"To study the Buddha Way is to study the self" – Dogen Zenji
Meditation is at the heart of Zen practice
In the Mountains and Rivers Order (MRO), Zen training begins with receiving instruction in Zen meditation, known as zazen. To learn how to meditate we offer instructions at each of our MRO affiliated regional groups. Please contact your nearest group directly to arrange a suitable time. Each group has a weekly time that they come together and meditate as a group. This is an opportunity to connect with others and ask questions. If you aren't near to one of these groups, we offer online instructions here.
We enter training through zazen, because meditation is at the heart of our tradition. This simple and challenging practice opens us to the present moment. Through regular zazen, we loosen the mind’s habit of grasping and suppressing thoughts. In a process that involves body and mind, we return again and again to things just as they are. Through sincere and consistent engagement, zazen develops trust, joy and appreciation, and informs our sense of what it means to be of benefit in the world.
The Eight Gates of Zen
Zazen is the first of eight areas of training employed by MRO practitioners. These Eight Gates of Zen are: • Zazen • Teacher-student relationship • Buddhist studies • Liturgy • Right action • Art practice • Body practice • Work practice
The gates are a matrix of classical Zen practices that support us to cultivate mindfulness, compassion and clarity in every aspect of our lives. A brief summary of the Eight Gates is available here. For more information, ask your local MRO group for a copy of Daido Roshi’s book, 'The Eight Gates of Zen'.
Places of practice
For MRO Zen practitioners in New Zealand, the Eight Gates operate around three bases: • Daily home practice • Regular events at local Zen groups • Regional and national events led by MRO teachers and training staff.
Regional and national events provide an opportunity to deepen one’s Zen practice, and to develop connections with a Zen teacher and other students of Zen.
Half-day meditation with discussion: one Sunday each month, practitioners gather to take part in an on-line discussion and a half-day of zazen. The discussions (“mondos”) are led by Shugen Sensei or one of the MRO’s senior training staff. For the mondos we use skype (online video) to connect the regional MRO groups to our American-based teachers. Weekend retreats: these offer an intensive practice experience on a shorter timeframe. 90-day intensives: practitioners may deepen their engagement with Zen meditation and teachings during the training period called 'Ango'. The spring Ango (early September to late November) has a focus on Buddhist studies - recently topics include Shantideva's 'Way of the Bodhisattva' and the 'Heart Sutra'. More information on Ango is available here. National events: the New Zealand programme culminates in July with the visit of the head of the Mountains and Rivers Order, Shugen Sensei. Sensei typically offers a public talk, weekend workshop, and a week-long meditation intensive, known as sesshin. In January, a similar programme of public events and intensive practice is offered in Christchurch, with the visit of either Jody Hojin Kimmel, Osho or Hogen Green.
Those with an interest in developing a Zen practice are encouraged to visit their local group regularly and to take part in national events, particularly sesshin. With participation in training comes the responsibility to uphold the harmony of the society, but no formal commitment to the MRO is required. At a certain point, a practitioner may petition to become a formal student of the MRO. To become a student is a conscious commitment to the teachers, the training and the sangha (the community of practitioners). For more information, visit the MRO website. Formal students of two years' standing may request to receive the 16 Buddhist precepts in a ceremony called 'jukai'. Taken as vows, the 16 precepts define how an enlightened being functions in the world. To receive the precepts is a serious undertaking, a rite of passage towards an on-going practice of 'giving life to the Buddha'. Learn more about jukai here.
The first step is to contact your nearest Zen meditation group and arrange a time for beginner instruction in Zen meditation. Attending a public talk or workshop with an MRO teacher is also an excellent entry point into Zen practice.