Tonight we sat. We spoke a koan into the room while we sat, then we had a bit of a game.
A Chinese sage said this about the mind:
Whatever confronts you, don’t believe it.
When something appears shine your light on it.
Have confidence in the light that is always working inside you.
I don't think I had encournatered this koan before, but I can't be sure. My memory has some gaps. But I liked it and it resonated when I read it, so we shared it during our sit. After tea and our usual catch up conversations, There was a short talk about the phrases.
There seemed to be a good deal to unpack, but the features that stood out was the contrasted notions of light. Now light itself may require some interpretation. Does it mean "us" our true selves, our essence? For the purposes of the conversation, we assumed it mean attention. Awareness. Intimacy. Focus even.
So interesting that in on part, the koan describes a light that can be directed. Our light, that can be shone on something. In the way when something grabs our attention, or requires our attention. The way we consciously consider something, or notice it. I turn to this document I am reformatting, and shine my light on the task. I notice my rising frustration, boredom. I notice thoughts floating up. Some are useful, some are not. Something like that.
But the koan also describes another light - dispersed, glowing, autonomous, going where it will, working without our conscious instruction. And there is that light too. That light that works on a deeper level. It presents the obstacles to me that I stumble over until I can resolve them. It finds the help I need and presents it if I am willing to pay attention. It reminds me of things I heard and found comforting early in my practice:
Don't worry about forgotten lessons, or even not being able to recall talks you have heard. They affect your very cells on some level, and change you in ways that you don't need to be conscious to enjoy.
This moment contains everything you need.
So, we talked a bit about how the two lights had a relationship. The way that sometimes the light inside of us find a dark place, a hurt place, a place that is the cause of suffering, or a place of joy unappreciated, love, compassion and presents it to that conscious search light of our awareness. And...well, sometimes we aren't ready. For some reason, we can maintain our presence in its face. The light of our awareness moves on, slips off, creating these shadows in our mind. Dark spots. For Douglass Adams fans- Someone Elses Problem. Things we don't want to confront or deal with.
So we sat. And played a game.
Once people stilled, we were invited to watch our minds. Not focus on breathing, or a mantra, or any other techniques than just notice the thoughts, impressions and sensations as they arose. Once we noticed our mind shying from one area, we were asked not to try and see what our mind was avoiding. Instead, what was the nature of the "Do Not Trespass" sign? What techniques did our minds use to keep us out? Fear? Discomfort? Misdirection? And what was it like if we just parked ourselves infront of that barrier., without trying to solve it, or penetrate it?
We had a really rich discussion.
A: Found fear, and that his mind presented him with a wall that he couldn't penetrate. But he noted that the wall started to soften when he just sat by it, and didn't try and bridge it.
B: Noted that as he has been sitting over the years, his practice is characterized by noticing how his mind avoids certain places. That his personal growth has come from gently approaching those places
C: Noted that her mind started to run when she approached a topic it was warning her away from. She found it wouldn't settle down.
D: Noted she was drawn to darker thoughts. That for her the recommendation to not believe them was more useful
E: Noted her mind shied away, and threw a number of obstacles up.
F: Noted that his mind presented discomfort, or told him that more important things needed to be focused on, or presented more seductive thoughts when an area was approached.
All in all, a great evening and the conversation went a little late.
Its late. I am going to be seriously brief here.
I haven't been excited about Zen games in a while. Tonight was exciting. For me.
As we sat, we sat with the folloring koan:
Case 91: Yanguan’s Rhinoceros Fan
One day, Yanguan called to his attendant, “Bring me the rhinoceros fan.”
The attendant said, “It is broken.”
Yanguan said, “If the fan is broken, bring back the rhinoceros.” The attendant did not answer.
Later Touzi said, “I wouldn’t mind bringing that rhinoceros, but probably its head and horns would not be complete.”
(Xuedou: I want to see the incomplete head and horns.)
Shishuang said, “If I brought it back to you, nothing would remain for me.”
(Xuedou: That rhinoceros still exists.)
Zifu drew a circle and wrote the ideograph “ox” in it.
(Xuedou: Well done! Why didn’t you bring it out sooner?)
Baofu [on behalf of the attendant] said, “Master, you are too venerable. The task you set is too hard for me. Let someone else do that job for me.”
(Xuedou: All efforts have proved fruitless.)
So tonight, after seated meditation, we played a game. An experiment in the Zen lab.
We sat for 5 minutes or so. After we got centered and comfortable, the challenge was posed to let out attention not just drift, but search. Look for something of great value. Notice where we looked. How we knew we were getting closer. Was it inside us? Part of our thoughts? A sensation? An emption? Something else.
Once we had located that thing, we were asked to bring it forth, acknowledging that those words were vague, but that we could trust we knew what they meant. And then we sat with that. That move. That emphasis. Whatever it was.
Then we were asked to suppress that thing of great value. To reject it, push it away, avoid it, turn it off.
Finally, we were asked to just let it be. Does it sink? Float? Shine? Dim? Can we find it? Is it lost?
Then we chatted. One person talked about his middle finger- a rejection of forms and authority and limitations. How central that was. And another his job search. Another a sensation of compassion, and closeness. Another how it went to his thoughts, but settled in a vague sense of personal energy. And another in the way his mind twisted and searched.
We noted how we all knew when we found it. And when we did, we felt somewhat complete. Some discussion was around how cold and distant it felt to suppress it and that bringing it forth meant melding with it, so that we were without distinction.
And we had a great conversation following that. About a Rhino fan, about how the teacher was just asking the attendant to confront his fears that he was broken, and really just asking that he recognize himself, as he was, as a thing of great value- whether incomplete, or in pieces or what.
And we talked about how kids would know what to do with this koan and how to bring a rhinoceros and that somehow along the way we had forgotten. And we talked about how the notion that that thing of great value is other than you can hurt. And how bringing a rhinocerous is not something you can prepare for. That each bringing forth is special and unique and without precedent to rely on.
Last night, while we sat, we sat with Case 76 of the Blue Cliff Record : Tanxia’s Eating Rice
Koan: The Sieve
This koan was recently used at our winter retreat. We will sit with it and dicussion 2/4/15. Feel free to comment here:
A group of people had a meditation salon and used to meet and discuss koans. Then they invited a meditation teacher to come and instruct them. He told them that they could have a regular meditation practice, develop a feeling of tender and appreciation for everything alive, and not be so caught up in their reactions to things. He explained meditation in this way: “Realize the single light that runs through all things. Realize this wherever you are and whatever you are doing so meditation becomes seamless. It’s not hard. Fill a sieve with water.” Then he left.
The people in the group meditated with these instructions and the image of the sieve filling with water. Their lives changed and they were happier and less troubled by their thoughts. Gradually they lost interest in the sieve. But there was one woman who was so deeply touched by the image that it wouldn’t leave her. Her whole being felt charged and alive. She was aware of an intensity in her mind, as if something were trying to be born.
She traveled to see the teacher and told him that she wanted to know about the sieve. She stayed overnight and in the they went for a walk. They passed through the kitchen on the way and picked up a sieve. They went down to the beach, it was a calm morning, the small waves ran up on the sand and ran back. He handed her the sieve and she knelt down and scooped water in with her hand. The bottom of the sieve glistened, but she couldn’t understand.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
He took the sieve and threw it out into the sea. At that moment her heart opened.
In our practice. we sit on cushions. We sit still, and we bring our attention to various things. That is not all we do, but its a central part of what our practice is made of. When I began sitting some ten years ago, I was tortured by the notion that limitations in focus and attention were holding my practice back. I held on to a fantasy that those would increase in time, and perhaps they have, but I notice I still carry a story that my concentrations isn't good enough. And, like any good human, I punished myself for failures at this.
I think I come by that honestly. If you sit in Zen circles, you will hear the myth of Bodhidarma, the gentleman who reportedly walked from India to China and brought buddhism East. He was reputed to have sat in a cave for 8 years, staring at a wall, until he awakened. This story smacks of machismo horseshit to me (was there a toilet? Didn't he eat?), but none the less, it clearly points the listener to correlate motionless attention with good practice and awakening. And lord knows the culture of Zen seems littered with images of men and women, sitting motionless, hour after hour, minds calm as a placid lake. Staring at candle flames. Knowing only Mu. Following their breath. Its a story, but its a story with some serious marketing power behind it, and I am a buyer whether I want to be or not.
Then there is the concept of Joriki - force of concentration. The fact its a thing, and a thing that is highlighted, leads me to the conclusion that great and long attention is recommended for a good proactive. Attention is an interesting thing too in and of itself. Its a practice of intimacy with a moment, but its also a physical thing. Best I understand, its processed in the pre-frontal cortex, and relies on dopamine to potentiate it. Without sufficient dopamine, we experience inattention and insensitivity. And here is another thing- some people, through the vagaries of genetics, are naturally predisposed toward it. They have more sensitive receptors, a better transport system, or manufacture more of the hormone. Others, through the same DNA couplings, end up with naturally short attention spans and a tendency toward racing thoughts and boredom. Well- WTF? Sucks if you are on the short end of that, right? Does that mean you practice is ever going to be inferior? Should we give up? Are all the Zen masters we know just people who are gifted in attention to begin with? Does one need to overcome this deficiency? Do we just throw ourselves at the wall of focused attention, resigned to failure? Does that mean those of us with a shitty attention span won't find enlightenment?
Weeeeeellllll, deep breat.
I doubt it, and if Zen were a gate through which only long attentioned people could walk, then its not really for me and to hell with that anyway. There are other images and examples available. One I like is, the story of the practitioner who, questioning if his own resolve was enough, approached Huang Po to ask him how long he sat - hoping to take inspiration from the great master. At the question, Huang Po lept up, stamped on his cushion, spun and left the room. The practioner was aghast- had he insulted the master? Perhaps Huang Po was furious for having wasted his time and taken him away from his own silent sitting. So he returned to the hall, doubled his efforts, but after a week was so miserable that he dared return and ask for another interview. He waited in Huang Po's room, and waited, and waited for the Master to return. Finally, thinking he would never get his answer, he looked at Hung Pos cushion and noted the outline of Hung Po's massive foot. Get it? Huang Po hadn't sat there in a week. Perhaps he didn't sit at all. A former teacher of mine once confided that despite 6 years in a monastery, he didn't care for zazen at all, and didn't sit much outside weekly practice.
So, we sat. We sat with the following Koan:
Jingqing asked a monk, “What is that sound outside?”
“Dripping rain,” replied the monk.
Jingqing said, “Ordinary people are upside down, falling into delusion about themselves, and pursuing things outside themselves.”
“What about yourself?” asked the monk.
Jingqing said, “I am on the brink of falling into delusion about myself.”
The monk asked, “What do you mean, on the brink of falling into delusion about yourself?”
Jingqing said, “To attain the world of emptiness may not be so difficult, but to express the bare substance is hard.”
Then we played a game. The game investigated whether there are different types, flavors, or attention, and how do they feel and do we find an affinity for one over the other?
So we sat. About 15 minutes I would guess. For the first 5 minutes, everyone was instructed to find a single point of focus and to determinedly remain there - the light of the candle, a mantra, the feeling of our breath, a count, a place in our bodies. To exclude other thoughts and awareness, and return our attention, again and again, to our single point.
After five minutes, we were instructed to broaden that attention, as much as possible, until we were aware of our bodies, all the sounds, our thoughts and anything else in our awareness and to keep letting it in. When we found ourselves captured by one thought, or or thing, just relax our attention to let it open up further and further.
For the last five minutes, we were invited to let our mind notice whatever it noticed, and when we noticed it noticing, to hyperfocus there on that thing until there was no separation whatsoever. And when that faded, let it fade, let our attentions wander until we noticed noticing again.
So, there are three ways to pay attention. People noted that the first made them feel calm and quiet, but over time, it felt rigid and cold. Interestingly, some people for whom this was their primary practice, noticed that it felt restrictive. The broader attention, people noticed how free they felt, how open. Some even had an affinity for the latter - saying how completely they could feel a thing. How unseperate.
so, I guess the point was that despite our stories, we are sufficient the way we are. It is not about fitting ourselves to our practice, but fitting our practice to our aspirations. Noticing who we are, and how our minds and bodies pass through this world and kindly accepting that, beginning our practice from that place. We can find confidence what whatever we can bring, is enough. Not just enough, but its the right step on our patch. And no matter what we think Zen has to look like, what meditation has to look like, we are wrong. Its infinite in its possibilities.
Tonight's game followed this koan:
Case 53: Baizhang’s Wild Duck
Great Master Ma and Baizhang were taking a walk and saw a wild duck flying by.
“What is that?” asked the Great Master. “A wild duck,” said Baizhang. “Where did it go?” asked the Great Master. “It flew away,“ answered Baizhang. The Great Master twisted Baizhang’s nose and Baizhang cried out in pain. “Why, it didn’t fly away,“ said the Great Master.
We sat and our attention was drawn to a baseball placed on the alter. An old, beaten piece of leather, with infield dirt darkening the shere and threads standing up from the stiches. It was passed from person to person in silence. We were all asked to know how we knew that baseball was real. To feel the texture of its reality. People would smell the ball, grasp it, toss it, roll it in their hands. We were asked to place our attention on the ball even when it wasn't in our hands, and to notice our connection to it even then. The ball was passed around again, this time we were instructed to forget that it was a baseball. That there was such thing as a baseball. That there was a word for ball. To just encounter it as if it was the first moment of reality, before names. And to find the ball. Around it went again. Then we discussed what we noticed:
We could notice dynamically how our minds rattled on an endless narrative about the ball, about who was holding it, about what it was supposed to be doing. One person explained how it was when the ball was being transferred from person to person that it seemed most "real". That when it was thrown in the air that there was a moment of pure silence and immediacy. One person noted how he had played baseball his whole life and how the notion of letting go of the word and concept of a ball was so difficult. Another person noted how it was never the sight of the ball that made it feel real, but the smell, the texture. Another person noted how the ball seemed real when it did what was expected- when squeezed it was firm, when thrown it came back to earth.
Finally, we placed the ball back on the alter to a final sit. People were asked to place their attention on the ball. After a minute, the ball was carried out of the room. We were asked where the ball had gone...had it gone anywhere at all? The ball had not gone away, where was it?
Tonight was about getting intamate with the subjective nature of reality. Not questioning it as much as familiarizing ourselves with it. It was a lovely evening. Thank you to all.
Tonight, we played a game. It was a game about one of the sources of suffering - seperatness.
As we sat, there was a koan:
The high official Wang visited Zhaoqing Temple and was offered tea. The young monk Lang served him, with Mingzhao. When Lang took up the kettle, he let it fall over the tea hearth. Seeing this, the official asked Lang, “What is there, under the hearth?”
“The hearth deities,” replied Lang.
“They are deities holding up the hearth,” said the official. “Why did they upset the kettle?”
Lang said, “Even a high official may make a mistake in a thousand days of official service.” The high official flourished his sleeve and went out.
Mingzhao said, “Lang, you get your livelihood as a monk in this temple, but you only chatter idly.”
Lang said, “What would you have said?”
Mingzhao said, “The non-human beings created a vigorous action.”
(Xuedou: If I were there, I would have upset the tea hearth!)
Except we didn't just do it like that, we did it like this:
There was once a rural monastary which has the honor of hosting both a local visiting official looking for respite and retreat, and a visiting teacher. A young monk named Lang was selected to serve the august gentlemen tea as they spoke.
Reaching for the pot, it tumbled from the hearth where it was stepping and poured over the ground. The official teased Lang- "What was under that pot?". "A tripod" answered Lang. "Tripods are the most stable thing in the world, what disrupted the pot?"
Lang snapped back- "You know even high officials make mistakes from time to time!" The offical got up and excused himself.
The teacher commented to Lang "Well now, here you are living at a monastary and you miss a chance to practice?" "what would you have said?" asked Lang"
"I would have said 'that tripod has gotten unruly'".
What a kind thing to say to Lang. To invite in the possibilty that it wasn't a disaster. That the cause of Lang's embarrasement was just an attachement to the belief that tes service was going to go one way. And I get it. I mean, Lang was a Zen monk, and tea seervice and attention to detail is supposed to be in his wheel house. So I have been Lang, over and over, clutching some assumptions about how everything was supposed to go and letting that certainty prevent the possibility that they went perfectly. Certainly the official sisn't seem steamed.
But there is also this thing that this koan elicits from me about the notion of other. Because as we walked after the meditation, the question was asked, "The tea pot spilled from the hearth, whose fault is it?". And there is this thing for me that if you allow, even for a moment, that the tea pot, the hearth and Lang are not seperate, that they are one being, then where is fault? Where is cause? Isn't it just this? Just spilled? Just on the ground?
So we played a game. We sat and a bell was rung (note the careful use of the passive voice? Note also the distant sound of my high school english teacher screaming). As the group sat, they were asked to find the cetner of them self. That place of stability from which "I"originated. Was it in our heads? Behind our eyes? In our belly? And once we had that, to move our attention outward. To our face. to our chest and shoulders. To out hands an feet. Could we find our selves there? Was that also "us"?
And now move your attention still further. Your clothes. Your socks. Your hair. Is this still you? And what about your cushion? Your pillow? The floor your feet rest on? Can you notice your self there?
Continue onwards until you find that boundary between your sefl and other. And let your attention rest there. How do you know its other? What do you know about what lies on the other side? How does it feel to have an end? Calming? Anxious?
And then come back in, rolling your awareness into the room, onto the floor, onto the cushion, into your body, back to that center of self...and now go deeper. Trace the roots back to the very kernal of self.
The bell was rung and we discussed. Because that is what we do.
A: noticed how at first, even extended, there didn't seem to be a place where he wanted to believe he was feeling seperate. until he got to another meditator. And wondering what he was thinking, he noticed the feeling of seperation. And running it back in, there was not center, no origin of "self" except when he noticed quick flashes of reactive stories about whether he was doing it right, there in that split second of shame and doubt, he wondered it that felt more like self that other things.
B: Had a visual experience, almost feeling she was at the end of a long long hallway when expanding out her awrenss and self. And there were mirrors all down the row, reflecting her back. And when she was asked to find the self, the mirrors went blank.
C: Hadn's sat much previously and noticed how rich the terrain was.
D: His awarenss caught on his hands, and he spent the time wondering if those could be him? Or were they not him? And if not, did self stop at the wrists?...
E: noticed how his attmpts to find an other made him think of a co-worker, a older gentleman who he did not know well. But then he recalled about how he had recently had the occasion to work more iwth him, and the more he got to know him, the less sure he felt that this man was other.
F: Noticed how she was consumed with what was in front of her. That she wanted to feel connected further, but didn't. And how that felt small, and tight.
G: Noticed a blankness inside.
H: Enjoyed the excersize and really was moved by the lack of self at the core of what he had identified as "him". that the center was somehow empty, or at least centerless.
We talked for a while. Lots of good questions. What role is responsibility? If one is forgiving of one's mistakes, will one be more prone to make them? Is there another way to motvate performance? What happens if you give into your desiers instead of being accountable to other's expectations? Isn't it a long way down? If the pot and the monk and the hearth are one, is anyone at fault? Is their causation?
It was a wonderful session. thanks everyone.
Last night we had a chanting practice. Not entirely. In fact, we sat, we walked, we had tea, and we discussed chanting a bit before exploring it with our voices.
For those we had additional interest in chanting, why we chant and what some of the chants mean, Rachel Boughton left us with some good notes on that:
"We have a pretty rich liturgy, well thought out, with words that came from our various ancestral lines, rewritten by John T. and Joan S., that moved into the western musical tradition rather boldly when Richie D set it to music. Richie could sit down at a piano, or get out an accordion, and present a warm and rich dharma that way.. It was the presentational answer to the question of why did Bodhidharma come from the west. It was very cool to hear him do it, and it also pissed some people off, which was also pretty interesting. After Richie died I went to some lengths to preserve the music in a notated way that would allow us to grow the tradition from those roots. People have done some of that, taken on various parts of the musical liturgy over the last 10 years and made it work in interesting ways, including Chris L in Santa Rosa, Mark C in Pheonix, and for sesshin, me, Amy F , William Z and lots of others who joined the band.
The thing about our music/chant is that it requires some learning, and it's nice if the person leading it in musical. Chanting the heart sutra in sino-japanese with a makugyo banging away is something that's pretty easy for anyone to do, no carrying a tune is required. We have parts of our liturgy that are more that way, but mostly there's a bit of a learning curve. [...]
I think a westernized musical liturgy does cool things, it brings some element of heart, of feeling into our practice. I'm a pretty thinky-type person, but I like what happens in the room when we sing, and it appeals to all sorts of people (although not everyone). I think it helps the tradition to speak more broadly and feel more inclusive. I think it does that better than an asian style chanting tradition which can make people feel alienated. I like it when regular people with no particlular experience of zen can feel at ease with our rituals.
I'm always glad to work with people on making the liturgy their own, too. Just ask me (or Amy F). There are also materials like recordings of different people singing the chants, (Richie and me and a few services with Amy at sesshin) as well as musical notation and guitar chords.
Short Comments on the Pacific Zen Institute Sutra Service
This is essentially a confession but not to an outside entity. We are entering the world of form and suffering and also realizing the essential purity of emptiness as the nature of all things. Karma is empty and essential nature is pure from the very beginning.
REFUGE is derived from the Dhammapada, which is a collection of verses thought to have been spoken by the Buddha. The Three Refuges (Enlightenment, the Path and All Beings), along with the 3 Pure precepts (avoid all evil, practice all good and save the many beings) and the 10 Grave precepts make up the 16 Bodhisattva Precepts of Jukai and ordination.
SHO SAI MY KICHIJO DHARANI is an ode to Lakshmi (Japanese: Kichijo-ten), the Hindu goddess of light, wisdom and fortune. The word Dharani is from a Sanskrit word that means to hold or maintain and are thought to be a mnemonic device to summarize the meaning of a sutra or series of sutras in Zen. The Sho Sai Myo is traditionally recited three times after the heart sutra to “remove disasters” Translation is not very satisfactory since it is essentially a transliteration of a Chinese transliteration of something that was originally in Sanskrit. The sound of the words becomes the meaning as it does in many chant traditions. A dharani is considered to have magical power or deep meaning. When it is spoken, the evil spirits that are near are prevented form interfering with the effect of the ritual. It is made of invocations to a higher power and exclamations to scare off the evil spirits.
THE HEART SUTRA was probably written in the first century C.E. in the area surrounding the Hindu Kush, in what is now Afghanistan, Pakistan and Northern India. The word heart refers to its place at the core of Buddhist teachings. The word sutra has come to designate scripture or discourse, a wise saying, a teaching of the Buddha or an interpretation of those teachings.
Prajnaparamita is a compound Sanskrit word. The first half, prajna is made of two words, “pra”, which means “before,” and “jna” which means “to know.” It is often translated as “wisdom.” Paramita is a word that distinguishes this kind of wisdom as the highest form, transcendent wisdom, the wisdom that leads to enlightenment. Various translations include, “perfection,” “that which has gone beyond,” and “that which leads us to the other shore.” Prajnaparamita is also the name of the bodhisattva (enlightened being) who embodies this wisdom.
Avalokiteshvara is a name that means “one who looks down,” also translated by the Chinese as “one who looks down on the cries of the world.” This bodhisattva is said to have been able to appear in both male and female forms and in later generations became Guanyin, the bodhisattva of compassion. In this sutra Avalokiteshvara is perhaps to be seen as an incarnation of Maya, the Buddha’s mother, descended from her celestial home.
Shariputra is known as one the wisest of the Buddha’s disciples and the sutra is set up as one side of an argument. Avalokiteshvara makes the case to Shariputra for crossing beyond suffering into the emptiness at the heart of the universe.
Avalokiteshvara, sitting in deep meditation, has seen through to the emptiness that is the nature of all things. Her explanation starts with the emptiness of the five skandhas (the ways we experience reality) and goes through all categories of phenomena that seem to exist separately from one another. In the end, she presents a mantra, or incantation, as a practice of this transcendent wisdom.
Many thanks to Red Pine, author of The Heart Sutra: Translation and Commentary (Shoemaker and Hoard, 2004), one of the best sources of insight and information about the Heart Sutra.
DEDICATION and ALL BUDDHAS
This is called Ekomon or Punya in Sanskrit. This is traditionally a verse for transferring the merit gained by chanting the sutras to ancestors or others in need. Merit is an interesting concept. One gains merit toward a favorable rebirth, according to some sutras, through generosity, calm or virtue, and developing the mind. Some of this merit may be given away (1/7th to be exact). The dedications sung at Pacific Zen Institute tie in to forms in the Hebrew and Christian as well as the Buddhist traditions. The All Buddhas extends the return of the auspicious power all the way back to the great beings and to the personification of the heart of wisdom practice, Prajnaparamita.
THE KANZEON SUTRA OF ENDLESS LIFE
Although it functions like a dharani, with the words essentially powerful ritual sounds like a mantra, this piece is relatively easy to translate. This version has the English translation of the Japanese transliteration in the middle section.
“Enmei” means “prolonging life.” reciting this sutra is said to ensure health for the one who chants it as well as for the rest of the world. The celestial being referred to here was known as Avalokiteshvara in Sanskrit. In Japanese there are different versions of her name including Kannon, Kwannon, and Kanzeon. In Chinese she’s called Kuan Yin or Kuan-shih yin. She is the one who hears or hears and sees the things of the world and is a personification of compassion.
THE FOUR VOWS are recited in all Mahayana sanctuaries at the close of ceremonies. This chant is based line by line on the 4 Noble Truths of the Buddha (1. Life is suffering, 2. There is a cause of suffering 3. There is a path out of suffering 4. The path out of suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path)"
When new people arrive at Wind-in-Grass, occasionally they arrive without any experience in meditation. Sometimes they arrive without any idea where to start and ask for direction. Which is hard for me. Because I can tell them what I do, but I can't say for sure if that works for me because it works, or because I did other things as a foundation before.
I think about this a lot. I take very seriously my vow to save all beings, and for me, running Wind-in-Grass is how I embody that. At least in part. I want to figure out hot to boil down a practice which proceeds and exceeds thought into instructions, but its not easy. Largely I do my best and hope people decide to do their best in which case I know the practice will carry them. But here is an attempt:
Our practice, my practice, is about listening and hearing. More precisely when I sit on a meditation cushion, or when I do the things I consider my meditation practice, what I am doing is actively building my ability to listen to more aspects of my life, and to listen more regularly, and at deeper levels. While it might sound like the same thing, what I also find is that its an important part of what I do while meditating to actively build the courage, tolerance, and willingness to hear and accept what comes back and to do that without judgment where I can. Much of the positive feedback from this comes from experience.
Maybe this sounds underwhelming to you. Its changed my life and improved the lives of our group members. I find I enjoy life more. I savor more and more of the events and enjoy them more deeply- sunsets, sunrises, good cigars, walks, talks with friends, arguments with colleagues, walks home, drives to the beach. etc. I find miss less of it, because I am paying attention and this makes my life feel longer. Previously I would rush through the unpleasant, or had such an underdeveloped ability to hear clearly what people were saying and what I was feeling that I misinterpreted or glossed over important things. I find that I know a lot more about me, and that I like those things, or at least find them forgivable. This makes me appreciate things in people I previously thought of as flaws. So I guess I am more tolerant. I get angry less, and when I do, its not confused pointless anger that hurts. It flares up, and then burns away quickly. Sometimes anger is a completely reasonable response to an experience. I hesitate to say I am wiser, but I am more confident in my decision making. Somehow accepting the unknowability of things makes it easier for the right decision to just step forward. This leads to less agitation and better decision making.
So, how do I do this? I guess I just start by paying attention to something. It has been argued you can use anything. When I started sitting, I used my breath as that reference point. I spent hours watching it come and go, and counting these breaths. I don't know that I would recommend this. On one hand, it built up my ability to focus, i.e. paying attention, but it also seemed to reinforce that I should be excluding things I didn't want to deal with. That happiness was a result of avoiding the unpleasant. I got better a that avoidance, and I don't do this anymore. So now, I just see what I notice. I start anywhere. Life usually chooses for me. Sometimes it is a joint ache. Sometimes, its a thought. Sometimes an emotion. Sometimes its whatever I see in front of me. Sometimes it is noticing how I don't want to meditate. And I trust that that is a fine point of entry. And I just notice it. And if I am bored, then I notice that. And when my mind strays, I notice that. And if I am pissed it wandered off, I notice that. This goes on and on. I got better at it.
The other side is allowing it in. There is this ability to listen for, or to something. It means I am looking for something, but results in me often missing what I was there. Like that test where you are asked to count how many times the white and black shirt players pass a ball and miss the Gorilla. I don't want to miss the gorilla. This requires that as I can tolerate it, I am honest about what I am seeing or hearing or experiencing. This is a big deal, and it doesn't happen over night. I practiced it and I got better at it. Over time, there was less and less shame, less and less ignoring, less and less clinging to what I wanted to be true. More gorillas.
We use koans at PZI. They are helpful stories. I don't think they are magic in and of themselves. They have simply proved useful to a lot of people who have done this before me. So they are good reference points. They are also vetted for their ability to shortcut that awareness process, to help us see the important things. So I sit with them. What that means is that from time to time I remember I am working on a koan. When I do, I will try and see what bit I remember of that stands out to me. Then I usually ask why this resonates with me- what this might be in my life right now.
That's pretty much it. I am sorry if you want me to tell you there is a magic slogan that makes everything better. There isn't. There is no silver bullet to happiness. Its work, and sometimes hard work. But like training for a bike ride, there are tips and methods that are more effective than others. This one is 2,500 years old, and it worked for a whole s&*^ ton of people, so, well, think about that.
Do I pray to Buddha? No. Do I chant mantras? No. Do I do guided visualization? Sometimes, but even then I am trying to bring more awareness to it. I light incense from time to time because I like lighting things on fire. Same goes for candles. I do bow. I like it. I can't say way, but it makes a moment special.
Tonight we played a game. but first we sat. As we sat, this koan was spoken into the room:
Yunmen said, “You come and go by daylight, you make people out by daylight. But suddenly it’s midnight and there’s no sun, no moon, no lamp. If it’s a place you’ve been to, then of course it might be possible, but if it’s a place you’ve never been, how will you get hold of something?
The koan called out to me during a recent job change decision. It wasn't easy and there wasn't a point of reference that I recognized. At first, there was nothing but anxiety coming from the decision. The stories spooled our, pouring over into variation of, I don't know what I am doing, I wish I knew which path tot ake, I am going to make the wrong decision. But then it settled in the joy that was this new place. This dark place. This novel place, where I was stripped from my illusions that I had control over the outcomes of life, or that I knew what was going to happen. I felt around in the dark and trusted to my grasping. Zen seems that way to me. A way of endless first steps in a new direction, one after another.
The game seemed obvious. We turned out the lights. All of them. And we stood, because at this point the cushion is type of story too, about how meditation will go and who we are. So we wanted something novel, unfamiliar, dark. We stood on the cushions in the dark. We were invited to notice how our bodies reached out to get a hold of something. Then the clappers were, er, clapped, and we were instructed to follow the person to our left. And we walked, kinhin, in the pitch dark. then we sat again. In the dark with just the altar candle.
It was wonderful how freeing the dark was. How we had to do it all over. How voices floated in without reference to face or person and we just met them there. Many people mentioned how their initial reaction was disorientation. Panic a bit. How the tensed. but how, after flailing a bit, they started to adapt. To feel there way. Many people mentioned how their minds were much quieter in the unfamiliar. Consistently people reported a freedom in their practice, in their way of being.
People liked the dark. It makes sense. It is us accepting that we don't know, that we can't really see tomorrow, or
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
Get posts as they are published:
What We Read