Raku Zen – 楽禅

During my last Sesshin one student asked me “which branch of Zen” I am teaching. She heard about Rinzai, Soto and Sanbo Kyodan and could not quite summarise what we have been doing under one of these. I replied we are practising Rinzai Zen minus Koan practice plus Hitsuzendo (Zen Calligraphy) plus Aikiken (Aikido Sword), without too many rules and too strict schedule but with lots of voluntary extra work for advanced students. A pretty long answer for a short question …

Another student asked me a day later if I won’t consider teaching Zen professionally, implying I had to shave my head, take the percepts and become a monk. I replied that we are all professional human beings and when our Zen-Practice is deeply influencing our life, we are 24 hours Zen professionals. Being an ordained monk or not has severe implications only in a culture where this profession comes along with certain duties and privileges, most of all enjoying the luxury of intense practise and access to Dharma-teaching, and the permission to collect donations as a base for living. I doubt the necessity to introduce Buddhist Monastic life in our Western culture (I even believe it is a dangerous idea, spoiling serious practitioners’ ego, but this is another story …).

After crossing the boarders of traditional branches of Zen and transcending any discrimination between lay people and professional monastics, I believe it is a good idea to give the Way of Zen I am living and teaching a distinct name. I like to call it 楽禅 (Raku Zen), where 楽 (raku) stands for joy, effortlessness, but also for the intense practice coming along with or preceding it (ask any skilled musician, calligrapher, martial artist or craftsman how they managed to master their art).



Looking at the etymology of the 楽 character, it is said to be derived from the pictogram representing a person dancing with chimes in both hands, according to some source (1) maybe a priest or shaman performing a kind of healing ceremony. I like this character, since it both reflects joy and easiness, but also serious activity beyond rational explanation.

Today it is December 8th, an auspicious day for Zen-Buddhist practitioners (at least according to the Gregorian calendar). A good day to re-consider one’s practise and teaching, I will call mine Raku Zen (楽禅) from now on – feel invited to join!


常用字解 by 白川 静 (Shirukawa Shizuka) published by 平凡社

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