Tonight we played a game. Several actually. Or one with many parts.
This is the part where I just get on with it.
I gave a little background for the game. You see, we sit every week and though I am not a teacher and have a relatively difficult time telling my Zen ass from a hole in the ground, because I ring the bell and light the candle, people new to meditation sometimes think I must be a good person to ask about what to do when they sit.
For a time, I had some good answers. I used to have lots of great answers and clever things to say about zen practice. Practice and time have absolved me of such notions, and now I am rather invariably tongue tied and nonsensical when I try and describe my practice. I apologize to everyone. Its not some cute zen thing, I just sincerely don't know.
But what I decided was that maybe I didn't know the answer to that question, or at the least the question, "what do I do when I sit?" So, as I told people tonight, recently I experimented.
What I told people was that one of the foundations of any meditation practice, is paying attention, noticing, and then, when your mind wanders off, returning it to noticing. Different practices will give you different things to return to. Breath, counting, mantras, visualization, body scans, relaxation, scripts- hell this moment. And thought I do agree with John Tarrant that this can be like giving training wheels to people- initially helpful but ultimately false and perhaps slowing balancing on their own two metaphysical tires- I acknowledged that checking in with this approach was interesting for me. So we sat, and I encouraged people to find something ot return to. About 20 minutes into the sit, this was spoken into the room as "a story about our practice":
Once upon a time there was a young man who was deeply unhappy. He had many good things in his life but they didn’t help. When he was at the end of his tether he heard about a teacher who was supposed to be good with hopeless cases and he made the journey to see her.
“I am very unhappy,” he said. “I’m too restless to sit still and do a spiritual practice and I’m too selfish to practice compassion and service. I reach for what I want but when I get it, I’m not happy, and I’m always looking out for the next thing. I don’t have a clue where to turn. But I’m told that you deal with hopeless cases so perhaps you can help me. You are my last resort.”
“I’m glad you came,” she said. “I might be able to help but you will have to agree to do what I ask.”
“Why don’t you tell me?” he said “and I’ll decide if it will work for me.”
“Oh no,” she said, “The deal is that you agree to do what I say and then I tell you what you must do. There is no other way.”
He hemmed and hawed and went back and forth and finally surrendered and said, “OK I’ll do it, but I won’t do it forever.”
So she said, “Try it for a year and let me know.”
She said nothing.
“OK,” he said, “Give it to me.”
“I’ll give you the practice I do myself. Whenever anything appears in my mind or appears in the world, I say ‘Thank you very much I have no complaints whatsoever.”
“That’s all? That’s it? That’ll never work for me!”
“You agreed. For a year. Off you go now. Thank you very much I have no complaints whatsoever.”
So he left and she more or less forgot about him.
Then a year passed and he asked for an interview and arrived in her room.
“It’s as I suspected, I knew it would never work for me, I’m still just as unhappy and selfish as I ever was.”
Immediately she said, “Thank you very much I have no complaints whatsoever.”
With her words, he felt an eruption in his chest and began to laugh and immediately understood what she meant and laughed and laughed and laughed and his happiness didn’t subside though it did become quieter after some months. “Thank you very much,” he told people, “I have no complaints whatsoever.”
We walked, people we asked to return their attention to the walking, one step identical to the one preceding it and completely different.
Afterwards, we discussed our experience with this. The reactions were varied. Regrettably, its really late right now and I am not going to write them out.
So then I gave this- Zen, in my experience, is a step beyond mere mindfulness. Its something mystical. It opens up for me awareness of my connectedness with all beings. With the emptiness of forms. With leaps and bounds and dissolution.
The bell was wrung and everyone sat again. They were asked to return to their previous practice, but this time, to find the source of that noticing. Reach out, climb the roots of awareness down as far as we could go and further. Find the origins or our awareness.
Just before we broke, people where told "here is a story about this bit":
Someone asked a teacher: Before the seed has germniated and sprouted above the soil, what do you call the rose bush?
And after it has sprouted and bloomed?
(The original uses lotus flowers. I have seen pictures of lotus flowers. I have never seen a lotus in person. I have seen roses. In fact, we had some on the altar. So bite me eastern mysticism).
So holy shit. It was really significant.
A: Noticed how the parts were not at all connected. That they seemed to float in bursts, independant of each other. That there was no sense of Me or self. That there was oneness with bird, water, etc.
B: Noticed a stillness for the longest he has ever felt it before. Stretching on for seconds.
C: Heard the water in the pipes above us and was racing down the pipes with them. She wanted to shake, until her skin and bones gave up and she could leave this skin bag.
D: Felt a discomfort wanting to leave the idntification with self, but felt mired in her head.
F: Felt like the volume got turned up
G: Felt long silence, and stillness
H: Felt centered right in the middle of her belly
I: Birds. All he could he and feel and hear was birds.
J: An anxiousness. even though her previous practice was noticing the connectedness to others, jumping in with both feet caused her conscious to seize up.
K: Like a childhood wonderland, just tromping around inside, trying to look and see where thoughts come from, and where the self is hiding, or not hiding, or not there.
H: Birds. Sounds and sights. This kind creeped people out. What was it with all the birds?
Last Wednesday Steven Grant gave a talk at Wind in Grass. Here is the text of his story, both the koan version and the fuller, narrative version:
Book of Serenity Case 86: Linji’s Great Enlightenment
Linji asked Huangbo, “What is the clearly manifested essence of the
buddhadharma?” Huangbo hit him. This happened three times.
Linji then took his leave and went to see Dayu. Dayu asked, “Where
have you come from?”
Linji said, “From Huangbo.”
"What did Huangbo have to say?”
“I asked him three times, ‘What is the clearly manifested essence of
Buddhadharma?’ and I got his stick three times. I don’t know if I was
in error or not.”
“Huangbo was such an old grandmother; he completely exhausted himself for
your sake. Then you come here and ask if you were in error or not.”
With these words, Linji had great enlightenment.
Lin chi came to Huangpo and for three years he just sat in the
assembly and he never even
asked for an interview. He just sat and followed along. He did
everything with a very soft, fluid mind. He didn't resist or push
himself forward or hold back. He just followed the circumstances and
he was considered to be unusual. Wansong says: `
It seems to me that Huangpo could hardly have allowed people not to
ask about things, yet Lin chi was there for three years, and he was
allowed not to ask about things. This was because his capacity was so
unusual and he was different.
After three years the head of the temple, Muzhou, said, "Why don't you
go and ask something of the teacher?"
Lin chi said, "I don't know what to ask." (I don't know.)
The head of the temple said, "Why don't you ask him what is the true
essential great meaning of Buddha's teaching?"
So he said, "Okay, I'll do it." He went along and said, "What's the
true essential great meaning of Buddha's teaching?", and Huangpo hit
him. He went back again and asked the same question, and he didn't
understand. So Huangpo hit him again, and a third time and he hit him
Lin chi went to the head monk and said, "I do not understand Huangpo's
teaching. My karma, perhaps, does not belong to this place. I think
I probably should leave and go and study at another temple."
Muzhou said, "That's okay, but go and see the teacher before you
leave." Muzhou went and told Huangpo, "This person has some ability
and he's planning to leave. I just thought I'd let you know."
Lin chi comes into Huangpo who says, "Why don't you go to Dayu?", who
was a teacher down the road. XLin chi says, "All right. If you
tell me, I'll do it." He'll do anything for the dharma, and he goes to
Dayu says, "Where have you come from?"
He says, "from Huangpo."
Dayu says, "What did Huangpo say?"
Lin chi says, "Three times I asked about the truly essential great
meaning of the buddhist teaching, and three times he hit me with a
stick. I don't know if I was at fault or not."
Dayu said, "Huangpo was as kind as a grandmother. He did his utmost
for you, and still you come and ask me if there is any fault or not!?"
Lin chi was greatly enlightened at these words. Immediately after
that he said, "Oh, there's nothing much to Huangpo's Buddhism after
Dayu said, "You bedwetting devil! You just asked if you had any error
or not, and now you say there's not much to Huangpo's Buddhism? How
much is this?", and he grabbed him and said, "Speak! Speak!"
Lin chi hit him three times.
Dayu let him go and said, "I think your teacher must be Huangpo. It's
got nothing to do with me." He sent him back.
Lin chi came back to Huangpo, and Huangpo said, "Coming and going over
and over. When will it ever end?"
Lin chi said, "It's just because you are so kind." Then he told the
story of what happened. Huangpo said, "Dayu's too talkative. Wait til
I see him. I'll hit him myself."
Lin chi said, "Why talk about waiting to see him? How about right
now?", and he hit his teacher.
Huangpo laughed, "This lunatic comes in to grab the tiger's whiskers."
Lin chi shouted, "Ha!"
Huangpo said, "Attendant take this madman into the meditation hall."
That's Lin chi's story.
Steven asked everyone to sit with thanks for someone who had cared for them in the past. As we walked, he asked us to thank the person who cut the boards for the flooring we walked on, the people who installed the windows that let the light in, the bus driver who got us here, the crews that laid the road, the weaver who made the altar cloth, etc...
This blog collects the poorly edited ramblings of urban zen students, finding the teacher underfoot. We will type until someone tells us to stop. We hope you learn from our mistakes
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