We are in the business of transforming minds. Tonight's game centered on playing with, and comparing, some of the tools that have been found useful to different groups at different times.
Instead of our usual 25 minute sit, tonight we sat for 40.
After the bell died away, I asked the group to focus their attention on their breath. To count their exhalations, from 1-10, and whenever they noticed that they had lost count, to return to one without preference and begin counting again (previously I had explained that in some zen sects and group this was a common beginning instruction and most people, from time to time at least, enjoyed the simplicity of breath counting, but that we view it as another crutch that will have to be abandoned in time).
We sat like that for 10 minutes, after-which I asked everyone to maintain their attention on their breath, but this time to count in INhalations. After 10 minutes had passed, we sat shiken-taza, which I tried to explain as letting your mind become open and spacious, to notice thoughts and breathing, the temperature and sounds, but to open the hand of thought and let each pass away as it arose.
Then we sat for 10 minutes with Santoka's Stone koan: A stone, wet with rain, points the way. I asked that we all trust that our minds were doing the right thing, and that the koan was doing the right thing, and that we notice how they played together.
Finally, we stood and walked in walking meditation- kinhin - for about ten minutes; then we sat and had tea. I asked what people noticed about the different methodologies:
A: Said that he noticed how counting his breaths made it easier to focus, but how he enjoyed the openness of shiken-taza. He noted that the koan got him thinking again. Solving. He reported that it kind of "stressed him out" after a long day of work.
B: Noted that he had the opposite reaction to the koan. In his case, the koan quieted down his mind. That he started thinking about it, but then just opened up.
C: Noted how he enjoyed the return to breath counting, as a part of his practice he had long ago left behind. He said he liked the simplicity of it, that he knew he had a very limited job. He noticed a peace and a willingness in the shikentaza. And in the koan, a sense of excitement after a momentary reflex of "this is a test".
D: Noticed how the inhalations were more difficult. She attributed this to a tendency to speak the words in her head and that it was hard to do so while inhaling. She noted that she just counted the entire breath. Many nods came with that. She said with some pleasure that she must be getting better at koans, because right away she went "ok, be a rock". But she said that she wasn't sure if she should think about it or not.
E: Noted that the breathing practice was not, as he had presumed, more relaxing. It kept him constantly correcting himself and reprimanding himself for wandering off. He noticed how open and relaxing the shiken-taza was, and how he was not sure if he was doing or not doing. In comparison, he noted how with the koan he was not sure if he should be thinking, or not thinking, and that he kept going back and forth.
Finally, what did we notice about the koan? (amazing great discussion):
A: He almost could see a large open plain, and in it many stones, small dark ones, all dry but one. That one was him he figured. He had a special draw to it.
B: Said that right away he felt...well, the stone points in all directions, simultaneously, thus the Way must be in any direction in which we move. Later he noticed that the wetness had never made it into his awareness. When asked what it was to him, he said, "externalities". People, family, work. How it moves around you, but does not affect the stone.
C: Talked about how the stone was him, and that the wetness of emotions, made it glisten and show its amazing brilliance of color and form. He said, that if the stone was him, that it was always pointing the Way, because the way was him.
D: Noted how she caught on pointing...how can a stone point, but that she felt the rain and it covered her as the stone. She noted a sense of solidity and of perfectness and ordinariness about the stone.
E: Said he felt the rain falling on the stone, and falling and falling. That the stone was solid and got wet, but never saturated. He said for him, the rain drops were thoughts. Then, having a lot of thoughts lately, he saw the rain keep falling an falling and worried if the stone would drown, or if it could point the way as it was covered by the rain. He knew the stone at the bottom of a raging torrent or rainwater, still a stone, still pointing the way. Later, he noticed feeling the rain falling out of him.
It was a great evening. I think we really got deep into the koan and everyone was amazing perfect buddhas. As always, I learned so much from each of you.
“A Course on Koans” is the delusion-riddled work of Chris Kufu (“Wind in the Void”) Wilson, who began practicing Zen in 1967. He regards Taizan Maezumi, Robert Aitken, and David Weinstein as his root teachers. Each of them pecked at his shell until he “completed” the never-ending koan curriculum of the Harada-Yasutani lineage.
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