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Question for March 9, 2014: Earlier Knowledge
Medivate — 4 years ago — in Question of the Week
Is there anything about meditation you feel you now know or understand that you'd have benefitted from learning sooner? What is it?

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drschilling — 4 years ago — permalink
There are a few things:
1. I moved into a zazen dojo in Tokyo in the 1990's and lived there for two years and immediately found myself in the middle of a "Sangha"! It was a community of people interested in Buddhism and meditation, some with more previous experience and dedication than others, but all very supportive of each other. There were Japanese monks (men & women) and people from Poland, Canada, US, UK, Israel, China, Germany and elsewhere. We cooked and ate together, sat together drinking tea and talking, and even went out together on various excursions that normal people do. We had a little old Japanese lady who would come in sometimes and cook us traditional Japanese meals: Aji no hiraki, natto, raw eggs in rice, etc. So, the benefit was having one of the things Buddha described as part of a three leg stool: "Sangha" a place that gives you physical, psychological and social support and few outside distractions.
2. My sensei in Tokyo was a great man but very simple and in many ways as plain a person as you could imagine but the key was he never wanted anything from us. There was no psychological BS, so we could just do zazen and live. He was dedicated to Buddhism, sitting, lecturing and translating Japanese Buddhist texts to English so we would help him with it. So the environment was nice to let life unfold the way it would. Having a good teacher is a key, someone you inherently like and trust.
3. I studied Soto Shu Buddhism which basically says that sitting itself is enlightenment. Of course, you won't "get there" the first time you sit or the 500th but eventually you may "get there" and when you arrive it will be timeless, like living in eternity and everything you ever knew or thought will evaporate in the face of the most incredible conscious experience you've ever had. But then it fades away and you feel totally human again. Then, you go back and sit some more.
But really, sitting is not about getting somewhere, it is about "being here now." The more you sit, the more your consciousness and sense of self is altered and the more you are able to perceive.
This carries over into the rest of your life and you find yourself very even keeled and sane. It is not necessary to read books, listen to lectures, do koans, chant, or even talk about what you experience when you sit. The experience in and of itself is enough. There is no need to get feedback from the outside about who or where you are. Simple regular meditation will bring you along the path. As you sit daily, and days, weeks and months flow by, you'll begin to notice a complete change in your perception of the world and your place in it. It's a wonderful process but can only be experienced by sitting for months upon months.
My mind used to race all the time, lots of thoughts running through it all the time, making me anxious and worried. Suddenly, I could take an hour train ride and literally not have a thought the whole time. Just serene peace and connectedness with here and now.
4. For books, I like the Three Pillar of Zen and the "Oxherding Pictures." The Oxherding Pictures can show you the journey you'll take, if sitting somehow becomes a part of your life.
5. I think the "progress" that comes with sitting and the changes it brings to your regular conscious life and activities happens on time and for a reason and that you can't really get anywhere sooner. This is not a race, it is not a competition, it is nothing less that the unraveling of the chains that bind your Soul and in order for that to happen, it requires your own totally unique to yourself journey that only you can travel. We all have our own "crosses to bear."

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davidbhayes — 4 years ago — permalink
What a wealth of interesting and novel information. Thanks so much for sharing!
The thing that most jumped out at me was the Oxherding Pictures, which I'd never heard of. They're a really cool model of the progression of practice. For those who've never seen them, I'll save you some Googling: Wikipedia and a great set of pictures and simple explanations.
I'd heard of Soto (Shu) before, but never really understood how it differed. I really like your explanation of what the school and practice means to you; feel like I understand it at least a little more clearly now. Your experience in Japan sound awesome too, glad to hear about them. Thanks again; I'm really completely blown away by your post.

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drschilling — 4 years ago — permalink
Thanks for the Oxherding Pictures link. It is important to note the version you provided is from the Buddha Dharma Education Association (Australia) and images and the text accompanying the images are not the original commentary by the creator Guo-an Shi-yuan from the 12th century. 
Much talk about the challenge of translating the Zen or Buddhist experience to the West (Jung). The original version, obviously, has a different feel and look.
Following are some links the Oxherding Pictures" with more original artwork and commentary:
"Three Pillars of Zen" version: http://bit.ly/NGsQ6f
http://www.columbia.edu/cu/weai/exeas/resources/pdf/oxherding.pdf
http://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/mzb/oxherd.htm
http://www.columbia.edu/cu/weai/exeas/resources/oxherding.html