March 20, 2016 § 3 Comments
The monkey is reaching
For the moon in the water.
Until death overtakes him
He’ll never give up.
If he’d let go the branch and
Disappear in the deep pool,
The whole world would shine
With dazzling pureness.
– Zen Master Hakuin.
The ordinary mind believes thought and feeling to be it’s natural state. Thought represents real things that the mind races toward to make its own, or, if the thought is painful, to suppress and deny. Buddhists call this process of running after thought “monkey mind,” after the frantic antics of monkeys they observed in the forest.
In meditation practice we learn to distance ourselves from the monkey mind and thought. This is begun by repeatedly turning attention away from all but one thought called the object of meditation. This process helps us develop concentration and a disciplined mind but we soon discover that it is not that easy to let go of thought.
Attention strays to various thoughts as, for example, we relive some pleasant memory or feel compelled to act when fear arises. Even though both the pleasant and fearful imagery exist solely in the imagination, we follow after them because we believe they have substance.
It has been said that if we can maintain attention on our chosen object of meditation for twelve seconds, without being distracted by competing thoughts, that we have obtained concentration. If we can do this for twelve times that amount, or two minutes and twenty-four seconds, that is meditation. With this measuring stick in mind, how many of us can say that we have truly achieved one-pointed concentration, let alone entered a meditative state?
As the clock does not rule our practice, we need not be deflated if we do not remain focused for more than a few seconds. Practice, after all, is not just concentration. It is also non-attachment, a state wherein we neither cling to pleasurable thoughts, nor run from painful ones.
We cannot stay focused if we continually run to or away from thought, but we can observe this process as a part of our practice to discover its hypnotic appeal. As a theme of August Meditations is the assertion that thoughts do not represent anything real, it should come as no surprise that realizing thought’s illusory nature is beneficial to attaining non-attachment.
As we learn to discriminate between that which is solely in our imagination and that which is actually happening, we begin to see that we’ve been running from nothing, to nothing. This realization comes slowly but even in its initial stages we may get glimpses of a freer, less fear-filled life. These moments serve to motivate and remind us that non-attachment is not an austere practice but one that leads to liberation from monkey mind. And that brings us one step closer to realizing our true nature and enlightenment.