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Last Saturday Hardcore Dharma wrapped up its study of Zen Mind: Beginners Mind by Shunryu Suzuki A contentious read! Some folks loved its experiential wisdom (I certainly found reading the book to be a mindfulness practice in and of itself, requiring my utmost attention). Some folks found it overly “big-minded,” ultimate-reality focused and vague. I did find the experience I look forward to in reading a dharma book; that is the “I understand, I agree and I feel better” emotional process was missing. “Where are you when I need you, Jack Kornfield,” I lamented.
Yet at the same time I found myself confronting my relationship to my meditation and dedication to Buddhism fairly deeply. While sorting through Shrunyu Suzuki’s ideas of having no gaining ideas, no expectation of outcome, his reminder to think of Buddhism as “nothing special,” I came face to face with my true tendency to often use meditation and mindfulness as lotion for the irritation of my mind. I found that often, instead of coming to the meditation practice as a way to calm my mind so that I could explore reality more deeply, I often came to “fix” my mind. To calm me down, to get me to work, to get me focused, to bring about artistic catharsis, to avoid smoking a cigarette and so forth. Like so many balms that I employ in my life: yoga, baths, a glass of wine, running, I had started to use meditation as “mood management.” I started to use it towards self-improvement. I mean, meditation is good for you. Listen to Alan Wallace speak and you’ll get pumped to devote the next three years of your life to attaining the ninth stage of Shamatha. And what’s the problem with that?
Reading ZMBM I came to the conclusion that the problem is not that you think meditation is going to be good for you, improve you as a person, an artist, a lover a friend. The problem is that in order to see the illusory nature of our beliefs, its essential to let go of these ideas of improvement. I know that’s what Suzuki Roshi is saying, but it made sense to me, for the first time again, this week. Going into meditation in order for it to calm me down pits myself against myself. Going into meditation accepting the momentary, flawed state of my mind and reality and not try to change it, to rather simply be curious about it, allows me to be in the present moment. Because the greatest struggle in my sitting practice recently (and I know for many people this has got to be true) goes like this:
Non-verbal breath focusing.
Thought 1: I am going to feel so much better/ be super productive once I can really learn how to do this all the time.
Thought 2: Stop thinking, Julia, you just said you were going to feel much better when you learned how to experientially focus on the breath and now you’re thinking.
Thought 3: Don’t chastise yourself Julia, just get back to the breath. Discipline!
Non-verbal breath focusing.
Thought 4: See, Julia, that’s so much better. If only you could learn how to do that all the time you would be so much smarter/more productive.
Thought 5: Ai Chihuahua, Jules! Stop thinking. You’re thinking. Stop thinking. You’re thinking. Oh, honey, please, please please stop thinking ….
And on and on.
Here’s a quotation that particularly interested me in ZMBM:
“I discovered that it is necessary, absolutely necessary, to believe in nothing. That is, we have to believe in something which has no form and no color – something which exists before all forms and colors appears. This is a very important point. No matter what god of doctrine you believe in, if you become attached to it, your belief will be based more or less on a self-centered idea. You strive for a perfect faith in order to save yourself. …In constantly seeking to actualize your idea, you will have no time for composure. But if you are always prepared for accepting everything we see as something appearing from nothing, knowing that there is some reason why a phenomenal existence of such and such form and color appears, then at that moment you will have perfect composure.”
I see this idea of “perfect composure” as resting completely in the present moment, and “believing in nothing” to mean that we must accept the utter emptiness and interdependence of every single moment of our lives. In that because all nature and nurture converge to create our present moment in its appreciable specificity, it is only when we completely let go of our ideals, let go of our ideals about reality, about relationships, about who we are, what we’re capable of, of our opinions and practices, our senses of humor and pride, it is only when we let all that identification go that our Buddha Nature is revealed. Because you can’t experience Buddha Nature and hold on to delusion at the same time. It is through believing, having faith, in that nothing that we find the real, non-delusional substance of experience.
Those were my thoughts on this week. You guys?