simple or complex?

According with the Way

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.

Eight Steps for Practicing Zen Koans

A koan is a little healing story, a conversation, an image, a fragment of a song. It’s something to keep you company, whatever you are doing. There’s a tradition of koan study to transform your heart and the way you move in the world. The path is about learning to love this life, the one you have. Then it’s easy to love others, which is the other thing a practice is about.—John Tarrant

1. First of all. Don’t try too hard.

Just repeat the words of the koan to yourself a bit. You are joining a timeless conversation and forming a relationship with the koan, so you can let all that happen without worrying about it.

2. You show up.

Have the life you have, and let the koan into it. Everyone wants to develop meditation as a skill, but that is just making your life smaller than it is. Before that, meditation is showing up for your own life. Think of it as play.

3. Trust what you don’t know.

Usually we try to find labels for things. If we do that with meditation, we are still outside of our own lives. Instead, you can let the koan into your heart and your body. Let it change you.

4. Experiment.

Fall into the koan, make mistakes, try to misunderstand it, find its virtues. You can’t break a koan. Ask yourself questions: “Is this part of my life like part of the koan?” “Is anything really wrong with it?”

5. The koan can be your friend.

You can stop struggling. Just wondering about the koan will change you; you’ll begin to notice it everywhere. Even when you are asleep it might be there, an unnoticed kindness.

6. Any part of the koan is all of the koan.

Your mind presents all sorts of things. Secretly, inside any state there’s the glint of something that has always been here. You just show up in any condition and you start to notice.

7. You don’t need a special state of mind.

There are many calm and clear states of mind, but the meditation is not about chasing after them. Meditation occurs before any states of mind become fixed.

8. Have confidence in yourself.

The most important thing is not to judge, criticize, assess, or find fault with anything that arises in your mind. This includes how you are doing with the koan. Then the compassion has somewhere to come in.

Any final suggestions for trying this?

We can turn toward whatever arises. No moment of life is unworthy of us or wrong, and every being has a treasure that was never lost. It’s fine to enjoy your koan, to let it become you, to relish your life. You might be doing it right.

Are you new to PZI?

In our community you might explore koans on your own, share experiences in a koan group, sit with koans in our Online Temple or on retreat, work on koans with a teacher, or all of the above. How to Become a PZI Member.


Koans Know How to Meet 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.

Unicorns of Happiness – Transcript

A Dharma Talk by John Tarrant
December 29, 2006
Based on an article originally published in Shambhala Sun magazine, January 2004

The Unicorn spoke quietly to him. “You are a true wizard now, as you always wished. Does it make you happy?” “Well,” said Schmendrick slowly, “Men don’t always know when they’re happy but, I…I think so.” — Peter S. Beagle


Benefits of Koan Meditation Practice

The Spirit of Love and Joy and Play in Koan Meditation

One of the strangest things the koan does is—as well as giving you this experience of the vastness and spaciousness, which usually it will give you—it then gives you the experience of what it’s really like, to be immersed in your deep stories, your deep fictions, the things you’re living by. And not only that, you’ll think, “I am not doing the koan!”

“Oh man, I’m really worried about what she thinks of me, or whatever it is.” But actually, that’s your deep, that’s the very part of the koan that’s  coming up to meet you. So, in a certain sense it becomes funny, or perhaps it just becomes a little bit more spacious and you see it, and instead of thinking this is terrible, you have some kindness for it. – Read on: Complete transcript of a Dharma talk recorded at Summer Sesshin 2014

Koan Meditation Is 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.

Koans are like Octopuses

Sitting Meditation: The Basics of Practicing Meditation

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.

Just sit.

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.


Meditation As a Basis for Healing

A Retablo – Thanks for a 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 

A Meditation for Healing: A 2-Part Exploration


Article: Surprises on the Way Shambhala Sun, 2008

The reasons for starting a meditation 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…


Guided Meditation

A Koan Meditation
for You

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.

Guided Koan Meditation 25 minutes

Go Deeper

On Having a Practice

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.

—John Tarrant

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.

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