Cultural Baggage in Zen Practice



What is my self? It is my body and thoughts, my logic and my creativity. It consists of all the events of my life and my memories of them. It includes every scar, mistake, misstep and malicious action. My self is my baggage to my practice. My self brings in a sack of cultural as well (unfortunately mine is in a beat up WallMart bag, but who is judging?). The spiritual development and preconceptions what I was raised on and taught to me as a child come along for the ride. They gleefully cling to my shirt-tales like wood nymphs. They flit in and out of my sight.


My ancestors ride on my back as well (or do I sit on their shoulders?). We all bring baggage with us on the way to sit and practice. But we also bring faith, doubt and determination. With those three things our practice will organically develop into what we need. It is always be in flux and it always changes along with us. That bag turns to a carry-on to a duffle to steamer-trunk and back to a carry-on.

We bring Big Daddy God, Gods, deities, philosophy, preconceptions, myth and legends into our practice. We bring magical books and a fear of death. We wide-eyed expectation and hero-worship. Like tracking in snow when we walk in from a storm, it makes a puddle on the floor but in time it disappears into a smudge and then with one wipe it disappears. Gone. Some of us just remove our shoes before we come in.

I like my cultural baggage. Some people bitch about and some think that baggage is detrimental but pretending that it doesn’t exist won’t get rid of it or lessen its effect. Hefting it into the Zendo and on the cushion helps us relate to it and understand it. Once we understand it then we can put it into its proper context and lessen our attachment to it. With understanding comes freedom. This isn’t a rejection of baggage but just a knowledge of its actual worth. Our baggage does not define us, but we pretend that it does. Once we understand our own baggage then we can begin to slightly understand someone else’s.

When we complain about cultural baggage, it infers that we don’t understand it and thus it prevents and slows our practice. When we loudly insist that our suitcases are our practice we make the same mistake.

We all walk in with a few bags. However, the minute we think that this bag of skin is me and everything inside it is me and that everything outside of it is not-me; we exclude the universe.



This is a small representation of the high-quality writings you’ll find in every issue of TIFERET.

We receive no outside funding and rely on digital issues, workshop fees, and donations to publish. If you enjoy our journal’s verbal and visual offerings, we hope you’ll consider supporting us in one of these ways.

Click Here to Purchase Digital Issues