Last month I discussed zazen, or sitting meditation. The question many ask is, “Why do you sit, what do you gain?”
Two basic ideas in Buddhism are the “world of illusion” and the that of “nothing to attain.” Buddhism teaches that nothing exists apart from our perceptions. We relate to everything through our ego. Good or bad is based on what we believe or desire. A simple example is a rainy Spring day. You want to go golfing, the rain annoys you. The day is a bad day. Your neighbor just planted a new lawn. Rain is good for the lawn and he doesn’t have to water. The rain makes him happy. The day is a good day. The day is just the day. You make it good or bad. Another example is an argument. Both sides are convinced they are right. The difference is their perception of facts and events.
The idea of “nothing to attain” is a difficult one for Americans to understand. We are a goal oriented society. Everything we do must have a purpose, a goal. Gautama Buddha spent six years in various practices trying to “attain” enlightenment. Finally, while meditating under the Bodhi tree, he realized that his ignorance was the cause of his suffering and became enlightened. Buddhism presented in English falls into this trap and speaks of “attaining enlightenment.” I feel Rev. Gyomay Kubose explains “nothing to attain” best in his book “The Center Within.” In it he says, “You cannot attain enlightenment, you are already in it. You are just to ignorant to realize this.” Strip away the suffering caused by our “world of illusion” and that which remains is enlightenment.
So, what does this have to do with sitting? Zazen is about being in the moment. When you are able to focus on “now”, free from the mental noise of the past or the future, you have begun to strip away the “world of illusion.” A degree of calmness and clarity arises. With any practice there is an ongoing effect. I have found an increasing ability to be “in the moment” when dealing with everyday situations. I am not quite the Dalai Lama yet, but meditation has helped.
Meditation can be helpful to people of all religions. Christianity has a long tradition of people who spent years in silent contemplation. Meditation allows a person to reflect on their core beliefs free from the thought of, “What’s in it for me?” Sins and transgressions against God are the result of actions stemming from our human ignorance. Overcome this ignorance and you will eliminate all suffering. Some religions call this eternal salvation. Buddhism refers to this extinguishing of suffering and desire as nirvana.
Every Monday evening at 7 PM there is Zen meditation at the Bradford Unitarian Church in downtown Kenosha. If you would like more information about this group, or if you would like information about Buddhism, contact me at BASEWI@aol.com.