Tending the Fire: An Introspective Guide to Zen Awakening

The title Tending the Fire: An Introspective Guide to Zen Awakening comes from an ancient mondo, the public record of an exchange between a Zen master and disciple.

Prior Soku asked Master Hogen, “What is the student that is I?”

Master Hogen replied, “Children of fire come looking for fire.”

“What is the student that is I?” is the essential inquiry of every Zen practitioner.

Tending the Fire entertains this question with an in-depth investigation into the study and transformation of conditioned states, one of the three aspects of dukkha [cause of suffering]. Tending the Fire introduces an innovative, systematic approach for working with conditioned states that blends Zen training with a Western psychological method of introspection called the Resolution Sequence. The Resolution Sequence is a means of conveying information that assists practitioners with structuring, organizing, and understanding the process of awakening.

Tending the Fire is offered as a skillful means for studying the constituents of self before and after transformative experiences. The application of this model assists practitioners in learning to trust their deepest intuition, as well as the autonomous nature of the healing process.

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 ”We may also need to work a lifetime to cut the threads of the tight weave of our karma before the design of our life can begin to take on a new pattern. And really, we need to do all of this at the same time.”

To the Western mind, it seems odd to talk about sitting still as a way to move forward. Longtime Zen Buddhist meditation practitioners Dale and Barbara Verkuilen aim to bring the concepts together in this thoughtful, well-researched guide. The Verkuilens seek to integrate the Buddhist tradition of Zazen–sitting meditation–with the more psychological perspective of teacher and therapist David Grove, who created the innovative Metaphor Therapy popular in the 1980s. Both use introspection and inquiry to root out the causes of conditioned responses that affect us in our daily lives, often without our conscious knowledge. Tending the Fire combines the two and extends their reach with additional tools for overcoming conditioned responses and recreating an awakened self.

If this all sounds a little bit abstract, it is. Much of the Verkuilens’ writing is dense with complex concepts that require deliberate reading. They pack a lot of meaning into sentences like, “The fundamental misperception is that we experience ourselves as permanent entities separate from the world.” Fortunately, the Verkuilens also illustrate each concept in a variety of ways, including diagrams, stories, excerpts from Zen masters’ texts, and step-by-step instructions for personal practice. The second half of the book offers more concrete examples, with stories illustrating the use of the Verkuilens’ process in everyday life. These case studies help to solidify some of the more esoteric concepts. Appendices with more examples and an excellent reference list offer resources for further study.

This is a book to be studied over time, as part of a personal meditation practice. Teachers, students, and therapists can all benefit from this gentle approach to overcoming the past and enjoying freedom in the future.

 


Excerpt

There are many wonderful resources on Zen Buddhism. They range from the highly academic, to beautiful translations of the poetry of ancient Zen Masters, to books of Zen cartoons. Our bookshelves are filled with them. The subject seems well covered. Why write another one? What more could or should be added to the august body of knowledge already available on Zen? We asked ourselves these questions when undertaking the writing of this book. And yet, we were motivated to present the material contained here.

This work is unlike the others on our bookshelves in the fact that it addresses one aspect of Zen studies that does not seem to be covered by them. Its focus will be dedicated to understanding, working with, and resolving conditioned states. Buddhism acknowledges conditioned states as a major contributor to human suffering. The term for this suffering in Buddhism is dukkha, and it has three major components: ordinary suffering, impermanence, and conditioned states, on which more will be said later.

It is the position of this work that conditioned states can and should be worked on directly as the central concern in the process of awakening.    With Tending the Fire: An Introspective Guide to Zen Awakening, we hope to offer an in-depth look at the process of awakening from a Western perspective, that can serve as a “how to” manual for the Zen practitioner.…

We are fortunate in the West that most schools of Buddhism are represented in an unprecedented fashion. More than likely, one can find a center or temple in the United States for any form of Buddhism now practiced in the world. There is much cross-fertilization between them as seekers endeavor to learn about the Buddha’s teaching.

Buddhism has been studied scientifically, through the efforts of individuals like Richard Davidson and the Dalai Lama, to verify the benefits of meditation. Western psychotherapies have incorporated aspects of Buddhism especially mindfulness practices, through the works of Jon Kabat-Zinn and others. These efforts are examples of how the Buddhadharma has influenced the West. Tending the Fire: An Introspective guide to Zen Awakening, illustrates the other side of the equation: how an essentially Western approach may impact the Dharma.