The Right Way to Meditate

Certainty vs_ UncertaintyMy friend Matt in Manchester sent me the following email:

I am reading Sam Harris’s new book ‘Waking Up‘ and in the chapter entitled Meditation (page 138) he talks about the practice of Dzogchen in relation to Zen practice he says ‘Dzogchen is not vague or paradoxical.It is not like Zen,wherein a person can spend years being uncertain whether he is meditating correctly.’ Can you elucidate on this ?

On my Facebook page a few days ago, the following comment appeared:

Nice article, thanks for sharing Brad. I’d like to comment on “I’ve tried to coerce teachers into giving me more instruction than that, but they never do. I was really frustrated with this for years.” This is typical in Soto-Zen and I think it’s a big mistake. I’ve been sitting that way for 10 years and simply didn’t get it. I thought I got it but I didn’t. Fortunately I listened to some Dzogchen teacher who was able to directly point out what the meditation thing is all about. Didn’t take more than 5 minutes and I got it. I’ve seen people who are sitting for 25 years and still are unclear about consciousness….

The article the commenter is referring to is this one by my friend Gesshin, the Buddhist nun I interviewed in the previous installment of this blog.

I don’t know anything substantial about Dzogchen. All I know is that it’s part of the Tibetan tradition and that, like Zen, it’s central practice is meditation. From what little I’ve read about their style of meditation, it seems to be much more methodical than Zen. For example, one of the first webpages that came up when I did a Google search just now begins “In dzogchen meditation, we first access and recognize the alaya for habits, then effulgent rigpa, and then essence rigpa.”

I don’t know what a rigpa is, but I’m sure I could look that up. I know alaya is the Buddhist idea of the “storehouse consciousness,” which is roughly analogous to the subconscious as defined by modern Western psychology. The Buddhist idea of the subconscious is more far-reaching than the psychological one since in Buddhism the alaya is not considered to be limited to the particular individual. The very superficial aspects of it are related to one’s immediate personality, but the deeper levels are universal. Our connection to the mind of the universe is mostly buried within our subconscious.

I won’t pretend I understand Dzogchen. I’m sure that, like Zen, it would take years of training to really get it. But as a long-time zen practitioner the idea of “meditating correctly” strikes me as deeply absurd. Yet, also as a person who has undergone “years (of) being uncertain whether he is meditating correctly” I understand the appeal of something that’s supposedly going to give you solid answers rather than being merely “vague and paradoxical.”

In fact I recall the first time I heard Dzogchen being talked about by a person who sat with my teacher Nishijima Roshi’s group in Japan. I was like, “Oh! I want to try that!” It sounded so much better to finally get some gosh darned answers about what the hell it was I was supposed to be doing when I sat on my little cushion waiting for the damned bell to ring announcing it was over.

Alas, I couldn’t find a Dzogchen group to sit with so I was stuck with Nishijima Roshi’s vague and paradoxical Zen. Heavy sigh!

Yet I’m glad I followed the path that circumstance forced upon me.

I don’t know how teachers in the Dzogchen tradition make their students clear about consciousness. But I know that every answer is the wrong answer, every certainty is a mistake, and every correct way to meditate is an error. I’m sorry if that sounds paradoxical and vague. That’s just the way things are. Read the quote in the image I put on top, “Uncertainty is an uncomfortable position. But certainty is an absurd one.” It amazes me that Sam Harris, of all people, cannot see this when it comes to meditation.

I could tell you what I think consciousness is. In fact I just spent about an hour trying to do that in a passage for my forthcoming book. I’ve done it to one degree or another in every book I’ve written. They all sound different so people who read me probably think I’m just confused. Which is fine.

Some incorrect answers are better than others. I suppose you could get a bunch of people together to agree that one particular set of almost-correct answers is worth pursuing and indoctrinating to others. You could explain it all if you wanted. But it would just be yet another house of cards waiting to be knocked over by the next little breeze.

The guy who commented on my Facebook link also complained that, “nowadays zen teachers seem to be unable to do this with their own words. Instead there’s an endless discussion and reading of Dogen’s writings which are cool but out of date and hard to understand nowadays.” Unlike, say, discussions of alayas and rigpas, I suppose. Heavy sigh again.

Certainty never seems to lead anywhere good. It seems to harden the mind into shapes imposed by teachers and traditions. Dogen, in his out of date and hard to understand writings, talked of returning from his training in China with a soft and pliable mind.

When the mind is hardened with certainties, it doesn’t know what to do when inevitably confronted with things that don’t fit into the shapes it has hardened into.

I know the Zen way can be frustrating. Believe me, I know! I’ve spent years being frustrated by it. Just like those poor people Sam Harris pities for being uncertain if they’re meditating correctly.

Then I realized I had been meditating correctly all along.

I fell backwards into uncertainty.

I’ll just leave you with this.

“Sometimes when you no longer see yourself as the hero of your own drama, expecting victory after victory and you understand deeply that this is not paradise. Somehow, especially the privileged ones that we are, we somehow embrace the notion that this veil of tears, that it’s perfectible, that you can get it all straight. I found that things became a lot easier when I no longer expected to win. I tried to put this into that song called A Thousand Kisses Deep. When you understand that, you abandon your masterpiece and you sink into the real masterpiece.” — Leonard Cohen

*   *   *

I’m on my way to Europe soon. I’ll get paid for most of the events I’m doing, but often it’s just barely enough to get to the next place. Your kind donations help out a lot. Thank you!

*   *   *

Here’s my upcoming events schedule:

Oct. 1 Turku Panimoravintola Koulu, Finland– Movie screening

Oct. 2 Helsinki, Finland — Lecture Event

Oct. 3-5 Helsinki, Finland Zen retreat at Helsinki Zen Center

Oct. 6 Movie Screening in Espoo, Finland

Oct. 8 Lecture in Munich, Germany

Oct. 10-11 Retreat in Munich, Germany

Oct. 12-17 Retreat at Benediktushof near Würzburg, Germany

Oct 18-19 Retreat in Bonn, Germany

Oct 20 Hamburg, Germany

Oct 24: Lecture in Groningen, Netherlands

Oct 25: Day-long zazen in Groningen, Netherlands

Oct 26: Movie screening in Eindhoven, Netherlands at Natlab

Oct 27: Evening zazen in Eindhoven, Netherlands

Oct 28: Evening zazen in Nijmegen, Netherlands

Oct 29: Lecture in Amsterdam, Netherlands  at “De Roos” bookstore from 19.00-21.00  (P Cornelisz Hooftstr 183)

Oct 30: Lecture in Utrecht, Netherlands at “De wijze kater” bookstore from 19.00-21.00 ( Mariaplaats 1,  Utrecht)

Nov 1-2: Retreat in Utrecht, Netherlands

Nov. 2: Movie screening in Utrecht, Netherlands at ACU

Nov 6-8: Retreat in Hebden Bridge, UK

Nov 9: Noon — 5pm  Manchester, UK

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87 Responses

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  1. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon September 25, 2014 at 11:35 am |

    Commencing shit storm in…
    3…
    2…
    1…

  2. blake
    blake September 25, 2014 at 11:40 am |

    Sure uncertainty is an uncomfortable position. But it’s still more comfortable than sitting full lotus.

  3. Mumbles
    Mumbles September 25, 2014 at 12:07 pm |

    Your next book title could be: Waiting For The Damn Bell To Ring.

  4. Daniel
    Daniel September 25, 2014 at 12:52 pm |

    Well…I see your point here Brad, but here’s an example to make this more clear. On the “How to do Zazen”-Page (and I already find it confusing why it has to be called “Zazen”, just call it Meditation and everyone also non-zen-geeks can get it), the text about what to do when you sit is:

    “When the physical posture is already settled, make one complete exhalation and sway left and right. Sitting immovably in the mountain-still state, “Think about this concrete state beyond thinking.” “How can the state beyond thinking be thought about?” “It is different from thinking.” This is just the pivot of Zazen. ”

    So the “pivot” (the most important thing) is described as…let’s repeat:

    “Think about this concrete state beyond thinking.” “How can the state beyond thinking be thought about?” “It is different from thinking.”

    -> Ok.

    I think I’ve heard at least 10 different translations and interpretations of this statement from Fukanzazengi. Probably more. So now let’s start guessing…what could Dogen have wanted to say 1200 years ago in old Japan sitting in a monastery in the mountains.

    And this is where in my opinion a good, competent teacher could do his thing. The teacher should be able to explain this in his own words what this is about, as clear as possible. Otherwise he should better quit being a teacher because then what do you need him/her for?

    Of course Dzogchen also has it’s own weird language and if you want to get into that, it’s possible. It’s like reading Shobogenzo. But the point is that there are teachers, for example mingyur rinpoche (stuff on youtube) who are good meditation-teachers and are able to explain the meaning of Dzogchen in a clear, easy to understand language.

    And let’s be honest…why shouldn’t they? If you really know how something works, you can explain it in your own words. If you’re a good teacher you’re good in doing this and can explain things more clearly than other people. Why would you start to use a 1200 year old text from a guy you never met and give that as an explanation to your students?

    I can find no good plausible reason for that. Sam Harris is a good example of a person who’s very good with words and in his new book he put things in a very clear way. I don’t remember reading any weird language in there. He used nowaday words as clear as possible.

    Now is that a perfect fail-safe approach? Of course not! Even in a language that is common these days it’s still a difficult job to do this. But to say it can’t be done, so it’s better to sit in confusion and leave the job to Dogen is at least an too easy thing to do.

    Make an effort Zen-Teachers! At least try! Why do you think Dogen wrote tons of stuff about this? Because he was bored? Why did Buddhas students write tons of stuff about meditation? Because you can’t go wrong? Because it can’t be done?

    What would have happened if the old guys would have had the same approach and have written “aw just sit in confusion for the rest of your life, that’s it.”? They certainly didn’t. Dogen did a great job and I now see that clearly. But he did it for his students and in his world, which is very different cultural from 2014 USA.

    Now Dogen’s words to “turn the light around and take a step backwards” or to “Think about this concrete state beyond thinking.” are as clear as “your face before your parents were born” etc. to me. It’s more clear and obvious now than anything ever was in my life. And to say that this is something that’s not done in Zen is simply not true. Shobogenzo is full of it and I can see that now. If you don’t believe me look at the chapter “It”, “Mind Flowers”, “Bendowa” and the one I don’t remember the name but it’s about all the stuff being “mind” and “mind” being all the stuff. Dogen and other zen-teachers like Huang-Po pointed to this all the time in their language. They didn’t know about brains and neuroscience and consciousness etc. Gosh they used “moon” and stuff to talk about this. They couldn’t do any different or better. But why on earth that language is still used in Zen these days is a big “?” to me.

    I guess I could have come to that point many years ago if one of those zen-guys would have spoken a few minutes of clear words about the nature of consciousness (I just use that word here now, I know it’s not perfect but there’s no better one I know of) in a slightly more modern way.

    But…maybe I’m all wrong. And of course I’m still confused as before, maybe even more. If I think about it. That never stops. In this way there will probably always be confusion unless science figures it all out. But that’s not the confusion that is meant here. It’s possible to give clear meditation instructions that point directly to what it’s all about. Is it going to give you the answer to all your questions etc? Of course not. How could it. But your confusion about meditation and suffering are gone. And there’s no more a problem with a confused me. It’s seen through. That’s something at least!

    1. The Grand Canyon
      The Grand Canyon September 25, 2014 at 1:44 pm |

      Daniel,
      I like this comment because you make many completely reasonable points. I haven’t read Sam Harris’ new book yet, except for the 1st chapter which is on his blog and which I thought was very good. I am anxiously waiting for my local library to get it so that I can read the rest of it.
      Have you read Dan Harris’ “10% Happier” and, if so, what is your opinion of it?

  5. dougleader
    dougleader September 25, 2014 at 1:09 pm |

    “every answer is the wrong answer”

    After years of practice, it’s my view (FWIW) that words, written and spoken, are a tool. A blunt, dull, inexact tool humans evolved to communicate concepts, actions and ideas. But the words are not the idea or the thing itself. Like a picture of a car is not the car, or a recording is not the musical performance but a reproduction of it (the finger pointing at the moon is not the moon, etc). So trying to describe consciousness or the experience of zazen is ultimately going to be inexact at best. Zazen, and Buddhism in general, being an experiential practice or path. And often, the more we try to describe it, the further away it gets.

    At least that’s my half-assed understanding of the concept. I could be wrong, I could be right. Either way, may the road rise with you.

    Oh, and I second “Waiting For The Damn Bell To Ring”. Brilliant.

  6. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer September 25, 2014 at 1:19 pm |

    Yes I like this post.

    From my own experience of zen and practice I’d say that pretty much everything I thought I understood about zen has been proven wrong by practice.

    I am also pretty sure that everything that I now understand about zen will also die a quiet death. Uncertainty does seem to be at the center of things.

    Cheers.

  7. Shodo
    Shodo September 25, 2014 at 3:01 pm |

    From what I’ve seen, as far as instructions go, zazen in Brad’s tradition is all about the body…. “Legs go like this, back straight, mudra just-so…. Got it? Ok, now hold it for 35 minutes and you’re doing zazen!”

    I would suggest to investigate how other Soto traditions give instructions for zazen… Especially what should be done with the mind.

    1. mtto
      mtto September 25, 2014 at 5:30 pm |

      Are you in Los Angeles?

      1. Shodo
        Shodo September 25, 2014 at 5:56 pm |

        Nope.

        1. mtto
          mtto September 25, 2014 at 6:50 pm |

          Then, on what do you base your statement?

          1. Shodo
            Shodo September 25, 2014 at 7:29 pm |

            From arguing with Brad about it… and reading what he has written here on his blog.

          2. Shodo
            Shodo September 25, 2014 at 7:42 pm |

            Hell, look at Dogen Sangha meditation instructions… its all body stuff – 3 bells start period, jump to bells that ends it…

            http://www.dogensanghalosangeles.org/dsla/zazen.html

  8. Hungry Ghost
    Hungry Ghost September 25, 2014 at 3:12 pm |

    From Vairotsana’s Pure Golden Ore:

    “Whoever follows the ancient ascetics’ path becomes sick from attachment to the meditation process; his teacher’s literal instruction construed as a quest, he chases a stream of concepts, as if pursuing a mirage: the perfect modality cannot be indicated by words, and any ‘true doctrine’ is a travesty of Vajrasattva.”

    I always liked this passage, and I don’t have anything more than a vague feeling that it’s relevant here, but that feeling is persistent.

  9. Fred
    Fred September 25, 2014 at 4:00 pm |

    There may be confusion for the intellect, and there should be. Whatever the
    conceptual mind wants cannot be had.

    So by demanding answers to placate a self, ” you ” create the problem.

    And without reading Sam Harris, it is obvious that he is continuously wrong.

    ” Sitting immovably in the mountain-still state, “Think about this concrete state beyond thinking.” “How can the state beyond thinking be thought about?” “It is different from thinking.” This is just the pivot of Zazen. ”

    So the “pivot” (the most important thing) is described as…let’s repeat:

    “Think about this concrete state beyond thinking.” “How can the state beyond thinking be thought about?” “It is different from thinking.”

    -> Ok.”

    Yes

  10. justlui
    justlui September 25, 2014 at 9:11 pm |

    Dzogchen is cool. Zen is cool. People tend to receive things in their own way.

  11. Andy
    Andy September 26, 2014 at 12:20 am |

    Nice article Brad. Cheers.

    On Sam Harris, Barbara O’Brien has a few insightful things to say in this post from her blog.

    http://rethinkingreligion-book.info/killing-the-spiritual-but-not-religious-buddha/#comments

    I think Sam Harris has a very sharp mind, and in contemporary culture such a facility is often encouraged to tend towards over-intellectualization. Once this becomes one’s ‘special power’*, I think this can often manifest as a kind of intellectual colonization, especially where the ego encounters something it is attracted to but can’t pin down, as it is used to doing and rewarding itself (and its straight-jacketed monkey) for, often via the validations of others.

    I wonder if he has taken up any substantial koan study with a teacher. It might just be that it is too easy for him to make his mind up about Soto and thus co-opt it into his wider agendas, as it appears he is doing with his concern for others’ confusions regrading Soto practice, which strikes me as a version of white-knighting.

    It also seems to me that for those with an atheist, anti-religious bent, Harris’s own dogmas and doctrines provide comforting frames with which to collapse the wave-function.

    *Ruffling my own projections up further, I think seeing things through the dimension of narcissism might sometimes help certain mind-sets to loosen up.

    1. Andy
      Andy September 26, 2014 at 12:23 am |

      typo: ‘regarding Soto practice’ – not ‘regrading’ (although that seems to fit too!)

  12. justlui
    justlui September 26, 2014 at 1:27 am |

    Hey Daniel, I hope you don’t mind me quoting you here, but I am just chilling and doing some thinking for the fun of it. . . “And this is where in my opinion a good, competent teacher could do his thing. The teacher should be able to explain this in his own words what this is about, as clear as possible. Otherwise he should better quit being a teacher because then what do you need him/her for?”

    I think that what you are talking about with teachers being or not being clear are just different approaches to the same thing, but that in the context of zen, a good teacher doesn’t explain too much because of the nature of what zen is.

    Zen isn’t enlightenment. Zazen isn’t enlightenment. I don’t care what Dogen says about it. At best, it’s an imitation of the fact that you can’t describe enlightenment. And that’s pretty cool!

    Oh that’s a good one! At best, zen is an imitation of the fact that you can’t describe enlightenment.

    If you are sitting, and you remember yourself, then zazen is enlightenment, but that’s sort of cheating saying that because so is laying in your sleeping bag! Both are cool!

    Sitting is cool.

    A teacher can teach you tons of shit about life, about action in the world, about being good and not being stupid, about Javascript, but only if they are a teacher that has an understanding of these things. People need this. A teacher can teach you the basics of meditation. Again, though, that’s also not enlightenment. You’ve always had enlightenment covered. Totally covered. It’s so funny, dude, it feels just like you! It’s the most familiar thing you know. It’s right here.

    This is why zen is so damn funny. It does a pretty good job and sometimes it’s hilarious that it exists the way it does.

    You are god. What the fuck is anyone going to teach you about that? Nothing at all. Experiencing being god and then looking at Zen is so god damn funny! The joke is totally on you! And those old bastards knew it when they wrote shit down!

    Ha!

    You can be an example, a teacher can be an example, but that usually is pretty fucking flimsy. What can a teacher say to you about god? Nothing. Buddhist teachers like to beat around the bush, so to speak, and that’s fun, I like shrubbery. Good Buddhist teachers do say lots of great stuff about living, and that is cool and I like that. I like living, it allows for the experience of learning.

    1. Andy
      Andy September 26, 2014 at 2:57 am |

      Hi, justlui

      I enjoy reading the up-beat sincerity of your posts. Which is why I find it odd, considering how you heartily recommended Dogen’s works a couple of threads back, to find you writing,

      “Zen isn’t enlightenment. Zazen isn’t enlightenment. I don’t care what Dogen says about it. At best, it’s an imitation of the fact that you can’t describe enlightenment. And that’s pretty cool! “

      The oneness or nonduality of practice-enlightenment is one of the core tenets of his vision:

      “Thinking that practice and enlightenment are not one is no more than a view that is outside the Way. In buddha-dharma [i.e. Buddhism], practice and enlightenment are one and the same. Because it is the practice of enlightenment, a beginner’s wholehearted practice of the Way is exactly the totality of original enlightenment. For this reason, in conveying the essential attitude for practice, it is taught not to wait for enlightenment outside practice.” (from Bendowa on Wikipedia).

      My curiosity isn’t about disagreeing with you on your views on the matter of the relationship between zazen/practice and ‘enlightenment (you might well be right and/or I may be misreading you) but about your advocacy of Dogen, on the one hand, and yet your subsequent dismissal of such a core tenet of his vision, on the other. In other words, I’m not having a dig!

      Alongside Brad and others’ work on Dogen, I’ve found Ted Biringer a highly lucid writer on Dogen, and on this very area, in particular. He has a blog and can often be found on Zen Forum International providing very detailed responses. His dialogues with Nonin Chowaney and Gregory Wonderwheel, whose views often differ from his own on some key points, I’ve found particularly prajna inducing! I recommend you seek his stuff out, if you haven’t already done so, and are interested in exploring this very issue further.

      1. justlui
        justlui September 26, 2014 at 9:10 am |

        Andy, I completely love Dogen!

        I’ve known about him for a really long time, but only as a cheap outsider. Due to life experiences, family, and friends, I have been around Chan a lot since I was a kid. Dogen was always “the Japanese” way or some such thing or however I saw it. I liked his quotes, and read some books about books about commentaries about books about Dogen, but never bothered to dig in to his translated words directly.

        Brad is a priest or whatever he is, and he does the thing priests and monks do in most religions, they sound like broken records. . . Dogen this, Dogen that, Dogen Dogen Dogen. Jesus this, Jesus that. . . And that is cool! I like Jesus (struggle with liking many of his followers though, I mean Jesus tap dancing Christ what is their deal? haha). One of us. . . one of us. . . 😉 And that’s cool, if it weren’t for the Brads of ages, we would not have cool ancient stuff today. And props to the Brads who study it sincerely and test it, and then share it. It’s a good job to have!

        One of the things Brad does well is write about Dogen. Brad’s books (I am a big fan, more or less) influenced me to give a real, thick, gnarly, Dogen work a try, and I love it! I am nerd like that though, and will stick to it until I don’t. I have been reading the Blue Cliff for half my life, so I know I can take abstract long as fuck old Buddhist books! I am betting I can absorb Dogen for years and enjoy and grow from it. (Christ I don’t recommend the Blue Cliff to anyone, it produces annoying crazy people!)

        From my writing above this post, it might seem like I am also dissing sitting meditation. I am not. It’s there in my life and I love this.

        But here’s the thing. I don’t care about any “core tenet of his vision”. Nor do I care about the Buddha’s. No way. I love it, don’t get me wrong on that one. My first real meditation teacher was a Chan teacher. She was a total badass! I’ve got my nerdy shrines in my house, and I sit, but it’s just my life’s stuff, sort of like Drum and Bass! I will never be a “Buddhist” though, so in that sense, I am an outsider to such things and just a fool.

        The quote that set me off was from Daniel:

        “And this is where in my opinion a good, competent teacher could do his thing. The teacher should be able to explain this in his own words what this is about, as clear as possible. Otherwise he should better quit being a teacher because then what do you need him/her for?”

        He might not really be sincere in that quote. A good method when dealing with crazy Buddhists is to fish a bit and see what they say, so who knows what he was going for, but in my arrogant view, there is a danger in this quote. Unless of course he was just trying to engage Brad, the teacher here, into a discussion, and that’s totally legit.

        To be cliche as fuck, don’t take Dogen’s, or Buddha’s writings as the moon itself. It is very “monk” to quote passages to, say, seal one’s end in a philosophical debate, but not very Buddhist. Yeah?

        I have been having fun on this blog. Brad is great, some of the commenters here are great too. Andy, you seem like a proper wise person. Some here, like me, are total nutcases though haha.

        1. justlui
          justlui September 26, 2014 at 9:11 am |

          Wow coffee is one hell of a drug! Look at all that nonsense I wrote! Ha!

  13. woken
    woken September 26, 2014 at 5:51 am |

    Zazen is kata. When one sits in zazen, one ether sits perfectly or one doesn’t. When one sits perfectly, one becomes one’s ancestor while remaining oneself. One’s mind is one’s body. Tibetan Buddhism uses “mind” to attain this knowledge. It has very sophisticated mental and psychological exercises, but at the core, there is a dualism in Tibetan Buddhism: Mind over body. Perhaps this is why many western intellectual types are attracted to it.

  14. sri_barence
    sri_barence September 26, 2014 at 6:15 am |

    In the Kwan-Um Zen Center where I practice, students are given the minimum instruction on zazen, mostly in the form of “sit up straight and keep still.” Dogen’s Fukanzazengi is a bit more detailed, but it is essentially the same instructions. Don’t get hung up on “thinking not thinking.” This sounds weird and paradoxical, but it essentially just means not clinging to thoughts or trying to push them away. Zazen really IS just sitting there without moving for 30-40 minutes.

    Not enough? You want more?

    The dog is chasing the bone.

  15. dwsmithjr
    dwsmithjr September 26, 2014 at 6:32 am |

    Isn’t there a “right way” to meditate? Isn’t there a method to the method of no-method? If there weren’t what would the instructions be about? This isn’t just the posture, but also “what you’re doing” as thoughts come up, where is the attention or what is the nature of the attention.

    Are you certain about this, “The very superficial aspects of it are related to one’s immediate personality, but the deeper levels are universal. Our connection to the mind of the universe is mostly buried within our subconscious”? We all draw conclusions, Brad is not a stranger to drawing “metaphysical” conclusions and saying, ”

    What about this, “I don’t know how teachers in the Dzogchen tradition make their students clear about consciousness. But I know that every answer is the wrong answer, every certainty is a mistake, and every correct way to meditate is an error. I’m sorry if that sounds paradoxical and vague. That’s just the way things are”? “That’s just the way things are”? Isn’t that a conclusion stated with certainty?

    IMO, things like this, “Some incorrect answers are better than others. I suppose you could get a bunch of people together to agree that one particular set of almost-correct answers is worth pursuing and indoctrinating to others. You could explain it all if you wanted. But it would just be yet another house of cards waiting to be knocked over by the next little breeze”, are just the same sort of things religion is constantly hiding behind.

    If what you say doesn’t make sense, then plead paradox (which, of course, isn’t really paradox), mystery and the inability to express “the truth” with discursive thought or normal words. It’s certainly true once cannot adequately convey one’s subjective experience to someone else and your subjective experience is your’s alone, no one can share it and their’s is different. This is way subjective is experience is only a guide to the truth of your subjective experience and not “the way things are” on a cosmic and metaphysical level.

    If something you say doesn’t make sense then simply claim it cannot be expressed and that your words or explanation are simply “fingers pointing at the moon”, so should not be taken seriously, but wait…… this is truth and “the way things are”.

    1. Shodo
      Shodo September 26, 2014 at 6:56 am |

      Woken said:
      “Zazen is kata. When one sits in zazen, one ether sits perfectly or one doesn’t. When one sits perfectly, one becomes one’s ancestor while remaining oneself. One’s mind is one’s body.”

      So if you are unable to sit in half-lotus or full-lotus, you can never sit zazen…?

      sri_barence said:
      “Zazen really IS just sitting there without moving for 30-40 minutes.”

      So just sitting there in perfect zazen posture for 30 minutes with a mind lost in the latest episode of “Glee” is sitting zazen…?
      If not, then there should be some further instructions, don’t you think? Please no Dogen quotes for the beginners, who’d want to inflict somebody new to this practice with quotes from the Shobogenzo?

      I think dwsmithjr nailed it on the head when they said this:
      “Isn’t there a “right way” to meditate? Isn’t there a method to the method of no-method? If there weren’t what would the instructions be about? This isn’t just the posture, but also “what you’re doing” as thoughts come up, where is the attention or what is the nature of the attention. “

    2. dwsmithjr
      dwsmithjr September 26, 2014 at 7:10 am |

      **We all draw conclusions, Brad is not a stranger to drawing “metaphysical” conclusions and saying, “That’s the way it is”!

      **It’s certainly true one cannot adequately convey one’s subjective experience to someone else….

  16. Daniel
    Daniel September 26, 2014 at 8:34 am |

    Looks like I’m not the only one who has noticed the fallacy of simple meditation instructions. The funny thing is your soto-zen teacher will tell you “just sitting in that weird posture I’ve just shown you is enough. If you fail doing so I might hit you with a stick because you’ve been sleepy then. Just wait till the bell rings.”…but then like Brad wrote here:

    “Day in and day out, in five books (plus two more on the way) and in around three blog posts per week for around ten years I have tried to explain what zazen is. And you only noticed that one single page of posture instructions. Heavy sigh…”

    Tell you that there’s five books and blog posts and whatever about Meditation. You just have to read between the lines guys! It’s hidden there…so you got something to do!

    Obviously there’s more than just sitting like a Brezel. But I think meditation really is not difficult, a few clear instructions and most people can understand it easily with some practice.

    Sam Harris is doing a great job here in his new book, on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OboD7JrT0NE and on this blog-post: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/taming-the-mind

    That blog-post is full of useful and direct practical information. It’s sort of what Zen was when it started out. There’s no blabla about the history of this and that master, no magic-talk, no confusing weird nerdy buzz-words like “Zazen”, “Shikantaza”, “Hishiryo”, “Full Lotus” etc. Just plain, understandable instructions. Easy to understand for a beginner? No not necessary but odds are much higher to understand this within a few years than “just think the state beyond thinking”.

    For me it’s the proof that it’s possible to talk about and instruct meditation that goes beyond MBSR in a clear, honest and modern way.

    I think everyone understood by now that there’s nothing magical about sitting in the full lotus posture, holding your hands in the “cosmic mudra”. Actually posture hardly matters once you know how to meditate. I can meditate lying down, walking, fucking or sitting in a chair. Sure it helps to sit upright when you want to do some formal meditation, but that’s obvious and there’s nothing beyond that. It just helps. But it’s no magic trick that only the soto-zen guys figured out and no-one else knows. Just keep on using your common sense and things get clear quickly. Keep your Bullshit-Detectors on…usually they’re correct.

  17. sri_barence
    sri_barence September 26, 2014 at 9:23 am |

    Getting caught up thoughts about the latest episode of Glee is part of normal experience, so in this sense it is also part of zazen. I often find myself thinking about recent Doctor Who episodes. When I realize I’ve become caught up in the fantasy, I try to let the thoughts and images fade away, without trying to shut them down or push them off. This is how I interpret “think not thinking.” When thoughts or fantasies appear (and they always do), I try to just observe and let go.

    Usually after some time, my brain settles down, and the experience becomes something a bit different. Also, this is usually the point where the bell rings…

    1. Alan Sailer
      Alan Sailer September 26, 2014 at 10:12 am |

      “Also, this is usually the point where the bell rings…”

      One of the many interesting practice recommendations from Joko Beck is to occasionally sit longer than you intend.

      For example, when sitting alone for thirty minutes and the bell rings, stay seated for another ten minutes. It’s really just another way of messing with your expectations.

      Cheers.

  18. Shodo
    Shodo September 26, 2014 at 10:01 am |

    Sri_barence said:
    “When I realize I’ve become caught up in the fantasy, I try to let the thoughts and images fade away, without trying to shut them down or push them off. This is how I interpret “think not thinking.” When thoughts or fantasies appear (and they always do), I try to just observe and let go.”

    That’s a great instruction! 🙂
    It is very similar to what I was taught, that when a thought comes up you place your awareness on it and just observe it and it will eventually fade away by itself.

    I think these kind of things are important to mention to people, zazen is more than just a body position.

    1. sri_barence
      sri_barence September 26, 2014 at 10:52 am |

      Not instruction, just mistake, mistake, mistake…

      1. Alan Sailer
        Alan Sailer September 26, 2014 at 11:22 am |

        sri-barence,

        “Not instruction, just mistake, mistake, mistake…”

        Damn I like that…

        Cheers.

  19. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer September 26, 2014 at 10:41 am |

    Shodo,

    Brad has written about his understanding of the “thinking not thinking” quote in one of his books. He has also written about “what to think about while sitting” multiple times in this blog. He also talks about this question at the sittings he runs.

    So I’d agree with Brad’s heavy sigh.

    The rest of this post is my own speculation.

    I think Soto zen teachers tend to keep zazen instructions to a minimum for several reasons.

    First, people come up with enough crazy ideas about what zazen is or isn’t without the teacher adding to the mix. Instructions on what to think about can easily turn into “Oh I’m doing a really bad job because I’m not doing what the Master told me to do…”

    Secondly, zazen is partially about discovering how your own mind works. Getting detailed instructions about what or what not to think about is pretty much incompatible with that task.

    Two quotes to finish off.

    “A lot of people sit Zazen and find their brains full of noise and chatter, then they think that this stuff is a distraction to their “real” practice. No. That chatter and noise is your real practice. ” Brad Warner

    “When we practice zazen we tend to scramble our mind. So, that stopping such habit is also very important point in practicing zazen” Gudo Nishijima

    Cheers.

  20. mtto
    mtto September 26, 2014 at 10:51 am |

    Shodo wrote: “From what I’ve seen, as far as instructions go, zazen in Brad’s tradition is all about the body”

    I give zazen instructions in Brad’s tradition and I talk about what to do with your mind. I’ve actually heard zazen instructions in Brad’s tradition many, many times, given by Brad and others, and heard instructions about what to do with your mind. If you haven’t actually attended a zazen class in our tradition, then your speculation based on the internet isn’t worth much. I’m not claiming that I’m good at giving zazen instructions, but I do my best. There is at least one teacher in this tradition who is very low profile on the internet, and his instructions are always outstanding, and mostly about what to do with your mind. You are entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts.

    1. sri_barence
      sri_barence September 26, 2014 at 10:53 am |

      I’m entitled to my own facts. You can’t have them.

      1. Alan Sailer
        Alan Sailer September 26, 2014 at 11:19 am |

        I’ve got a whole bag full of facts that I’m willing to sell here.

        Cheap. Twenty-five cents each or four (!) for a dollar.

        Cheers.

  21. Shodo
    Shodo September 26, 2014 at 11:15 am |

    Mtto said:
    “If you haven’t actually attended a zazen class in our tradition, then your speculation based on the internet isn’t worth much.”

    It’s the Dogen Sangha International website’s instructions for Zazen… It’s not theory or some anonymous persons opinion, it’s what YOUR tradition put out there. It doesn’t say a thing about what to do with the mind, just a few ineffable quotes from Dogen.

    It’s true I have never attended a class, but I have engaged Brad on if sitting zazen in a chair is still zazen… I say yes it’s still zazen, Brad says no, chair sitting is not zazen… Which led me to my opinion that zazen in Brad’s tradition is about the body’s position.

  22. Shodo
    Shodo September 26, 2014 at 12:21 pm |

    “But I did tell them that sitting in chairs was not zazen.<<<<>>>>To sit in a chair and call it zazen is incorrect. It’s not that sitting on a chair will lead you to Satan and cause your eternal soul to burn forever in Hell. It’s not evil. It’s just not zazen.”
    -Brad Warner-

    Emphasis mine – “Zazen is a physical practice.”
    It means, as I understand it. What you do with your mind matters little, if you are not in lotus or half-lotus… You ain’t doing it right.

  23. Shodo
    Shodo September 26, 2014 at 12:36 pm |

    I botched the quote…
    You can see it here:

    http://hardcorezen.blogspot.com/2011/11/sitting-in-chairs-is-not-zazen-part-one.html?m=1

    It’s not the first time Brad’s talked about this. It’s not the first time he’s maintained the view that “Zazen is a physical practice”.

    1. Fred
      Fred September 26, 2014 at 1:18 pm |

      “To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of enlightenment remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.”
      ”• Dōgen

  24. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer September 26, 2014 at 12:57 pm |

    The secret of Sōtō Zen is, you know, just two words: “Not always so.” Oh–oh–three words [laughs, laughter] in English.

    Shunryu Suzuki

    When I read about zen practice (which to me means zazen) I can get very frustrated trying to crystallize it into a single statement, frozen in time, forever the same.

    So I understand Shodo’s frustration because I’ve spent time trying to pin Brad down based on one statement or another.

    I can visualize a certain zen teacher talking to a group of healthy, normally flexible people and telling them that sitting lotus position is the right way to practice zazen.

    I can also picture this same teacher talking with a person whose knees are completely blown out and helping them sit zazen in a chair.

    I know that Kevin (Brad’s dharma brother) has a monthly class where most sit lotus, some sit seiza and several sit in chairs. I’ve also been to several retreats with Brad during which some people sat the entire weekend in chairs.

    Neither teacher ever implied that these people were not practicing zazen.

    Cheers.

    1. Shodo
      Shodo September 26, 2014 at 1:36 pm |

      Alan Sailer said:
      “Neither teacher ever implied that these people were not practicing zazen. (For practicing zazen in a chair)

      Well, Brad has said:
      “In other words, I wasn’t about to go in as a guest and tell a group who’d been practicing in some way that they couldn’t do the thing they do the way they’d been doing it for years. But I did tell them that sitting in a chair was not zazen.”

      I guess they were thinking it eh…? 😉

  25. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer September 26, 2014 at 2:34 pm |

    Shodo,

    I obviously have no idea what either is thinking. So you could be right…but I doubt it.

    By the way, I’m curious as to why the topic has you so interested?

    If it helps, my interest is based on two factors.

    First, I’ve been around Brad and Kevin a fair amount and they are both good teachers that I sometimes feel like defending (when I think they are right).

    Second, in the past I’ve written a fair amount of verbiage trying to call Brad on an issue that bothered me. In retrospect it wasn’t the best use of my time.

    Cheers.

  26. Shodo
    Shodo September 26, 2014 at 2:48 pm |

    Alan Sailer asked:
    “By the way, I’m curious as to why the topic has you so interested?”

    I’m trying to give mtto reasons to why I think the way I do, since he seems to think my perspective is beyond the pale.

    I’m glad to hear from him, as a monk ordained by Brad (I think) that he doesn’t just give instruction in zazen without a mental component… But I felt it necessary to show him that I wasn’t just pulling things out of thin air.

    1. Alan Sailer
      Alan Sailer September 26, 2014 at 2:58 pm |

      Thanks for the reply.

      I don’t remember with Brad, but Kevin nearly always gives a short talk about how to sit.

      He will skip it if everyone attending is familiar with sitting.

      His talk is mostly about the posture, but if he talks about the mental side of sitting he will generally say that thoughts naturally arise and fall. Try and pay attention to this but otherwise let the mind do what minds do.

      Good luck.

  27. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer September 26, 2014 at 3:39 pm |

    Shodo,

    I went to the blog post that you linked to earlier and read the whole thing. Here is another line from the post :

    “If someone really cannot do anything closer to zazen than sitting on a chair, well then that’s shoganai too. They can sit on a chair. Tonen O’Connor, of the Milwaukee Zen Center is one of the best zazen teachers in America. She’s had extensive knee surgery and she sits on a bench that’s been modified to give her something close to the traditional posture (it’s not a chair, though). But she’s a special case. Maybe you are too. I don’t know. ”

    Shogani translates as “it can’t be helped”.

    This is very clear to me. Sit zazen in lotus if you can and if absolutely not, then try something else.

    Based on this you seem to be cherry picking Brad’s posts to support your view. His ideas of proper posture and zazen is a a lot more nuanced that you give him credit for.

  28. Shodo
    Shodo September 26, 2014 at 4:03 pm |

    Lol, it’s not nuanced… It’s woefully inconsistent.

    On one hand he says that sitting zazen in a chair is not zazen…
    But if you really can’t sit on the floor, then it is zazen.

    It’s not possible to do it in a chair (unless you can’t do it any other way but in a chair.)
    Why make the distinction in the first place? It’s silly.

  29. Shodo
    Shodo September 26, 2014 at 4:24 pm |

    And by the way, these posts of Brad’s were on the old site a few years ago.
    This was not the first of his posts where he titled it “sitting in a chair is not zazen”… It caused a huge shit storm back then each time, and he defended that position, if it seems nuanced to you then:

    http://media.tumblr.com/6dbdbed91ef2467de83dafadfd64d0f7/tumblr_inline_na2uw3ezbh1r0hk2e.jpg

    1. Alan Sailer
      Alan Sailer September 26, 2014 at 5:03 pm |

      Shodo,

      I’m bowing out of this discussion.

      Have fun.

  30. Gregory Wonderwheel
    Gregory Wonderwheel September 26, 2014 at 7:33 pm |

    Well said. If Harris actually believes “Dzogchen is not vague or paradoxical.” then either he doesn’t know Dzogchen, or Dzogchen is not the non-Dual Dharma Gate of meditation as taught by Huineng and the Zen Ancestors. It is axiomatic that only a dualistic mediation method would not have vagary or be paradoxical.

    “Rigpa” is just the Tibetan word for the Sanskrit “prajna.”

    The saying, “we first access and recognize the alaya for habits, then effulgent rigpa, and then essence rigpa” is simply the teaching of meditation in terms of stages going through the three own natures, in Sanskrit trisvabhava, as taught in the One Vehicle sutras such as the Samdhinirmocana Sutra. To compare with Zen teaching, Zen Master Biizhang also taught in three stages or levels of profundity in a similar manner. He said the elementary or beginners level was to dwell in emptiness. The intermediate level is to not dwell in emptiness. The complete or final level is to have not concept of not dwelling in emptiness. To “access and recognize the alaya” means to dwell in emptiness, to see dharmas as dependent on habits, especially the habit of fundamental ignorance, and to realize that all habits are empty. “Effulgent rigpa” means to not dwell in emptiness. “Essence rigpa” means to have no concept of non-dwelling in emptiness. That is the trackless manifestation of the Dharmakaya.

    The eighth consciousness called alaya vijnana, or storehouse consciousness, is not what western psychology calls the subconscious, but is what Carl Jung called the collective unconscious that is not limited to a single individual. In Buddhism it was taught to point to the foundation of consciousness that is not egotistic or separate from others. The seventh consciousness is the one that is more closely analogous to the subconscious and is the generator of the appearance of polarity or duality. When we “take the backward step” and look into the foundation of mind, we begin by looking from the perspective of the interplay between the 6th and 7th consciousnesses which is our constructed self-image. At this point we cannot penetrate the veil between the 7th consciousness and the 8th storehouse consciousness because of our attachment to the thinking forms of the 6th cognitive consciousness. When we are able to let go of our 6th consciousness’ habitual grasping by thinking, then the 7th consciousness can relax its generation of polarized awareness, and out inherent non-discriminating awareness can turn around to pierce the veil of duality to realize the undifferentiated awareness of the storehouse consciousness, and this is our first glimpse of seeing nature, kensho.

    When we take the backward step (Sanskrit paravritti) and realize the alaya storehouse consciousness, then we see that the storehouse itself is not just a repository of habits, but is the inner Tathagata, i.e., the Tathagatagarbha, the germ or embryo of the Tathagata, and this is the awareness of the effulgent rigpa. When the Tathagatagharba is realized we manifest the pure essence of the Dharmakaya and this is the essence rigpa. This is all described in Zen in the writings of Hakuin on the Five Ranks and the transformation of the eight consciousnesses into the four wisdoms. http://terebess.hu/zen/hakuin1.html#1 This is also found in the Treatise on the Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana.

    Now this is taught in Zen as well as in Dzogchen, but anyone who thinks that upon hearing about it that they didn’t take more than 5 minutes to “get it,” is definitely someone who hasn’t gotten it at all. In other words, they are still thinking about it and have not personally taken the backward step and thought the thought of non-thought. As a pedagogical method, there is a point to the non-explanation of most zen training and of Leonard Cohen’s statement of “no longer expected to win”. To “no longer expect to win” is the koan “think neither good nor bad, what is your original face.” This is exactly why real meditation is vague and paradoxical! When we hold on to the clarity of thinking and its concomitant avoidance of the paradoxical and the vague, that is exactly the affirmative maintenance of the dualistic opposites of good and bad which is exactly not meditation. Not explaining zazen in a way that can be easily grasped by the certainty seeking intellectuality is the method of teaching meditation to not grasp at the opposites and the dualities of mentation.

    That is, we only meditate correctly when we are able to realize the living meaning of not thinking either correct or incorrect, and then to realize our true Suchness.

  31. justlui
    justlui September 26, 2014 at 10:48 pm |

    Gregory Wonderwheel:

    You seem so much more learned on this subject than myself. Holy smokes! So, if you don’t mind, I would like to comment on your post. If you’re busy, cool, but it could be a good learning experience for me to engage you in discussion by sharing my take on things and seeing if you care to reply. After all, this is a blog with a comments section. . .

    I have been around a lot Chan Buddhists for a long time, and really, a close friend of the family ran a Tibetan center so I grew up around a lot of that colorful tradition as well, so I sometimes talk a lot like a low level Buddhist, it’s what my lexicon is filled with, but I am not Buddhist at all. I am totally an outsider. So forgive me if I seem to take some things to heart (sitting) and disregard/misunderstand other things (all that fancy Buddhist stuff).

    I think all that you are saying is very cool and quite impressive, and I enjoy these things very much, but it would be a bummer for someone to read all that and think that they had better learn all that to experience their own true nature. There are masters of countless traditions that achieve incredible understanding of the nature of consciousness, and that is so damn cool, but man, that doesn’t matter within in the context of remembering who you are.

    I’m serious you guys, it just feels like you right now. That’s a letdown to a lot of people because they don’t get how awesome, how perfect, and how incredibly intimate that is. You. It’s all good just like that. You are totally complete and you know it. You totally know it. We know it. It’s this. Go help someone.

    You can study all the foreign words for the levels of consciousness if you want to, and that’s actually incredibly cool! I do it too. I love Chinese! You can study quantum physics, too. Personally, I prefer web development and motorcycles. It’s all the same thing.

    Oh that’s probably an annoying thought! Mastering every single tradition’s deepest teachings on every single level of consciousness, every technique, and every profound experience. . . and knowing how a 1953 Triumph Thunderbird runs is totally the same. Ha!

    (Anyone catch my Marlon Brando reference?)

    All you guys that get too technical with mediation, that’s cool, but it’s not enlightenment, it’s simply having a particular understating about an idea of enlightenment, which is not needed. Not any more than anything else is. It’s a really cool hobby. People who begin to approach zen meditation should know that so they don’t rabbit hole themselves into complete fucking insanity.

    If zen isn’t simply realizing who you are, and it’s a bunch of complicated stuff instead, then I don’t need it to call my stuff zen and probably don’t even belong here.

    Not being Buddhist, I am likely totally wrong and slaughtering Buddhism here, but because I am very interested in knowing myself, and I am into meditation, I like to be a part of Buddhist discussions.

    On another note, this cat is about to get proper aced! Nanquan, you are such a dick! http://www.thegatelessgate.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/case14.jpg

    BTW, Brad, (if you even have time to read all these comments while being busy with travels and all that) thanks for leaving the comments section open. Cyber Sangha is fun!

    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot September 27, 2014 at 9:07 am |

      justlui, Gregory’s exposition is a stodgy, medieval Mahayana discussion of exactly what you are talking about. When you try to explain, you end up inventing all kinds of phrases to try to get it across. Teachers are endlessly inventing new ways of saying the same old thing. However, there are also these old terms and explanations lying around, and they have proven useful for thousands of years.

      You strike me as kind of drunk on Dharma joy. May you stay so a long time! But in time, you may realize that there’s yet more.

      I really like this:

      I’m serious you guys, it just feels like you right now. That’s a letdown to a lot of people because they don’t get how awesome, how perfect, and how incredibly intimate that is. You. It’s all good just like that. You are totally complete and you know it. You totally know it. We know it. It’s this. Go help someone.

      1. justlui
        justlui September 27, 2014 at 8:50 pm |

        Thanks for responding. Oh man as someone who doesn’t drink much, I love the term “drunk on Dharma joy” haha. I will take it!

        I hope I didn’t come off as too arrogant to Gregory, I was definitely fishing to get that dude to talk some more. He seems like he could write a sutra! Presenting my ideas to a learned Buddhist is a possible good learning opportunity for me, even if he tears me apart. Oh, especially!

        Also, thanks for saying this: “But in time, you may realize that there’s yet more.” I need to always hear that, and offer you a big fat cyber bow of respect.

  32. Michel
    Michel September 27, 2014 at 12:33 am |

    As for paradoxes, I feel like rationalists are always missing something important.

    I’ll give a practical example (which justlui should condone). When you drive a motorcycle (but the same applies to a simple bicycle at certain speeds) a strange phenomenon occurs: if you are driving a low speeds, like in the narrow streets of an old town, or whatever, you turn your handlebar to the right if you want to go right, and to the left if you want to go left.
    That’s clear for everyone, I guess.
    However, as soon as you get over a certain speed (which I cannot properly define) you have to actuate a thing which is called “countersteering”. You can see that on pictures of enduro races.
    Countersteering means that, if you want to go right, you have to push (hard!) on the handlebar towards the left, that is pull on the left side and push the RIGHT side! Same, inverted, if you want to go left.
    Lots of people have trouble getting it. And until you get it, you are in danger. Because, if you take a curve without visibility, and you realise in the middle of the curve that you arrived too fast, and that you have to bend your trajectory more in order to follow the curve, and then, in order to do that, YOU TRY AND STEER WHERE YOU WANT TO GO, then you shall just go straight! Just hope there isn’t a car (or better: a lorry!) coming the other way…

    1. justlui
      justlui September 27, 2014 at 8:33 pm |

      Love the countersteering example!

  33. Andy
    Andy September 27, 2014 at 3:38 am |

    “To be cliche as fuck, don’t take Dogen’s, or Buddha’s writings as the moon itself. It is very “monk” to quote passages to, say, seal one’s end in a philosophical debate, but not very Buddhist. Yeah?”

    Hi, Justlui

    I hope you didn’t think that my quoting Dogen was an attempt to seal my end of the ‘debate’. I don’t think we’d reached debate stage amidst the massing of debates on here! It was just a way to exemplify what I meant about practice-enlightenment being a core tenet of his vision.

    Thanks for taking the time to respond to my curiosity, because you didn’t strike me as the type of commenter who’d take such a view on Dogen without something interesting to express about why.

    1. justlui
      justlui September 27, 2014 at 8:30 pm |

      Andy wrote: “I hope you didn’t think that my quoting Dogen was an attempt to seal my end of the ‘debate’. . . . ”

      Oh no not at all, man. I wrote a lot there, and totally diverged from a comment conversation between us to more commenting on how buddhism sometimes gets presented as a whole in response to Daniel’s quote.

      I do love a good quote from a master.

      The place I am living now is not very Buddhist, so I am really enjoying connecting with zen thinkers online. If I ever come off as being a big meanie or arrogant, feel free to give me a big cyber kick in ass! 😀

  34. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon September 27, 2014 at 5:47 am |

    Official And Authorized Soto Zen Instructions For Practicing Authentic Zazen:

    1.) Sit on a regulation size zafu and zabuton, on the floor, facing a wall.
    (If you do not sit on a regulation size zafu AND zabuton, on the floor, facing a wall, it is NOT Zazen.)

    2.) Fold your legs like a pretzel.
    (If you do not fold your legs like a pretzel, it is NOT Zazen.)

    3.) Hold your hands in the magical universal mudra position (see diagram).
    (If you do not hold your hands in the magical universal mudra position, it is NOT Zazen.)

    4.) Straighten your spine and neck.
    (If you do not keep your spine and neck straight, it is NOT Zazen.)

    5.) Keep your eyes open and stare at the wall.
    (If you do not keep your eyes open and stare at the wall, it is NOT Zazen.)

    6.) Daydream until the time period allotted for Zazen expires.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJMyXxiBR1Q

    7.) Drink one cup of hot, green tea.
    (Substituting other beverages such as coffee, black tea, or iced tea is NOT Zazen.)

    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot September 27, 2014 at 9:18 am |

      If you change no. 6 to “realized you’ve daydreamed for the whole time period allotted for zazen,” I think that would be real zazen.

  35. minkfoot
    minkfoot September 27, 2014 at 5:52 am |

    There have been periods of time when every six months I would exclaim to myself, “Hey! I’m finally getting the hang of this zazen thing!”

    You got to walk that lonesome valley all by yourself. No one else can do it for you.

    Teachers and elder friends can load you up with all the maps you can carry, but you won’t recognize the landscape until you’re there. In fact, too many maps can be a confusing burden.

    Instead of demanding an endless stream of clear directions, take what you have received and implement them as best you can. The teacher, after all, tries to give you the clearest, most effective instructions that she can. Take what you get, and cultivate the three-fold faith: that the teacher knows how to teach you, that the teachings are effective, and that you are capable of carrying out the teachings.

    After lots of stumbling around, you come across places that you recognize as having been described in the teachings. Then you know better how to apply those teachings.

    People who insist on “clear teachings” devoid of paradox are like those who ask for shortcuts to the Buddhadharma. The Buddhadharma of Zen is the shortcut.

    1. Alan Sailer
      Alan Sailer September 27, 2014 at 8:57 am |

      minkfoot,

      You often get right to the center of what I should be saying. I’m grateful for that.

      Cheers.

  36. acss1
    acss1 September 27, 2014 at 7:22 am |

    As a poster above said, “Zazen is kata”. This statement is profound. I fear that those who have no grounding in martial arts, who haven’t played competitive sports, or who simply haven’t sat enough Zazen, wouldn’t understand this. Wholehearted devotion to kata(or physical form) is unavoidably mental until it isn’t. Hence “dropping off body and mind”.

  37. Michel
    Michel September 27, 2014 at 11:54 am |

    Minkfoot wrote:

    “Instead of demanding an endless stream of clear directions, take what you have received and implement them as best you can. ”

    That reminds me of the way Romans answer you when you ask for directions: “go straight ahead for so many streets on your right/left, turn (right/left) and ask again”…

    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot September 27, 2014 at 12:17 pm |

      That’s the way you have to do it around Boston, too.

  38. AP
    AP October 6, 2014 at 6:39 am |

    “I’ve spent years being frustrated by it. Just like those poor people Sam Harris pities for being uncertain if they’re meditating correctly. … Then I realized I had been meditating correctly all along.”

    Sometimes it takes years or decades before we realize we’ve been doing it “right” all along. Or that there is no “right”. Or whatever your preferred phrasing of this paradox is.

    Sometimes it takes just minutes.

    So what if some teachers can evoke this “ah!” early on? So what if some modern masters are living Dogens and can speak penetratingly to the heart of the matter? So what if some call themselves Dzogchen masters?

    It is not the end of confusion. It is the beginning of knowing what it means for confusion to be Buddha-nature too.

    I’ll admit it: I am a “student” of Dzogchen. Zen sounds wonderful too.

  39. AP
    AP October 6, 2014 at 6:42 am |

    Oh, I see that Sam already addressed this in his book:

    “It may take years of observing the contents of consciousness– or it may take only moments– but it is quite possible to realize that consciousness itself is free, no matter what arises to be noticed.”

  40. Oxhead
    Oxhead October 16, 2014 at 12:25 pm |

    Zazen and sitting meditation are not the same…

    A visiting Zen student asked, “My teacher says that sitting meditation is the only authentic practice. He says that zazen is the one true path to awakening. What do you say?”

    Louie Wing said, “First of all, zazen and sitting meditation are not the same. True zazen has nothing to do with sitting, standing, walking or lying down. ‘Zazen’ is the term that the sages of the Zen tradition used to indicate the practice that I call ‘ceasing conceptualization.’

    Having said that, I have found that sitting is usually the easiest way for people to practice zazen, especially beginners. However, once you begin to develop the ability to step back into your own clear awareness, you should practice it in all your activities and non-activities. You should not become attached to the form of sitting, nor should you have aversion for it. When it is time to sit, practice zazen while sitting; when it is time to work, practice zazen while you work. Ultimately, there is no final rule or best way to practice. Any method will become a barrier if you become fixated on it. Just cease conceptualization and step back into the pure and clear luminous awareness of your own mind.”

    From The Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wing

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