it out and see what happens! A skilful practice to help with this practice is the setting up of a timetable so as to become aware of those moments during the day when one of my judgements, comes up and says ‘No, I don’t want to this that just now!’ When this happens just drop the thought and once more give myself, physically, back into what is to be done anyway.

Once ‘at home’ in the body then we become aware of just how much of life we refuse by complaining or wishing to be doing something else and we get used to containing these reactions and say ‘Yes!’ to life instead. Life exists only here and now, not in the past and not in the future. To be wishing to be somewhere else is to deny the life that is right under the nose.

This containment of the judgements and the giving myself into what is right here despite my feelings about it, is the practice of working with the Three Fires. In Zen an analogy is used of a Bull gradually being gentled. This gentling process is a life-long one. However in the process we become acquainted with that Bull and realise that in fact it is our own heart that is filled with energy and possesses a wisdom that I could not imagine. What is more, we discover that in fact unbeknownst to me I’ve been searching for this heart all along and there it was all the time – only ‘I’ did not/could not realise it.

Please experiment with this practice of ‘giving myself whole-heartedly’, as much as possible and as often as possible. The Buddha said that we should test his teachings as a goldsmith tests gold ‘by rubbing and burning’. Happy experimenting.


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