“Just sit.” Ask a teacher of Zen what you should do to practice meditation and this is the answer you will usually get. Why is this simple instruction so hard to understand?
There are many forms of Buddhism. The one that most Americans have heard of is Zen Buddhism. The primary activity in this form is sitting meditation, known as zazen. You have seen pictures of Zen ministers in their black robes, heads shaved, sitting cross-legged on a cushion. You may have wondered what they were doing and why they were doing this.
Recently, I have begun to do zazen. The temple I have been a member of for more than a decade does not emphasis meditation. Although the temple has a meditation group I never found the time to participate. I didn’t think meditation had any value for me. After all, you “just sit.” How could that possibly help me to better realize the teachings of the Buddha? Anyway, my temple is in Chicago and meditation wasn’t at a convenient time for me. There, I had my excuse.
Last January I became aware of a Zen group meeting every Monday night in Kenosha at the Unitarian Church. This is on my way home from work. So much for the inconvenience excuse. To help me get a better understanding of Zen I read “Zen Mind, Beginners’ Mind” by Shinryu Suzuki, a book highly recommended. I also read “The Accidental Buddhist” by Dinty Moore, an American writer who spent a year participating in various Buddhist groups. Although these books are very different, one serious and the other humorous, both stressed the same points. First, what Moore labels our “monkey mind,” so called because it constantly swings from one mental ”branch” to the next, doesn’t want to be calm. Second, there is no goal to achieve through meditation.
At first when I sat, my “monkey mind” raced from thought to thought. The events of the day flooded my brain. Thoughts of tomorrow kept popping up. I tried using the technique of counting my breaths but when I did this for more than a few seconds I started thinking about the things I had stopped thinking about. How could I put this “monkey” in a cage? Besides, my legs were numb and my hip hurt. I knew I should have taken better care of myself! Surprisingly, however, those few moments with the “monkey” distracted seemed to be worth the effort. But why?
The Buddhadharma often speaks of a world of illusion. Our ego shapes all we see and experience. Therefore, nothing exists apart from our perceptions. The basic teaching in Zen Buddhism is “The Heart of Wisdom Sutra.” This teaching expands upon this idea and says there is no attainment, or goal, because there is nothing to be attained. Confused? Hey, I never said this stuff was easy! Next month I will try to explain, or at least be less confusing.
For information about Buddhism in the Kenosha area contact me at BASEWI@aol.com.