The Eight Gates of Zen Training

The Eight Gates of Zen Training

The Eight Gates of Zen Training were originally developed by the Ven. John Daido Loori, Daiosho.  Adapted by Great Wave Zen Sangha, the Eight Gates of training is a varied, harmonious, and interdependent set of dharma practices that help us develop our bodies, speech, and minds.  All members of the Great Wave Zen Sangha, regardless of their chosen practice paths, engage with the Eight Gates of Practice.

The Eight Gates are

  1. zazen;
  2. study with a teacher;
  3. academic study;
  4. scripture study;
  5. engaged Buddhism;
  6. art practice;
  7. body practice; and
  8. work practice.

1. Zazen

Za means “to sit,” while Zen means meditation.  Zazen, therefore, is seated meditation, and it is our core practice.  We often refer to it as just “sitting.”

2. Study with a Teacher

Zen is a tradition that is perpetuated by succeeding generations of teachers who have invested many years (usually no less than 20) of their lives as committed students of the Dharma.  Teachers are qualified to guide our practice, helping us to avoid common pitfalls and errors of judgment that arise from being less experienced.  In part, personal study with a teacher takes place during dokusan, a private interview between teacher and student.  Dokusan is a special opportunity in which students can seek guidance on questions that arise in the course of their practice.

3. Academic Study

We in the west have benefitted from the work of many kinds of scholars, including those who have translated scriptures, koan collections, and commentaries without which we would have a hard time understanding what Zen is all about.  Having an academic awareness of Zen, its history, and its evolution through time and place helps provide a necessary context for practice.

4. Scripture Study

Zen and Buddhist scriptures and commentaries are not only a source of inspiration for our practice but can sometimes lead directly to profound spiritual insight.  The study of scripture naturally complements the practice of zazen.  It is sometimes said that to practice only zazen is like living in a dark room with our eyes wide open.  To only study scripture is like living in a brightly lit room with our eyes closed.  To have a truly transformative practice, we must, in all senses, have a good light and keep our eyes open.

5. Engaged Buddhism

Engaged Buddhism at Great Wave is one way that we follow the Buddha’s teaching regarding Right Action or the actualization of the moral and ethical teachings of the Buddha.  These teaching are represented in the 16 Bodhisattva precepts listed on pages 5-6 of this booklet.  At Great Wave, Engaged Buddhism often manifests as compassion-based civic engagement, especially in the area of environmental activism—though there are many other ways to enter this gate.

6. Art Practice

The creative process and spiritual practice share several important behaviors: mindful attention to experience; a willingness to weigh inherited “truths” against our own experience; focused attention to detail and nuance; the development of intuition and trust; expressing wisdom in compassionate terms; and an open, equanimous receptivity to others’ views of our efforts.  Art concretizes these behaviors and makes them observable to all, vividly demonstrating the development of our individual characters.

7. Body Practice

While zazen is the core of our practice, it would be a mistake to think that Zen is a solely mental form of spiritual practice.  When we are mindful of how we use our bodies, we begin to see how our physical being is inextricably intertwined with our mental being.  Thus, the practice of yoga, dance, martial arts, tai chi, and many other kinds of activities helps us see the unity of body, breath, and mind.  Even the practice of mindful eating and bathing can help us realize our true nature.

8. Work Practice

Work practice, or samu, as it is known in the Zen tradition, challenges us to go beyond spiritually naïve views of labor as mere tasks to be done.  Samu helps us maintain a harmonious practice space, but it also helps us see how work renews our sense of what our lives are all about.

If you have any questions about the Eight Gates of Zen Training, we encourage you to contact us about starting Zen practice.