January 29, 2016 § Leave a comment
Buddhist meditation practice includes integrating what is experienced in practice into every moment of daily life or, as Mumon described in his comment on the koan Mu, fully concentrating “your 360 bones and joints.” Some may take this as a directive for single-minded concentration to the exclusion of all else. Such concentration may be achievable to those in a retreat or living a monastic life. The majority however has worldly obligations that require periodic attention that preclude any such single-minded effort. This means that for most of us integration takes place as time allows. It must be remembered though that even sudden realizations need time for integration. So all attempts done now to make practice a part of daily life will eventually make realization easier to integrate when awakening does happen.
We may ask what integration is. It is not a casual or intellectual study but a gradual reworking of the mind so that the essence of the new sought after life become a natural expression in ones behavior and attitudes. The aim is to actualize practice that in a very direct way means the spontaneous and creative expression of true nature uninhibited by previous conditioning, inhibitions and dysfunctional thinking.
The ideas and constructs that condition how we see the world are a barrier to the natural expression of our true nature. The reason for this is clear. When the world is labeled as this or that it ceases to be experienced as a unitary whole. It is broken into parts with only some pieces considered valuable. At the same time one’s own nature is divided into good and bad with the latter being rejected or repressed. This act of division becomes a barrier to fully acknowledging all of the self and accepting the world as it is. The result is a feeling that something is lacking in us. A feeling that persists until the barrier of ideas and thoughts that we have constructed about us is broken through and we come to see our true nature in its entirety.
Barriers are immediately available for inspection at any time as they consist of one’s own thoughts. By just observing thought, as done in meditation, you come to see how thought regularly focuses the attention on some things while acting as a barrier to recognizing others. Further observation reveals that thought follows certain themes that create tendencies to react to situations in the same way, even when the situations are markedly different. Examples of themes are the persistent tendency to seek the approval of some nebulous authority, the continuous sabotaging of your own efforts to succeed or the belief that you are unworthy. Themes, it should be noted, are not all negative. The key point to be made about them is that they are all constructions of thought that limit you from realizing your full potential and true nature.
As your true nature is no nature at all, you are neither worthy nor unworthy, good nor bad, nor any other dualistic notion. Making practice a part of life therefore means seeing through the barriers that divide your behavior into the acceptable and unacceptable so that you are no longer limited in how you meet life. Put another way, how you respond one day does not then become the blueprint that dictates how you must respond every day. You are free to make the appropriate response as situations change.
Consider that on one occasion Joshu answered the question “Does a dog have Buddha nature?” with the word “Mu.” But on another he responded “U” or yes. In both situations Joshu was responding to the needs of the moment. To have responded with the same answer in both situations would have robbed the koan of its versatility and led to its disuse a long time ago.
It is said that each day is a chance to start over again. In Zen, each moment is an opportunity to meet life anew. Not with habitual or conditions responses, nor with the same attitudes that leave a feeling of something lacking. But with the joy and spontaneity that comes with the freedom to choose your own actions and live your own life. When viewed this way, it is very easy to take up practice with 360 bones and joints and every fibre of our being.
January 17, 2016 § 2 Comments
Whether sitting in meditation or practicing mindfulness, the alert mind may spin into daydreams or a state of dreaminess that is marked by a dimming awareness. At other times thoughts and images arise that arouse intense emotions of fear, anxiety or depression. These feelings mar the meditation by impelling the ego to defend itself against a perceived threat to its integrity. Where the first obstacle to practice is dreaminess, the second is illusion that involves a false version of the self and its relationship to the world. Examples of this latter state are the belief that one is being judged as bad or under threat when no actual threat exists.
To believe that dreams and illusory states are true representations of reality is delusion. However, dreams and illusion may arise without one being deluded as to their true nature. Just as it is possible to enter a lucid state while asleep and know that one is dreaming, it is also possible to be lucid during the day while daydreaming or suffering illusory thoughts. As in sleep, the range of this awareness may vary from pre-lucid states where one wonders if his or her thoughts are true, to full lucidity where one knows his or her version of reality isn’t real at all.
In one way we may say that Buddhist practice aims to create a state of unbroken lucidity where dream illusion has lost its ability to confuse and delude the practitioner with its false version of reality. However, this lucid state should not be confused with the truly enlightened state that transcends thought entirely.
Many begin their spiritual path when life’s obstacles start to get the better of them. It is understandable that in such circumstances much attention is given to stilling troublesome thoughts. There comes a time, however, when it seems that with each thought stilled, another arises. At this point the practitioner may feel like the child that plugs a leak in a dyke with one finger only to have two more open beside it. Experiencing this, the realization dawns that further tinkering with thought will not lead to true peace of mind.
Buddhism recognizes that the very nature of thought creates fundamental problems that cannot be solved by further thinking. Buddhist practice therefore aims to break the human addiction to thinking by having the practitioner focus on one point. Be it the breath, a koan or mindfulness all effort is made to attend to one object to the exclusion of all else. In doing so, as already mentioned, thoughts will seem to arise innumerably one after the other, however, the aim is not to engage these thoughts by trying to shut them down but simply to return the attention again and again to the meditation object. In this way thought is allowed to fade into the background just as outer sounds did at the beginning of one’s practice.
Through continuous practice all illusory thought and accumulated knowledge is cut away. Everything that muddies and obscures clear awareness is dropped. As extra thinking is let go your efforts come to fruition. There is no more illusion or delusion, no more heaven and earth, no more self. Just freedom. But this is still not the complete picture for then comes the return where your true self is actualized. As the poet Moritake wrote: