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1003Re: [U-Zendo] A note on establishing a sitting practice

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  • Weasel Tracks
    Jan 13, 2014
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      Hi, Pat! Glad you wrote this. A few points came up while I read it.

      On 01/09/2014 02:48 PM, Pat Stacy wrote:
      WT, this is a great topic to bring up at the beginning of a new year. Over the 30 years I’ve been meditating, lots has changed concerning the method. My understanding is that the importance of a meditation practice is not stressed in all Buddhist sects. However it seems to be the part of American Buddhist practice that most people identify as the main aspect of training and is the one thing everyone can do regardless of their access to a temple or a teacher.

      I remember many years of discussion on this list about the color of zafus, legs falling asleep, and length of sitting time. If it could be a meditation problem, we have argued and written about it.

      Oh, I bet there's a few things we left out. But it would be an interesting project to go back and cull out all the relevant talk.

      I know what I write next will look like heresy, but I have almost no formal meditation practice now. My kind of Buddhism has always been inquiry, not devotion or renunciation.

      I remember you saying, a long time ago, that the essence of Zen could be expressed as "allowing." How does that relate to what you just wrote?

      As far as what is needed for the practice of inquiry, it is willingness and capacity. I don’t know where willingness comes from, just that it’s necessary.

      Past karma, I would assume. Isn't willingness something one can cultivate as well?

      The capacity to pay attention comes from training the mind through meditation techniques. Just like weight training, the mind/body develops the ability to pay attention to more and more subtle states for longer periods of time.

      When I was in high school I went out for football, but I gave up because I got winded after three laps round the field. I didn't really know about conditioning. I thought it was innate. What's really innate is a capacity for conditioning. Muscles and ligaments, any bodily system, in fact, responds to use by increasing its capacity. You grow in the wisdom of the body by learning how much to push, through careful observation.

      Behavioral habits are just the same thing applied to behavior. The basic principle is, every time you do something, it becomes easier to do. Might be microscopic in increment, but it adds up.

      Bad habits are like this, too, only backwards --- every time you do something, it's that much harder not to do it again.

      Many more factors are involved, because beings with bodies in time are a complicated mess, but that's conditioning in a nutshell.

      And conditioning is a big part of cultivation. It was a big deal for me to realize that cultivation applies to more than just concentration. The Paramitas, Bodhicitta, Wisdom, Compassion, the 37 Limbs or Enlightenment, can each be cultivated.

      As far as advice, find someone who has experience, who you will listen to, and follow that person’s guidance.

      Wow, this one sentence is rich with receptors for comments and mysteries.

      Instead, I'd like to make a more general comment that, even with the best instruction, you're on your own once you enter the moment of practice. If your teacher or elder or friend gives you detailed instructions, you still have to figure out what that means in the inner landscape, the view from within. Some traditions carry this to extremes by making their trainees sit in the halls with hardly any explanation but maybe, Watch your mind.

      But rediscovering fire takes a lot of time, likely more than a human lifetime.

      But everyone still on the list is well along, right? Perhaps a teaching, a phrase, a word, becomes a key to make some difficulty easy. Case 19 of the Mumonkan
      <http://www.angelfire.com/electronic/awakening101/mumonkan.html>
      is like this.

      For those of us who have been at this a long time, ask yourself this question. “Why do I need little tricks or resolutions to get myself to meditate?” Be willing to listen to the answer. Maybe your idea of meditation is not what you need. Meditation that is helpful produces results. The progress may be glacial and not what you had in mind, but just like weight training, the mind gets stronger in its ability to see. Of course what you see is your own mind, and the process does not lend itself to painting a bigger, better picture of yourself.

      These past months, there's been a buzz between some teachers I've heard, that the "secular" versions of Buddhist practices for the purposes of stress reduction and such, have been bringing up stuff in the clients of secular instructors, that such instructors don't know what to do with. The teachers around Dharma Drum all insist that Right View is important to develop alongside practice, to help a person know what's going on and how to deal with it. The Four Truths, Three Seals, and so forth, help make a framework of understanding how vexations arise, what karma is, and what emptiness has to do with all this. There's a lot of baby in the bathwater modernists want to throw out.

      In Buddhism, doctrine and dogma are not necessary to practice, but it can be helpful. Like, for one example, knowing that one is not unique in having deep crap in the bowels of the mind, and that delusion is nearly universal in human beings as their "natural" state.

      Regardless of life circumstances, experience, or gender, we always begin with suffering. That may take many months or years to untie. After that, some leave because that’s all they ever wanted. Once the pain is gone, some people stop meditating regularly. They find themselves right back in the original difficulty and realize on their own that meditation is essential for them to continue, in which case, doing it regularly is not a problem.

      If they continue, what comes up next is dealing with impermanence or change. And finally, no surprise, no self. Rarely does anyone come to my door for the first time with the ability to be present. When they do have that capacity their question is personal and precise and they can hear my response. This is always a person with an ongoing meditation practice of some kind, not necessarily Buddhist.

      After all these words, no advice except to look at the problem you have with yourself. How is that happening? What are you telling yourself about the problem? Are you answering? I’d love to hear your responses.

      Whenever I ask myself if I have committed to the Dharma completely, I'd have to say no. There's a little reservation based on a vague fear, which I suppose is just the ego being defensive. I've often heard that total commitment is necessary. Maybe so, but what I have will have to do until I can cultivate that final yielding, sacrificing one hindering attachment after another.

      I must say, being around Vinaya monks is inspiring. I don't know if their commitment is total, but it's more total than mine.

      Do you have any advice for that? I'm all ears.

         ---Weasel Tracks
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