Sunday, October 27, 2013

Neti, Neti

One of the greatest sages of the 20th century, Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, taught that in order to know what you are, you need to learn what you're NOT. Neti, Neti, which translates as "Not this, Not that," is a ruthless form of systematic negation that reveals our true nature by eliminating all of the things we are NOT. "I am not my job, my emotions, my..." This ancient Upanishadic practice has long ties to Buddhism. In this Dharma talk, Doshim explains how we can incorporate Neti Neti into our Zen practice to reveal that which we truly are.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Breath, silence, breath, silence

Reading a book on Vedanta last week, I was surprised to read about a meditation technique that is so obvious, yet had never occurred to me. In contrast to Zen meditation where the meditator concentrates on or follows the breath, in this form the person focuses her attention on the space in between the breaths. 

Somehow I had never heard of this. Duh-uh!

What I find very interesting is that Buddhism emphasizes impermanence--the groundlessness of existence--whereas Vedanta stresses the permanence of the unchanging ground, Brahman. Immediately I wondered about the relationship between the traditions and the forms of meditation they exercise. Sure, in Zen we can begin by examining the breath as preparation for dwelling in empty awareness, but Zen tends to use the breath, the ever-changing cycle of breath, as a figurative mental anchor; Vedanta, on the other hand, returns to the stillness of the between-breath.

So I started concentrating on the space between breaths, and since I wasn't totally relaxed, my breath was still a bit elevated. The space felt uncomfortable, like I was holding my breath more than allowing a natural pause to arise between breaths. This felt like I was underwater or somehow denying myself oxygen, probably because in order to stop the next exhalation and stress the space, I would tense my diaphragm.  

Later though, when my respiration had calmed, I settled into the space. Marvelous! And yes, my awareness tended to stress the stillness of the breath more than its movement.

What interests me is the marriage of these two approaches, the attention to both the dynamic and the grounded aspects of breathing, of life and existence itself. The catch is that I wonder if I really noticed the pause before I tried this experiment. I have been meditating for years and yet I don't know if I've ever paid much attention to it! Like getting the answer to a riddle, we think, "Of course that's it!", I wonder if I had been aware of the space all along. Somehow I doubt it.

My gut instinct is that in order to concentrate on the entire breathing process in Zen meditation, it is probably most helpful to isolate the space to highlight what we may have been missing. Then, after some time, we can incorporate it alongside our breath meditation.

Stillness, breath, stillness, breath, an interdependent whole. Not one, but not two either.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Nothing to Gain

I'm sure we've all heard the Buddhist maxim regarding practice, "No gain," which roughly translates to: let go of all ideas of spiritual attainment. And while this is certainly good advice, and a solid perspective for practice, what about all of the subtle ways that our ordinary clinging mind tries to turn Buddhism into yet another ego project? I'm referring to the all too prevalent idea and assumption that pervades Zen centers, that "If I put in my time I will get the authority to do..." such and such. Or, "Who does this newcomer think she is? I've been here for five years..." "Maybe in a couple more months I'll be 'promoted' to chant leader--woohoo!"

These kinds of competitive and grasping tendencies are all motivated by two fallacies: that there is some "I" who is going to get "something." But in a truly empty universe, there is no "I" to get anything, or any "thing" to be gotten.

Please enjoy this Dharma talk.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Eye Cannot See Itself

In this talk, I discuss the futility of finding the "seeker," for as the title suggests, the mind cannot "find" itself. I draw upon the works of Wei Wu Wei and Thanissaro Bhikkhu to illustrate the impossibility of the subject becoming its own object.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Truth, Inc.

Contrary to popular Buddhist belief, Zen, or Buddhism in general, has not cornered the market on truth. There are many paths to awakening. In this talk, I discuss what this acknowledgement means for our identities as Buddhists, and more importantly, our practice.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Inzan Gartland.