Dear Still Water Friends,
What Are We Doing When We Are Sitting?
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Sitting meditation is one of the most intimate, personal things we can do. We remove ourselves physically and psychologically from the rush of our days and take time to touch the vitality of our own lives and the workings of our own consciousness.
But what do we actually do, or not do? Over the past 2500 years of Buddhist practice, many different practices have been recommended. Some are starkly plain, such as “Simply be with your breath.” Some involve elaborate guided meditation and visualizations.
Unlike our spiritual ancestors, contemporary American mindfulness practitioners often pick up helpful advice from several Buddhist traditions: sometimes creatively blending the Chinese Mahayana-based mindfulness of Thich Nhat Hanh, Japanese Zen, the Theravadan Vipassina tradition, and Tibetan practices.
This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we will reflect on what we are actually doing when we are sitting in meditation. We will share our practices, our challenges, and the fruits of our practices.
One of the pieces of meditation advice that has helped me is a couplet from the 12th century Chinese Master Hongzhi, from the poem “Song of Silent Illumination”:
In silence, words are forgotten.
In utter clarity, things appear.
The first line is for me a reminder to let go of discursive thinking, to come to awareness of my breath, my body and my physical senses, my feelings and emotions, and the working of my mind — my awareness can become wordless and choiceless.
The second line reminds me that the practice of non-thinking, the silencing of the discursive mind, need not lead me to a drowsy vagueness of experience. Rather I can be awake and aware, I can come to see things as they really are, and that will bring me great joy and peace.
I hope you can be with us this Thursday.
A short excerpt from Hongzhi on sitting without worldly anxiety is below.
Sit Empty of Worldly Anxiety
If you truly appreciate a single thread your eye can suitably meet the world and its changes. Seeing clearly, do not be fooled, and the ten thousand situations cannot shroud you. Moonlight falls on the water; wind blows over the pines. Light and shadow do not confuse us; sounds or voices do not block us. The whistling wind can resonate, pervading without impediment through the various structures. Flowing along with things, harmonizing without deviation, thoroughly abandoning webs of dust, still one does not yet arrive in the original home. Put to rest the remnants of your conditioning. Sit empty of worldly anxiety, silent and bright, clear and illuminating, blank and accepting, far-reaching and responsive. Without encountering external dusts, fulfilled in your own spirit, arrive at this field and immediately recognize your ancestors.
–from Cultivating the Empty Field: The Silent Illumination of Zen Master Hongzhi, translated by Tagen Dan Leighton