Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Monday, October 22, 2012
People who are just getting started with a regular meditation practice often have three questions: 1) how often should I practice?, 2) how long should I meditate for? and 3) when can I expect to see results?
These are wonderful and perfectly understandable questions to have at first.
Some teachers claim that it can take years and years of practice before we ever see any kind of results. And some will say that even after years of meditating you might not even notice any kind of benefits, which I feel is completely wrong.
I think it’s foolish and discouraging to tell this to anyone because A) you absolutely will see benefits from a regular meditation practice and B) very few people are going to bother to learn how to work with their mind if they think nothing will ever come of it.
When I first began to sit regularly I wanted to acquire all kinds of wonderful traits and to develop into some perfect version of myself. That’s what got me to sit initially but over time my motivation has changed somewhat. Now I practice regularly because I just don’t feel right if I don’t. For me it's now the same as brushing my teeth every day or working out a few times a week—there is an ongoing sense of benefit, maintenance, and physical/mental hygiene attached to the practice. When I'm sitting regularly I feel better, I’m more clear, less irritable, more relaxed, and better able to help other people. When I don’t sit regularly I feel more on edge, less patient, and more prone to get jerked around by my thoughts and desires.
So while there is nothing wrong with wanting to gain some clarity and peace of mind from meditation practice, it could also be helpful to formulate an aspiration that your practice is not just for your own benefit but for the benefit of all others as well. If you are happy and clear, you'll be more inclined to help reduce suffering in this world. If you are not happy and clear, you'll be more inclined to create more suffering in this world.
As my first Zen teacher often says, it’s better to do a minimum amount of practice regularly than a maximum amount of practice sporadically.
Five minutes a day for five to seven days a week is better than one hour of practice once a week or every other week. It’s quality, not quantity.
Just come up with a regular practice schedule you can stick with and build on it very gradually over time and you’ll be fine.
Saturday, October 20, 2012
Monday, October 15, 2012
The consistent conduct of people of the Way is like the flowing clouds with no grasping mind, like the full moon reflecting universally, not confined anywhere, glistening within each of the ten thousand forms.
Dignified and upright, emerge and make contact with the variety of phenomena, unstained and unconfused. Function the same toward all others since all have the same substance as you. Language cannot transmit this, speculation cannot reach it. Leaping beyond the infinite and cutting off the dependent, be obliging without looking for merit.
This marvel cannot be measured with consciousness or emotion. On the journey accept your function, in your house please sustain it. Comprehending birth and death, leaving causes and conditions, genuinely realize that from the outset your spirit is not halted. So we have been told that the mind that embraces all the ten directions does not stop anywhere.
-- Hongzhi Zhengjue (1091-1157)
Monday, October 1, 2012
The Buddha and his posse of monks once traveled to a town where the Kalama people lived. They told him how many other spiritual teachers had been there before him and they just weren’t sure which of their teachings were true and which were not.
The Buddha’s response in this sutra is one of the things I find the most appealing about Buddhism:
"Of course you are uncertain, Kalamas. Of course you are in doubt. When there are reasons for doubt, uncertainty is born. So in this case, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted and carried out, lead to harm & to suffering' -- then you should abandon them."
While he wasn’t exactly suggesting that some of his own teachings were worthy of discarding, he did realize that the best way for people to accept and believe something as true is to experience it directly for one’s self. He trusted that when we personally experience how beneficial certain mind states are and how harmful other mind states can be, then any doubt in our minds about the efficacy of these practices will gradually vanish.