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A natural atheist, Your Adirondack Guide has nevertheless benifited from a home zen practice. First aware at the age of eight, coinciding with a music interest in college years, helped by a Unity preacher, developed in mid-life through readings motivated by health concerns, after years of study with 8C Chinese masters, refined now with more time to do it, at the urging of occasionally interested persons, I offer these practical tips for sitting. It goes well with a Fourpeaks nature retreat. CLICK & GO! (On this page.) Buddha says. Expedient means. The Place. The decorations. The chair. Inviting the body. Incense. Indian music. Wash. Breathe. Eyes. Thoughts. Discomfort. Kensho. How long to sit. Sleep. Mental problems. Sitting Outdoors. More help (When you're not sitting). You're the same person. Reccommended reading. Help getting the decorations. From my mailbag: "What my teacher had to say about it." (On the next page). Taming the Wild Ox. 10 Oxherding Pictures, by Zen Master Kakuan, China, 12th C. The Zen of Dog Walking.
Ride a bike? Without detracting (too much) from the seriousness of the enterprise, learning how to sit is not very different from learning how to ride a bike (two wheeler). Given the right circumstances and correct motivation, your body will learn the delights of zazen as readily as riding a bike. Careful when/if you fall!
THE PLACE. Find a quiet place with natural light for impressions of dawn and evening light.
THE DECORATIONS. Arrange an iron buddha figure nearby, with some colorful silk brocade. Not a shrine really, but a good mood setter. CLICK HERE for help getting the right decorations.
THE CHAIR. Sit in a chair. Choose a comfortable straight back chair. Any chair that allows sitting straight up. A padded seat is good. A fully upholstered chair is fine, too, as long as it invites sitting up straight. Place hands on knees, sit, head erect, shoulders arched back, spine straight and centered left to right, making comfortable contact with the back of chair. From time to time while sitting, especially if you feel head and shoulders have bent forward, move hands and elbows slightly backward and re-establish this shoulders arched back, straight spine, head back positioning. At first the erect position may feel as if you're ramrod stiff, but eventually it will become a pleasant posture associated with concentration and will facilitate the sitting. See More How to Sit.
INCENSE. Burn two or more sticks of incense to please and occupy the sense of smell. The world of Indian incense is large, friendly and fun to explore. There are masala from spices (shivranjani, darshan), resinous (loban, amber kasturi) and floral (mogra, jasmine). Japanese incense is novel, intense and pricier. Tibetan incense requires a wire burner. Incense, though fun to experience, is not essential for sitting. See Sitting Outdoors. (Email for further incense suggestions and sources.)
INDIAN MUSIC. Play classical Indian sitar/sarod music (Ragas) to please and occupy the sense of hearing. Classic Indian ragas are 20 minutes or longer, the tempo progressing from a slow, pensive tempo to a very fast, vigorous one, a result highly conducive to the progress of a meditation. Ragas may be arranged on tape with nature sounds, timed for 30 minutes or an hour. Indian Rags, though fun to listen to and learn about, is not essential for sitting. See Sitting Outdoors. (Email for further suggestions and tape list with prices.)
WASH your hands and face.
BREATHE through your nose. Follow (concentrate on) your breath, slowly inhaling and exhaling. Continue without interruption. Allow your breathing to be just as it is. If it is heavy and coarse, don't worry. When your breath slows down this will help concentration. When your practice is advanced, you may experiment with control of your breath. You may "narrow" your breath. It may seem to stop altogether.
EYES half-closed, do not look with intention, but softly regard from time to time your surroundings at a 45 degree angle. You may occasionally smile softly.
THOUGHTS. When thoughts come to mind, you may acknowledge or disregard them, as you please, but do not follow the train of thought as in discursive thinking. Allow the thoughts to submerge, as it were, back into the pool of thoughts from which they came. This results in a pleasurable "letting go" of everyday concerns. It may help in the beginning, to think the words, "Don't follow. Let it go." In time, through practice, your mind may cease bringing up thoughts altogether.
DISCOMFORT. If body discomfort, ticks or pain are experienced you may choose to adjust your position slightly. Or do nothing at all. Don't concentrate on these sensations as they will dissipate if not attended to.
KENSHO. With practice you may experience a relaxation response. You will be aware of things around you, including your own body, but not in a normal, everyday sense. You will feel detached, mentally aware, but you will feel not to be in control of your body. In fact, attempting to move your hand or arm should you try, will take a special effort.
This state is called kensho in zen. With practice, this state can be readily revisited any time. For example, to reach a quiet moment before eating, just put your hands beside you and close your eyes. Your body will remember, just like it learned how to ride a bike.
While your body is in a state of relaxation, you may consciously experience relaxation in various parts of your body, by allowing your attention linearly to move to your feet, legs, knees, hands, buttocks, genitals, etc. until you have experienced a sense of relaxation in every part of your body. The upper back, shoulders and neck, will be freed from tension in this way.
Through time and practice sitting, satori, a state of deeper detachment may be experienced as well.
HOW LONG? Start out by sitting ten minutes at a time. Music/nature sounds tape will time your sitting in the most pleasant way. Or use a gong or timer. It's best to sit regularly in the morning upon arising and in the afternoon when work is done. On vacations, holidays and other non-work days, additional occasions may present themselves, such as a woods or nature walk. One or two hours a day constitutes a good practice for a working person.
SLEEP If breathing concentration fails you may fall asleep. Don't be upset if this happens, just continue sitting when you awake. Choose a time to sit when you are not tired.
MENTAL PROBLEMS may make sitting impossible. Don't sit if you are worried or are have pressing work concerns. Sitting is not an obligation. You are responsible to no one for this, especially yourself. Don't be rigid about your practice, or set goals or make promises.
It's pleasant and conducive to a good "sit," however, if you get out of the way any little chore you might need to take care of. Do the dishes and make your bed before you sit. You might also consider checking your email or feeding the dog. Whatever makes you feel right, relaxed and happy.
SITTING OUTDOORS is beautiful and goes well with correct Zen notions about humans being just part of life all around including trees and rocks and stars. You will learn to do without the incense and music and your body will sit for the right length of time without any help.
MORE HOW TO SIT.
If you adopt the chair and posture suggested above, assuming you live and work western-style using chairs and tables, your body will quickly adapt to sitting. It's more difficult for westerners to sit yogi-style on the floor. What's the point? Much worse to attempt the extended sitting times, extreme temperature situations and flagellations of certain eastern sects. Pure torture!
Place hands separately on your knees, not as shown in the photos here. Skin touch sensations are distracting. Wear clothing, of course, for the same reason. Also, moving your hands (and elbows) backwards slightly, straightens your back if you find yourself leaning forward.
MORE HELP (When you're not sitting)
READING. Read source zen Bhuddist texts (any sutra plus the dharma teaching and anecdotes of the ancient masters, especially 6-8th C. Chinese). Look for texts that contain beautiful images, or offer advice that is helpful and encouraging, and with which you can easily agree. Put down books that offer unclear or useless information or contain guidance that you are not inclined to accept. Don't read modern books, especially books by teachers who are explaining "Buddhism" to westerners. This is Bhuddhism watered down and adulterated. Avoid self-help books or any books on the NY Times lists.
MEDIA. Don't watch TV (especially the news) or read magazines (especially news magazines). Ok to scan newspaper headlines at the supermarket. Don't watch the latest movie or any movie just to pass the time. Ok to watch foreign movies that show life in different cultures and times. Listen briefly to the radio for weather, news, music or educational programs. Don't listen to magazine style human interest programs or lifestyle interviews (like "Fresh Air," etc.)
FOOD. Eat grains, vegetables and fish, not too much meat. Take a high quality vitamin mixture with lutein. Learn about traditional food supplements, if you like, but don't be serious about it. Eat meals at regular times. Have a (moderate amount of) wine, sake, soju or beer with every meal, except breakfast. Eat 5 prunes every day. Do not think or worry when eating your meals. Chew slowly. Never eat between meals.
SEX. Plan to arrange for at least some (safe) sex. The more often the better (within reason) as interest and opportunities arise.
DHARMA TALKS. Attend zen Dharma talks at colleges, universities, temples, sanghas and clubhouses in your area. Learn from the preaching, enjoy feeling special, but don't join up.
YOU'LL STILL BE THE SAME PERSON. Don't expect things to happen from your sitting practice. Though regular sitting is reported to result in improved (work) efficiency and good health (see Morita therapy, David Reynolds, below), a goal-oriented approach to sitting undermines the relaxation response. You'll still be the same person if you sit for a hundred years. Quite a number of sages, hermits and (not so) ordinary householders have done this, and they all report similar results.
These books will be available used at cheap prices. Search amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, half.com, etc.
Zen Dawn, Thomas Cleary, 1986. [Daoxin of Shuangfeng Mtn, 8th C., China]
The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-Chi, Burton Watson, 1993. [Lin-chi, 9th C., China]
The Zen Teaching of Huang Po, John Blofield. 1958. [Huang Po, 9th C., China]
Instant Zen, Thomas Cleary, 1994. [Foyan, 1067-1120, China]
Ryokan, the Zen Fool, Kodama and Yanagishima, 1999. [Ryokan, 1754-1828, Japan]
A Flower Does Not Walk, Zenkei Shibayama, 1970. [Japan]
How to Practice Zazen, Nishijima and Langdon, 1976. [Japan]
The Three Pillars of Zen, Philip Kapleau, 1965. [US]
Playing ball on running water, David Reynolds, 1984. [U.S.]
HELP WITH THE THE DECORATIONS
The best buddha for sitting is a copy of the 13c. "Big" Buddha or Daibatsu at Kamakura, Japan. An image of The Amitabha
Buddha ("Infinite radiance," the Buddha of compassion), it reflects the serenity and wakefulness of the 42-foot original (true-MS). Eight inches high, iron, $125, available at Ziji in Colorado (www.ziji.com, no connection at all with Fourpeaks).
Fine brocade is a fitting decoration for sitting. Hard to find, one can get puja table covers, beautifully lined with color-matched borders, from Samadhi Cushions and Store 30 Church St, Barnet VT 05821. It's not shown on their webpage (www.samadhicushions.com) for cushions they manufacture and other meditation supplies but a call to Sumner at 800 331 7751 (email: email@example.com) will get them. Size 19x24-1/2 overall including border, about $40 (no connection at all with Fourpeaks).
Subject: Compassion is not just Good Works
Date: Sun, 10 Jul 2011 12:54:49 -0400
This was forwarded to me as an agenda for a group that I attend at Shambhala:
There will be a JoF meeting tomorrow Monday, July 11, at 6:30 PM.
In general, if you want to develop a really effective way of challenging something, you have to develop a lot of maitri, or loving-kindness, towards you opponents. The term loving-kindness or even compassion is generally rather sentimental and rather weak in the English language. It has certain connotations connected with the popular concept of charity and being kind to your neighbors. The concept of maitri is different from that. In part, of course, it does involve a sentimental approach, since there is always room for emotions. However, maitri is not just being kind and nice. It is the understanding that one has to become one with the situation. That does not particularly mean that one becomes entirely without personality and has to accept whatever the other person suggests. Rather, you have to overcome the barrier that you have formed between yourself and others. If you remove this barrier and open yourself, then automatically real understanding and clarity will develop in your mind. The whole point is that, in order to successfully challenge someone, first of all you must develop loving-kindness and a feeling of longing for openness, so that there is no desire to challenge anyone at all. If one has a desire to conquer or win a challenge against another, then in the process of challenging him or her, the mind is filled with this desire and one is not really able to challenge the other properly. Going beyond challenge is learning the art of war.
Real warriors do not think in terms of challenge, nor are their minds occupied with the battlefield or with past or future consequences. The warrior is completely one with bravery, one with that particular moment.
Chogyam Trungpa, Smile at Fear, pgs. 49 and 50
Stated simply: awareness is the spontaneous, and creatively neutral, experiencing of whatever arises in the present moment - whether sensation, feeling, perception, thought or action. In contrast, introspection is a directing of our attention in a deliberate, evaluating, controlling and, not infrequently, judgmental way ...
... [S]imple awareness, along with a fortified tolerance for bewildering and frightening body sensations, can seemingly, as if by magic, prevent or dissolve entrenched emotional and physical symptoms. A deeply focused awareness is what allowed me survive my accident without being emotionally scarred. It is also what allowed the young samurai to find peace in the midst of his emotional hell. [Italics in original]
Peter Levine, In An Unspoken Voice, pgs. 289 and 290
Subject: Re: Compassion is not just Good Works
From: "Martin (Your Adirondack Guide)"
Date: Sun, 10 Jul 2011 15:59:03 -0400
As it happens Chogyam Trungpa is my idea of someone who takes a lot of words to say nothing worth saying. Just words.
My teacher said, "Shut up, and sit!"
He also said, "Do the dishes, stupid!"
Finally (his last breath) he said, "Nothing I say is worth anything to you."
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