Spiritual Practice is Useless

Norman Fischer was the first Zen priest that I had dokusan with. Dokusan is a private interview with a Zen priest or Zen master. This was around 1985 or 1986. I remember the room and my sitting position, but I have forgotten the conversation. All I know is that I have admired him since even before then.

Norman went on to become the abbot of all of Zen Center and now he is a much sought after Zen master as well as one of the outstanding poets in the Zen community.

These words of wisdom from Roshi Zoketsu Norman Fischer tell us that spiritual practice is useless.

The most important characteristic – the defining characteristic, I would say – of a spiritual practice is that it is useless. That is, it is an activity that has no other practical purpose than to connect you to your heart and to your highest and most mysterious purpose – a purpose that is literally unknown, because it references the unanswerable questions… We do so many things for so many good reasons – for our physical or psychological or emotional health, for our family life or economic life, for the world. But a spiritual practice is useless – it doesn’t address any of those concerns. It is a practice that we do to touch our lives beyond all concerns – reaching beyond our lives to their source.

—Roshi Zoketsu Norman Fischer, “How to Survive Your Promising Life”

Zoketsu Norman Fischer

I would add some more Zen-speak to this quote. I would say, “Even though spiritual practice is useless, it is the most important activity we can engage in to help ourselves, our families, our society, and people around the world.”

What do you think about this?

Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong

Norman Fischer

Lojong is the Tibetan Buddhist practice that involves working with short phrases (called “slogans”) as a way of generating bodhichitta, the heart and mind of enlightened compassion. Though the practice is more than a millennium old, it has become pop… [Read More…]

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