Zen in Ten: "We Are Stars Suspended Nowhere"
The Wisdom of Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, Zen priest, teacher, and author
Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, PhD (she/her), is an author, poet, ordained Zen Buddhist priest, teacher, artist, and drum medicine woman. Zenju practiced in the Nichiren/Soka Gakkai tradition for 15 years. She entered Zen in 2001 and began again as a beginner on the path. The essence of all her transmissions come together in her teachings including these books: The Deepest Peace: Contemplations From A Season of Stillness; Sanctuary: A Meditation on Home, Homelessness, and Belonging; and The Way of Tenderness: Awakening Through Race, Sexuality, and Gender.
All the quotes below are gleaned from her most recent book The Shamanic Bones of Zen: Revealing the Ancestral and Mystical Heart of A Sacred Tradition.
“I was drawn to Soto Zen Buddhist practice because of the ancient rituals, ceremonies, and silence. It felt familiar: the incense burning, the bowing, the quiet, the chanting, the black, the firelit candles, a feeling of floating in darkness. . . . I found a Zen of the earth, deep in the muck of human conditions including racism, sexism, and homophobia.”
“Soto Zen is not considered a shamanic practice by many, and it is not generally taught as one. But if you consider the indigenous beginnings of all cultures, it becomes clear there are underlying esoteric, mystical, or shamanic histories to all spiritualities and religions.”
“By participating in Zen rituals and ceremonies, there was a strong sense in me that something had been suppressed in the transmission of the practice. . . I wondered: if the shamanic bones or the indigenous roots that were suppressed in the rising of Buddhism were unearthed, would the practice make more sense to practitioners, especially to black, indigenous, and people of color?”
“The word shaman has been lifted from the Tungus language of ancient Mongolia. The root of the word shaman originates from saman, which means ‘to know.’ ‘To know’ is not an intellectual process. It is to know the spirit of things, of people, of life—the nature of the unseen world behind our physical world. Etymologists have also noted that the Tungus word may have come from the Chinese word for ‘Buddhist monk’ (sha men) via the Sanskrit sramana.”
“Zazen shares certain elements of shamanism: self-realization, enhanced dreams, heightened intuition, deep concentration, a strengthened relationship with the wisdom of nature, reflection, speaking to ancestors in ceremony, and living a life of spiritual inquiry into the unseen.”
“Zen rituals and ceremonies aren't meant to be observed but to be engaged. They are meant to engage one’s whole body and mind as expressions of zazen.”
“As Zen is an embodied experience, chanting interacts with the movement of the body. Chanting is a chance to turn outward while remaining in zazen. It gathers the energy needed to continue the inward illumination.”
“In Zen, zazen becomes the portal through which we attend to our disconnection and disappointments with life and perhaps find reconnection and transformation in the breath. This breath can be expressed through the art of Zen or through any activity of our lives. In essence, when entering the portal of zazen, the expression of life is not through ego, thoughts, emotions, or expectations.”
“There was a definite experience in Zen and Buddhism of deepening my relationship with the unseen, with spirit worlds and altered states of consciousness.”
“Zen is for those who thrive on the intangible, the ambiguous, the amorphous, and the infinite. We are stars forever suspended in nowhere. You can’t really see Zen. You can only experience it after some time of walking the path.”
SparkZen is a labor of love fueled by a deep aspiration that all beings may know peace. To receive new posts and support this work, please consider becoming a free or paid subscriber. Peace.