Site Visit: The International Zen Institute of Florida

The International Zen Institute of Florida, is a location for the congregation of Zen Buddhists, where Buddhists can go to meditate and ask monks for questions on the nature of dharma. Zen Buddhism is a part of the Mahayana school of Buddhism, which focuses on the Bodhisattva which is a way of life which focuses on selflessness, on helping all living beings to be liberated from suffering, and focuses more on the individual search for nirvana to end the cycle of samsara. Theravada Buddhism focuses on the concept of vibhajjavada which means “teaching of analysis”, that insight comes from the application of knowledge and critical reasoning, very similar to the Atharvaveda from the four book of the Vedas which encourages followers to question the religion. The Vajrayana school, which focuses on the use of mantra to focus the mind to remain aware of reality and puts importance on the ultimacy of mind. The Zen Buddhist branch however, is a mixture of the characteristics of both the Mahayana school of Buddhism and Taoism, a Chinese philosophy based on living in harmony with the Tao, being the absolute principle underlying the universe, commonly known as yin and yang. Zen Buddhism most notable quality is the emphasis it places on the value of meditation, with the word Zen itself meaning meditation. Zen Buddhism’s emphasis put on the act of meditation can be seen in all aspects of the religion.

Zen Buddhism’s increased populatrity in the west is due to a variety of factors, one is the increased number of Asian immigrants in the west coast of the U.S. The west coast is an area filled with the wealthy and famous in cities such as Los Angeles and Hollywood, as such many of America’s celebrities were exposed to Zen Buddhism and soon it became in vogue. Another factor that increased the number of American Zen Buddhists were the America soldiers that were in Asian during and after WWII and the Korean War, when these soldiers returned home many of them brought back Buddhism with them. For example, Robert Aitken Roshi was a prisoner of war on Guam, where he learned Buddhist teachings, he later went on to found the Diamond Sangha. Buddhist may have appeared more specifically in South Florida, as there is a relatively sizeable Asian population which need a place of worship. One of the notable aspects of Buddhism is that is the world’s first missionary religion and thus it may have evolved to spread quickly.

Zen Buddhism’s increased populatrity in the west is due to a variety of factors, one is the increased number of Asian immigrants in the west coast of the U.S. The west coast is an area filled with the wealthy and famous in cities such as Los Angeles and Hollywood, as such many of America’s celebrities were exposed to Zen Buddhism and soon it became in vogue. Another factor that increased the number of American Zen Buddhists were the America soldiers that were in Asian during and after WWII and the Korean War, when these soldiers returned home many of them brought back Buddhism with them. For example, Robert Aitken Roshi was a prisoner of war on Guam, where he learned Buddhist teachings, he later went on to found the Diamond Sangha. Buddhist may have appeared more specifically in South Florida, as there is a relatively sizeable Asian population which need a place of worship. One of the notable aspects of Buddhism is that is the world’s first missionary religion and thus it may have evolved to spread quickly.

Onto the symbols, art, objects, and images of the culture the most famous would be the Zen Garden. The Zen garden has a ground made of sand which is raked into straight line and circles, then small islands of rocks interspersed. This simple abstract design helps stimulate mediation, by reducing nature to its primary parts. Zen art usually consists of nature to induce a sense of peace, abstract images to help initiate thought and blank spaces to make the work less visually distracting, this all helps a practitioner get in the correct state of mind to meditate. An important aspect of the religion are koans, a riddle or puzzle Zen Buddhists use during meditation to help create greater thought. Popular koans include, “If you practice sitting as Buddha, you must kill Buddha.”, and “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”. These almost paradoxical questions help one get in the correct mindset to meditate, by giving the Zen Buddhist something to wrap their head around and question themselves or the nature of reality itself.

The dress of a practicioner of Zen Buddhism is not important for the common man who is simply practicing. Historically, Zen’s easier path to enlightenment, since people have the Buddah-nature in themselves and Zazen is simple meditation which is available to all who have somewhere to sit, makes the religion popular with the upper and lower class, and thus strict wear is not important as many would not be able to afford special robes. However, monks must wear traditional robes, with a rakusu, a piece of clothes made by sewing together at least 16 strips of cloth and is worn over the robes like a bib. Simplistic wear allows one to easily meditate through comfortable wear.

A form of ritual that I had personally experienced was Zazen practice, where the group sits down in a lotus form, very similar to sitting cross-legged, on a meditation cushion, and attempt to meditate, the instructor would help those meditating achieve the mindset of peace that one requires to meditate. Other practices include kinhin which is when practitioners walk clockwise arould a room while holding their hands and each step is taken adter each full breath. A ritual which does not focus on meditation is the Goma Fire Ceremony, in which a fire is set and wood sticks are burned in front of the statue of the Buddha. In this ceremony the fire represents the Buddha’s wisdom, which burns away the root of our suffering, material desire.

Zen Buddhists have many special holidays and festivals, the most important one would be Bodhi Day, which is the day in which they celebrate the Buddha’s enlightenment and is celebrated in the 8th day of the 12th month of the Chinese calendar. Bodhi Day celebrations include studying Dharma, chanting of the sutras, the Buddhist religious text, preforming kind acts towards one another, and eating a traditional meal of tea and cake. Other festivals include Asalha Puja Day, which translates to Dharma Day, and is celebrated on the full moon day of the 8th lunar month, on this day they commemorate the Buddha’s first teaching the turning of the wheel of Dhamma. The Loy Krathong is a holiday in which people bring bowls made of leaves, candles, and incense sticks and is supposed to remove one’s bad luck and is meant to made homage to the holy footprint of the Buddha on the beach of the Namada River.

The impactful aspect of Zen Buddhism is not what one hears or sees, but rather the simplicity of worship, one just simply has to sit down on the cushion and relax, which maybe initially hard in our fast paced world filled with the constant need to check our notifications, but with patience one is rewarded with a feeling of calm, self-discovery and living in the moment. It never felt like worship but like a spiritual self-check-up. This visit really helped me gain an appreciation for the mind-set of the Buddhist, since reading about meditation is too abstract for one to true understand. This was overall a very positive-experince for myself since I was feeling stressed, the whole meditation process felt both relaxing and insightful.

Zen Buddhism is overall a very egalitarian religion, Buddhism wants all creatures that suffer to achieve enlightenment, thus both men and women are able to achieve enlightenment. Buddhist nuns are also equal to their male counterparts monks, both living by the same rules, both shaving their heads, and both wearing very similar robes. When I had visited the site the population of people were almost equally male and female, however the monks were all male, no female nuns were to be seen.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s