January 21, 2014 § Leave a comment
Though there be nothing to attain our human brains are unaccustomed to doing nothing, so we often end up sitting in practice looking for something to accomplish. Ironically, it is this seeking that needs to end if our practice is to be true.
Seeking can take many forms such as trying to grasp some subtle object of contemplation or have some uplifting experience. Less obvious is imagining there is some state where we have no problems and are totally at peace. Another that often goes unnoticed is using our practice to reinforce the stories we’ve been telling our selves, rather than seeing them as just stories.
Often these stories are used to mask or cover sensitive areas in our life. They direct our attention away from those areas which then become effective holes in the psyche.
Although some holes may be newly formed as a result of some sudden trauma, the majority were usually formed early in life. For instance, someone raised in an abusive environment may come to believe that all people are violent, so the story they tell is designed to avoid people and violence. To avoid the childhood pain another may tell a story of control, while another may place themselves in the role of a lifelong victim.
Many begin practice when their stories no longer protect them from the holes in their lives. But the life-long habit of telling these stories does not stop because practice has begun. In fact, the practice may be used to continue the story. The man who chose to avoid people, for instance, may adopt a practice that leads to meditation in isolation. The one who tells a story of control may use his or her practice to try and control painful thoughts and emotions. The victim story teller may develop a martyr complex. So the question arises, “How do I know my practice is true?”
Practice may be considered true if it brings you face to face with the holes in your life. That means becoming aware of your stories, letting them go and being willing to stand in the void that’s left.
If you’ve been telling a story that says people are inherently violent, then examine it closely and question it’s validity. Is there anyone who is actually like that around you right now? Or is that just a thought in your head that you’ve been replaying all your life?
If you’ve been telling a story that says you must maintain control, then ask what motivates your fear of losing control. Is it a real danger? Or is that danger only in your imagination?
If you’ve been telling yourself a story of victimization, then ask why you’ve placed yourself in that role? Do you believe you need to be taken care of? Do you think that asserting yourself will lead to some catastrophe? Whatever the answer, face it. Question its foundation in reality.
True practice takes a willingness to jump into holes that make you uncomfortable. It requires a leap into the unknown without any safety net to catch you. It means letting go of the boundaries that give the illusion of safety but are instead chains binding you.
True practice means following your own way until you come to the point where you see that even the self is nothing more than a story and you let it go, forgetting all about yourself. Until then, make your best effort just to continue your practice with your whole mind and body, without creating any new stories, then whatever you do will be true practice.
January 7, 2014 § Leave a comment
Many come to meditation to calm the emotions and control unruly thoughts. If the practice is allowed to deepen the realization dawns that the tide of emotions and the waves of thought never cease. The waves still lap upon the beach and the tides still cover the sand, even if there are fewer storms.
Peace of mind may then be sought through an attempt to calm the subconscious roots of the storms. Introspection and psychology then become the focus of study. For some this may be a necessary step but as the practice again deepens there comes a sense that the tree is only being pruned, leaving the roots of dissatisfaction untouched.
At this point there may be an intense study of literature that speaks of higher mind, true nature and meditation. The mind, still addicted to thinking, seeks some subtle as yet undiscovered key that will unlock the door. This may go on for years and some may die while still in the search.
One day the writing of a Sage may be found that says, “Stop the search! There is nothing to be attained.” Interestingly. This may arouse many more years of puzzling out as some other meaning is sought before the true meaning is comprehended, that there really is nothing to attain and nothing to find.
(This is actually a good thing for whatever can be attained can be lost.)
If the Sage’s words are truly understood the Seeker is faced with a dilemma. How does the search stop? And what is it that stops?
At some point another realization may dawn that from the first the Seeker was always told the search was hopeless. It was in part because of this that Siddhārtha Gautama upon becoming the Buddha, debated whether he should teach the Dharma. At about the same time Lao Tsu wrote in his Tao Te Ching that the Tao is beyond form, beyond sound and intangible. Lao Tsu therefore wrote that if you look for it, it cannot be seen. If you listen, it cannot be heard. And if you try to grasp, it cannot be held.
Though they both knew few would understand the Way both Buddha and Lao Tsu did leave a record for the Seeker to follow. Since then, others have done the same. Dogen said, “Just sit and do nothing.” Hakuin gave koans to occupy the searching mind knowing full well there was no answer to them.
Since all Sages know there is nothing to attain, they also know no method could help attain it. Still. They had faith that some would recognize the essence of “nothing to attain”. So they did their best to point the way.
If the Sages of old have done anything it was to tell the Seeker what not to do. Do not sit in meditation looking for something. Thoughts and feelings will arise but do not grasp onto them no matter how profound they may seem. Cease any effort to understand, conceptualize or feel your way through it. Ignore visions and miraculous works. Do not even hold your own self dearly but be ready to drop off mind and body.
If you let go of everything and hold onto nothing the search will stop. You will discover that all along there was nothing to attain.
January 1, 2014 § 5 Comments
As 2013 ends and 2014 begins, many of us turn our thoughts to how we can make this planet better for our family, neighbors and the succeeding generations. Daily meditation, such as that found in Buddhism and Zen, is one way that should not be overlooked.
Unfortunately, daily meditation is not always possible with today’s hectic pace where jobs and family often take up much of our time. Daily life, however, can be made the foundation of our practice if we strive to give every task our full attention. Our practice then becomes one of staying focused on what we are doing in the moment.
If you make life your daily practice the first thing you’ll notice is that we spend most of our days on automatic. We tend to think the same thoughts and behave the same way with little variation. These habitual patterns are, in fact, a form of relative unconsciousness in which we live and act through most of our life.
Staying focused counteracts the habitual unconscious state and allows you to stay in the moment and experience its joys. I still remember many of my bike rides of years past because I stayed alert to my surroundings. Images of eagles and ponds are still fresh in my mind. The feel of the rubber handles have not left me, or my body’s aches as I rode in the August heat. Later, at times when things were stressful, I would recall these moments to ease my mind.
Staying focused on the moment can create better memories but what, you may ask, of the one’s we’d rather forget. Do we really want vivid memories of pain and suffering? This question brings us back to that first posed above, “How we can make this planet better.”
Buddha told us that we all suffer and by attaining enlightenment we end suffering. What is sometimes overlooked here is that our mutual suffering connects us to each other and to our humanity. By closing to our own personal suffering we deny our humanity and prolong the global resistance to change that such denial creates.
Staying in the moment creates a common ground upon which we can see the suffering of all as our own suffering. The pain of loss is found to be the same in us as it is in any other. Grief, although expressed differently in different cultures, is the same grief we might feel. Illness we’ve known bridges us to those whose illnesses are more pronounced. Suffering in others is found to be the pain we felt, the pain we will one day feel or the pain our loved ones feel.
Staying in the moment and giving our full attention to any task at hand has the potential to open us to each other with responses that are well chosen and compassionate. We may not make the world better at the stroke of midnight. But we can add to its improvement on a daily basis by making life our daily meditation.