Posted in ch'an, zen

Sit Serenely

“The practice of true reality is simply to sit serenely in silent introspection.”

“Here you can rest and become clean, pure, and lucid. Bright and penetrating, you can immediately, return, accord, and respond to deal with events. Everything is unhindered, clouds gracefully floating up to the peaks, the moonlight glitteringly flowing down mountain streams. The entire place is brightly illumined and spiritually transformed.”

“If you accord everywhere with thorough clarity and cut off sharp corners without dependence on doctrines, you can be called a complete person.”

-Hongzhi *

 

We are sitting quietly and doing nothing. That’s the practice.

It sounds like nothing, but there’s so much in the present moment. When we’re sitting it seems very boring a lot of the time. But if we learn how to really pay attention, then we can see things clearly.

We may tell ourselves, when we’re sitting with the practice…that nothing is happening. But there’s never a point where nothing is happening. Things are happening all the time, wonderful things, painful things, scary things, and beautiful things. There are always so many things happening. And it’s never boring. We have this idea in our heads these days that we have a sort of right to be entertained all the time, that we should never be bored, even for a second. There is so much we have created to help entertain and distract us that even a moment of dullness seems uncomfortable. That makes meditation practice scary, in a way. Sitting and doing nothing sounds like the boringest thing we could possibly do.

Not only am I listening to podcasts during my work day, I’m also listening to them in my car, on the way to my car, when I’m going for walks. Why? Because I want to be entertained.

But the truth is this: only boring people get bored. When we learn to pay attention, when we train in mindfulness, we can start to see how not-boring everything is. We don’t need distractions. We can listen and see and feel and think. These things are only boring if we are boring people. Let’s not be boring.

The world is transformed by our attention. Awareness makes everything bright and glittering. Even the bad parts of life can take on new meaning if we learn how to see them and be fully present with them.

It really is up to us how we see things. We can see our meditation practice as a boring chore that we don’t want to do. Or we can see it as entering the circle of wonder, training in awareness and clarity. The choice is ours.

Sharp corners are those things that stop us from seeing clearly; our emotional baggage, our neuroses and confusion…the things that cause us to close our hearts and build barriers between ourselves and our experience. If we can put down these things once in a while, then we can see the world clearly.

What’s a complete person?

It’s all based on how we feel, I think. When we are filled with delusion and our attention is fragmented…we feel incomplete. If we’re not paying attention it’s very easy for us to feel like we’re not good enough.

A complete person is just one who is aware, who sees the world and their place in it clearly. Pay attention and you’ll be complete.

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*quotes are taken from “Cultivating the Empty Field, The Silent Illumination of Zen Master Hongzhi” by Taigen Dan Leighton, which you can get here:

Cultivating the Empty Field | amazon

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Posted in meditation

Timing and Meditation

Sometimes when people first come to meditation they’re in a hurry. People want to start seeing results from their practice right away. Of course, that’s not how any of this works but sometimes it is something people tend to expect.

This is like that old adage “A watched pot never boils.” If we spend a lot of time thinking about how results aren’t coming fast enough, we will never be satisfied.

Any amount of meditation is better than none. The goal should be to try to build up to regular meditation. I suggest 20 minutes per session, but that’s not something I adhere to strictly. We just need to ask ourselves questions about how much of our sit is devoted to getting settled. That can vary widely. Some people can sit and go straight into meditation, but for others it takes a few minutes.

I don’t really suggest sitting for hours and hours. I think a short meditation with some regularity is better than a rare 2 hour meditation. Ideally we should start with a short meditation and gradually increase the length to whatever we feel we have time for. I think 30-40 minutes is a really good length. We don’t want to be counterproductive, however. If scheduling longer meditations leads to making excuses and not meditating at all, that’s a problem. It would be better to have a very short meditation instead.

There’s not really a perfect time to meditate. When I first started I liked to do it early in the morning. Now I do it in the evening, shortly before bed. I think it varies for everyone, so you’ll need to find the time that works best for you.

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Posted in buddhism, videos

Forms of Sitting Practice | Video

Here’s a talk I recorded on meditation practice.

I focused on what we’re doing with our bodies when we sit down to meditate.

Let me know what you think.

 

 

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Posted in tattooed buddha

Too Busy to Meditate?

Also published The Tattooed Buddha

There are a few things people often say in casual conversation when they find out that I meditate.

I want to be very clear, this is what gets said in general conversation, not in a teaching context.

“That’s so cool. I wish I could calm my mind down, but I can’t,” or some other version of wishing they could do it (because they think it’s easy for me, of course).

I find that question very weird, but there’s one I find weirder, and that one is some version of, “I wish I had the time. I’m so busy. I want to meditate but I have a very active life.” So, with that in mind, I’m going  to put on my meditation coach hat and answer the question:

“How does one make time to meditate in a busy schedule?”

Because that’s the answer. You have time for what you make time for. If someone says they don’t have time to meditate, I do not believe them.

I’m not going to lie to you. I’ve “fallen off the cushion” many times. I’m a normal person like you. I know that I should meditate every day, and I just don’t do it. There was a time when I did, and then I stopped for a while and then I started again.

And then I stopped for a while. Because the truth is, it is really easy to not meditate. We have ten million distractions around us all the time. But, if you don’t think you have time to meditate….you’re wrong.

You don’t have to dedicate an hour to the practice. Or even half an hour. Even simply sitting for five minutes a day can bring enormous benefit. Or, if that’s too hard, even once a week. The point is regularity. “This is when I do it and I always do it” matters a whole lot more than doing it a long time.

When I first started practicing, many years ago, I would just meditate when I felt like it. When the idea came to me to do it, I would do it. That, of course, led to not doing it very often. The thing is this, meditation is like any other thing that we’re trying to get better at. It’s just like going to the gym, or practicing guitar. You don’t just get it right away, and you don’t get better unless you practice over and over and over.

So, the important thing is routine.

So, what worked?

A few things have worked for me—one worked for a while and I’m glad it did, but it didn’t work forever and ended up easy to lose track of. That was putting it into my morning routine. Get up, go to the bathroom, take a shower, shave (this was before I had a beard), meditate, eat breakfast, go.

That was what I started doing many years ago, when I was a young, a college student. Long before the kids and the divorces and the career and the writing. You see, I started meditating before I had ever met another meditator. I didn’t want to do it in a group. I’m pretty introverted and quiet a lot of the time and I didn’t know anyone with this interest. So I quietly practiced on my own. And that worked for a really long time.

After the kids were around, I tried to set up a nighttime one too, shortly before bed. I just remember my son getting out of bed and coming to sit with me. And my daughter bounding after him. Some people think kids can’t meditate. Those people are wrong. That was a different world though. Distractions seem to be more powerful now. I don’t know if the distractions are getting stronger or if I’m getting weaker. But that was in the days before I even had a phone, let alone a magical box that could tell me anything in the universe. We have millions of ways to kill time and I wonder if we’re happier.

I don’t meditate every morning, but sometimes I think I should. I could lie to you and say that I do (you’re not going to fact check this). But I want to be real. I want to see the realest thing I’ve ever written and be even more real. Over the years sitting as part of my morning routine got harder and harder to do. That’s the truth. I don’t know why; I can’t explain it. It just got harder.

Here’s the other thing that works. And you may not be able to do it, depending on where you live: Find a friend.

Just like how going to the gym is easier with a workout buddy, meditation is easier when you aren’t doing it alone. I lead a live online meditation group once a week through Daily Dharma Gathering. Because I lead the group, I have to participate, obviously (I can tell you I’ve learned a lot more from teaching than I ever thought I would) and I go to a Wednesday night meditation group. That’s where the core of my practice is these days—sitting with other people. That is what I recommend, above all other things.

Now, some of you might live in rural areas or something, but an overwhelming majority of the people reading this live 30 minutes or less from a Buddhist temple or meditation center. They’re everywhere. And, look, there are things I really don’t like about Tibetan style Buddhism, but I still practiced in a Tibetan Buddhist temple for years because it was a place to go. I was able to ignore the bowing and chanting and other things that I think are nonsense.

So it doesn’t even matter if the place around you isn’t exactly what you want. The point is there’s a place to go sit. And if there are several around (there probably are) check them all out. Find the one you think is the best for you.

I think there’s something about our minds. Going out and doing it makes it more meaningful to us, or easier to stick with, somehow. There’s a special thing about meditating in a group. If I’m meditating by myself and I sneak a look at my phone or whatever, or stop the meditation early because I feel like it, no one knows. There’s no one to hold me accountable. But if I’m meditating in a group…there’s an element of peer pressure there. Shame is a great motivator. I can’t just check my phone during a meditation if I’m surrounded by people that are meditating. That’s embarrassing.

There’s one other option and that seems a little more daunting— starting a group of your own. You don’t need money to rent a place. You can do it in your living room or in a park or something. And, of course, at least one friend who’s dedicated to doing it with you.

For a while I meditated on my breaks at work too. People gave me the weirdest looks. I’m not sure I can recommend that one.

So, there you have it. If you truly want to meditate, make it part of your daily routine. If you want to stick with it, find a group to meditate with or a place that offers regular sittings.

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Posted in buddhism

Practice, Study, and Wisdom

Several things are important in our Buddhist journey.

It’s through practice that we’re able to lessen our neurotic thought patterns, all that baggage we’re carrying around with us, the preconceived ideas that shape the way we see reality.

It’s through study that we come to understand things. That understanding leads to a more awakened and peaceful state of mind.

We learn how to be in our lives, how to move through the world, through practice. We learn how to understand things, how to see the world and our place in it, through study.

Buddhist training should consist of both practice and study.

Our meditation practice isn’t just sitting practice, it’s connected with how we learn the teachings of the Buddha. It’s our practice that allows us to study the dharma and overcome our delusions and suffering.

Through practice we are cultivating transcendental wisdom. This is the discriminating awareness that allows us to see through duality and see things as they really are.

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Posted in zen

Bodhidharma’s 2 Entries

Bodhidharma said there are two ways to enter the path.

Entry through conduct and entry through principle.

He outlined this in a teaching called the Two Entries and the Four Practices. In this teaching he outlines in a clear way what we must do to attain enlightenment.

Entry through conduct is associated with practices that need to be done. This applies to those aspects of our training that require effort, our spiritual cultivation.

Entry through principle is considered the essence of the Zen path. It applies to directly seeing our true nature, which is beyond words, descriptions and forms.

In the practice of the Dharma, both of these things need to be used. Entry through principle represents the cultivation of insight through meditation. Entry through conduct represents the cultivation of discipline.

Entry through conduct is the path of the Dharma as it’s explained in the sutras and commentaries. It is an approach that involves modifying behavior and spiritual cultivation, in which concentration is expanded through meditative practices. It also involves efforts at countering the three poisons: hatred, greed, and delusion.

Entry through conduct is practiced through four methods:

1) The practice of repaying wrongs.

2) The practice of adjusting to circumstance.

3) The practice of non-seeking or asking for anything.

4) The practice of upholding the Dharma.

Repaying wrongs represents understanding that our actions have consequences and trying to mitigate negative consequences that we have caused. This has been described as karma. Our karma has to be understood and improved.

Adjusting to circumstance means doing our best within our environment. Accepting our conditions instead of becoming attached to them is important. Attachment to our circumstances can be either positive or negative. We can enjoy our circumstances too much and be too excited by them. We can also hate our circumstances too much and view life in a very negative way. These are two sides of attachment.

Non-seeking means acting without attachment to personal gain either now or in the future. The self is a delusion, a label we put on our interaction with our environment. If we act in a way that is attached to receiving praise or blame, this is not helpful. In a way, this could be said to be an advanced practice.

Many people come to Buddhism with hope for a gain, for some kind of benefit from practice. But, eventually when one practices, self-centeredness does start to fall way. When we are concerned about our Enlightenment, it can be a barrier to our Enlightenment. Wanting to achieve some attainment can stop us from perceiving the Empty Mind Ground.

The Practice of Upholding the Dharma represents our attempt to perceive the emptiness and impermanence. Our practice allows us to reach the point of Entry through principle. Different branches of Buddhism have different methods of engaging this practice. In Zen the method involves meditation but also interaction with a Zen teacher.

Altering our behavior in this way is supposed to calm our minds and bring us to a point at which we can perceive the Empty Mind Ground.

Entry through principle is a different method that Bodhidharma taught. It represents an insight into our true nature. It is a method for touching the Empty Mind Ground right now and it is difficult for us to understand on an intellectual level.

Bodhidharma said:

When conveying the tradition of enlightenment, it is understood that all beings—whether enlightened or unenlightened—share exactly the same true nature. However, the Buddha-nature is obscured by a layer of dust which prevents the ‘real’ from manifesting. Give-up delusion and return to the real by concentrating (and stilling) the mind so that it is broad, and all inclusive. Then there is no self or other, and there is no difference between a sage and an ordinary person. Firm and unmoving, there is no falling into the written teachings. This deep realization is in accord with the principle. There is no discrimination, and all is silent and non-active.

This is the most important principle of Zen, as it was taught by Bodhidharma. The enlightened state is our true nature. We have delusions that are preventing us from realizing that, but if we can get past those, then we can enter the Empty Mind Ground. This means leaving behind our delusions and our discrimination between self and other.

Bodhidharma’s message is the message of many of the Mahayana sutras, that nirvana and samsara, enlightenment and worldliness, are really one and the same. This is, in a way, a rebellion against the Theravada ideal that preceded it.

Theravada Buddhism promoted the notion that nirvana is something we are trying to attain, some special dimension of reality that we are trying to reach.

Bodhidharma’s teaching challenges Theravada Buddhism, because it takes away the idea that Enlightenment is only available to an elite few accomplished monks, and declares that it’s available to everyone, in this very moment.

As samsara and nirvana share the same essence, there is no difference. As the entry through insight and the entry through conduct share the same essence, there is no difference between them either.

Enlightenment is available to all of us, right this moment.

These two entries are the foundation of the Zen School in China.

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