Why I Sit
After six years of various intense practices, Gautama Shakyamuni realized he was no closer to understanding the cause of suffering than on the day he left the castle. Abandoning other practices, he vowed to sit under a tree, next to a river, until he either perished or attained his awakening. On the morning of the seventh day, as the sun arose, he attained this awakening. From this day forward, meditation in various forms has been a part of Buddhism.
The type of meditation most commonly associated with Buddhism is zazen. This translates to “sitting meditation.” Although I have been actively involved in a Buddhadharma practice for eighteen years, I did not begin to sit zazen until a little over seven years ago. The temple to which I belong does not have zazen as part of its sect of Buddhism. However, it does have a practice of contemplation known as “deep listening.” In addition, our founding minister felt there was value in zazen and started a zazen practice at our temple. For various reasons, I never attended the zazen at our temple. Only after I moved to Kenosha did I begin to sit with a group at the local Unitarian church.
Certain questions often arise. Why do I sit? What do I hope to gain? How does it help me in my everyday life? When asked how to attain enlightenment, Zen teachers will often say, “Just sit.” Unfortunately, many westerners expect to quickly attain a breakthrough. When they do not see the results they hoped for they give up. Zen meditation is not a fast track to enlightenment. Zen meditation also differs from other types of meditation. Unlike some forms of meditation that result in a deep, trance-like state in which the practitioner detaches from their surroundings, Zen focuses on becoming acutely aware of the physical environment. The key, however, is to not attach to these outside conditions. While sitting zazen, if a fire truck goes by, simply think, “Fire truck,” and let the thought pass. Do not attach by thinking, “Fire truck. I wonder where it is going. I hope no one is hurt,” and other related thoughts. Let the thoughts pass and return to this moment; breathing in, breathing out, just sitting.
Although zazen is part of a Buddhist practice, the physical act of meditation is non-religious. In fact, meditative and contemplative practices are part of most religions. Zazen simply provides a framework in which to develop a meditation practice. I have found that the lessons learned from a zazen practice carry into my everyday life. My ability to clear the non-essential chatter of the mind when dealing with problems has improved thru zazen. I am better able to stop, breathe deeply and center my mind in the moment. With this clarity, solutions to problems seem more easily achieved.
Zazen is not a cure all. It is just another tool in the life of person seeking answers. That is why I sit.
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