Zen and the Art of Diving

Zen Diving


The group was happy to have Roshi back after his three-week trip to Egypt and Israel.  Roshi used his talk to relate his three weeks of Scuba diving to our practice.  It is said that there is a “Zen to everything” and diving is no exception.  If one stops and thinks for a moment, this should not be a surprise as one of the most fundamental teachings is that nothing exists outside of Zen.  


Roshi noted that the purpose of his trip was to learn new diving techniques.  Normally, when we think of Scuba, we think of divers jumping out of boats into deep water.  However, there is another technique called “Shore Diving” where one enters the water from the shore instead of diving off of a boat.  Although this does not seem like a big difference, the diver must learn a totally new set of skills to be effective.  For instance, at the site Roshi was diving, one had to scramble up and down from a steep underwater cliff to get in and out of the water.  This can be quite dangerous as the force of waves upon the rocks can easily kill an inexperienced diver.  Roshi’s instructor commented that he was extremely calm during the training whereas most first-time students are terrified.  Roshi noted here that his many years of Zen training was the reason he could maintain his calm.  What is panic, after all, but the negative stories we keep telling ourselves…  


•What happens if I am not fast enough to get out of the water before the waves hit?

•What happens if I do something wrong?

•I am not good enough, experienced enough, strong enough to really be doing this


Here Roshi was clear – what Zen practice provides is the ability to clear the mind of this “mental garbage” and confront the situation as it arises.  What is important is “out there” and is not the ongoing dialog within our heads.


Another common issue with diving is that new students typically get a burst of confidence and quickly put themselves into dangerous situations.  Perhaps someone is certified to dive 50 meters and thinks they can now easily do 100 meters.  Another example may be that an experienced boat diver thinks they can do shore diving with no training because “diving is diving.”  It is these poor choices which get people into trouble.  Again, Roshi pointed out that this happens in practice as well.  We have a bit of progress and we get all excited and quickly lose the insight we just gained.  We grasp tightly and try to do too much!  The solution to this, of course, is to be aware of where you are and what you are doing.  This is a common thread in Zen – namely direct awareness and honesty.  


The last story Roshi mentioned was that at the end of his shore dive, there is a point where one must jump up on a ledge while the waves come crashing in.  An expert shore diver can do this by timing the waves and “body surfing” the wave over the cliff.  Students, however, require help from the dive master.  The student must raise their hand over their head and out of the water close to the cliff edge.  The dive master then grabs the student’s hand and hoists them over the cliff lip.  The student still needs to scramble forward to get past the breakers or the waves will pull them back in.  Roshi likened this to our practice.  As students, we need to trust that if we raise out hand a teacher will give us a boost over obstacles.  However, most of the work is still up to us.  We need to know when it is best to raise the hand, and we still must do most of the work to scramble over the obstacle.  The teacher is there to simply give that small well-timed boost over the edge of our sticking point.


Roshi wrapped up by stating that he was glad to be back and looked forward to the group intensifying our practice in the upcoming weeks.