According with the Way
Zhaozhou taught, “’The greatest way isn’t difficult if you don’t pick and choose.’
As soon as I speak, you’ll think, ‘That’s picking and choosing,’
or ‘That’s clear.’ But I don’t identify with clarity.
Can you live like that?”
A student asked, “If you don’t identify with clarity, what do you live by?”
“I don’t know.”
“If you don’t know, why do you say that you don’t identify with clarity?”
“When you ask the question you already have it. Make your bow and step back.”
—The Blue Cliff Record, Case 2
Meditation as a practice can be as complicated as you want to make it, but here’s a move in the other direction:
Pay attention to whatever you notice (inside or outside yourself, it doesn’t matter) without thinking it’s good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, wise or stupid, worthy or unworthy.
Actually there’s only one step. That’s it.
Sometimes the word “curiosity” will help you.
Meeting the Project Mind
Each day we have schemes, a to-do list, and problems we’re wandering along with, the way an elephant pushes a peanut around a circle. The mind of scheming lives in an everlasting future, it’s the hungry child outside the restaurant, apart from what we imagine our life is for. When we plan improvements to things we put ourselves outside of them, starve ourselves a little.
The implied task is somehow, in the midst of what we do and what is done to us everyday, to come inside the restaurant; to find a connection to what we love, a connection that is not deferred. Last year’s schemes and problems are like dreams from a previous life; these dreams happened to someone other than the person I am now, and it’s easy to imagine that the same will be true each year until I die. We don’t live in the paradise of the now that last year’s schemes imagined but in the striving of this year’s schemes imagining next year.
Underneath the scheming something larger is going on. It makes use of my thoughts and feelings but connecting to life is not dependent on the outcomes of schemes.
Sitting Meditation: The Basics of Practice
Meditation is not hard to learn. Getting started is as simple as sitting down and noticing how it is for you. You don’t have to sit in a certain way, although if you start to love it and want to do it more, it may help to figure out how to get comfortable so your body isn’t bothering you.
Sitting is a method for seeing what the world is like without believing your usual stories about it. When you sit you make a home for this time. You accept this moment, and such a home has no end.
A place to begin is with the body, the good horse that carries you around and which is so often neglected. You don’t assess the body, you just listen. You feel your life in your body.
If the mind needs a place to rest, then you can let it rest on the breathing. The universe opens and closes with each breath. There is no need to add any special thoughts to the universe. There is no need to try to achieve any special states of mind. You notice what you notice. If you are bored that is fine, if you are sad that is fine, if you are happy that is fine, if you are frustrated that is fine. Out breath, in breath, out breath, in breath.
For the time of the meditation nothing is required of you. There is nothing you can fail at and nothing to accomplish or achieve. You do not need to demonstrate your worth. You are worthless because you are beyond worth. Your value cannot be measured.
It is not necessary to improve yourself, your state of mind, or your skill at meditation. You are not moving from one place to another on a scale. You are throwing away the scale.
When you accept this moment–no judgment, no scale– you may find that it has no flaw. Nothing is wrong. And you may find that you too are perfect in this moment. Noticing has a healing power all by itself. For now, if you just notice, the world will lead you. The bare sense of what is happening can come as a gift.
Koans: A Tradition of Questions
So we have this tradition of questions. A koan has a question, there are responses, and you can tell there’s something more going on. There’s a kind of dance happening, there’s an art form involved. And you’ll notice that as you walk through the terrain of a koan, pieces of your life rise to meet you.
In koan meditation, you’re actually walking through your own true nature.
A Spirit of Love and Joy and Play
Try things, and you can see that there’s a spirit of love and play and joy in koans and koan meditation, because it’s life and you want to have it. You want to be here for your life. This is your life, it’s not some other life. It’s not a practice life for when you get enlightened. This is you here, full of the vastness.
Let it into your heart. Finally you’ll realize—”Oh, I’m here. I’m free.”
Meditation As a Basis for Healing
Meditation is a project of healing, of putting ourselves and the world into harmony with the flow of life.
“As we integrate meditation more and more into our culture, it is coming to seem natural that healing of our states of mind is the beginning of kindness and imagination and making a successful culture. I’m interested in the question: what are the essentials of the meditation path as a basis for this healing—healing of both person and culture?” —John Tarrant
Article: Surprises on the Way – Shambhala Sun, 2008
The reasons for starting a practice are usually different from the reasons for keeping one going.
When it comes to starting, any reason will do. The Buddha used the metaphor of a burning house. The idea is that people are in a house that has caught fire but they haven’t worked out what is going on yet.
You want to help, so you tell them anything that will get them out of the house. You offer a cover story, “Oh look, there’s Britney Spears, half dressed, with her paparazzi” or “Come and listen to my new iPod; it’s awesome.” When you begin meditation these ploys get you out of the burning house, at least for the moment. Read on…
A Koan Meditation
Knock On Any Door, Someone Will Answer
A guided koan meditation with Allison Atwill Roshi preceded by an accompanying musical composition on flute, by Michael Wilding.
If you practice meditation in this regular way, Buddhism has a mysterious and unpredictable healing power. By mysterious, I mean that while the effect of meditation is more or less as advertised, you are on a journey that does not reveal all its features at once, and even the destination is uncertain. And by unpredictable, I mean that surprise is one of the consequences of meditation.
You arrive at places you never intended to reach and didn’t know existed.
The first thing that’s surprising is that meditation changes you, and so after a while you are not the same person who set off.
Practicing at PZI
No Experience Necessary
Audio: One Finger Zen
How do you allow something different to arise? This—one finger!
A woman’s story of awakening and her meeting the mysterious prediction of teacher Heavenly Dragon. The absurdity of life’s journey. A mysterious woman persists in interrupting with a request, “Say a word of Zen!”
As recorded May 24, 2020.