On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

May 16, 2003

An Elementary Talk on Zen – Part III

Man-an (1591-1654)

Models for practice of sitting meditation and ways of applying the mind in concentration have come down through tradition from the Buddhas and Zen masters. However there are also types of sitting meditation typically practiced by seekers of individual liberation, seekers of heavenly states, humanitarians, and assorted cultists. Those who aspire to unsurpassed supreme enlightenment should practice the sitting meditation of the Buddhas.

Buddhas, Zen masters, and sincere practitioners conceive great compassion from the outset, never forgetting the great mass of living beings. Sitting with the body upright, maintaining correct mindfulness, and tuning the breathing are essential arts of sitting meditation.

In a clean and uncluttered room or under a tree or atop a rock, spread a thick sitting mat. Then loosen your belt and sit. Sit straight, neither leaning backward or forward, aligning the ears with the shoulders and the nose with the navel. Do not close the eyes, for that will beckon oblivion and drowsiness. Rest your mind in the palm of your left hand, and have your energy fill your lower abdomen, waist and pelvic region, then legs.

Expanding the ocean of energy in the umbilical sphere, take one deep breath and expel it completely through the mouth. Then close the lips and let fresh air enter through the nose in continuous subtle movement, neither hurried nor sluggish. Being aware of the exit and entry of the breath, think of what is not thinking. If you concentrate intently, basic energy will naturally fill and solidify you. Your lower abdomen will become like a gourd or a ball.

When this concentration becomes continuous, the physical elements of the body become well tuned, the internal organs are purified, and the upper parts are clear and cool while the lower parts are warm. Body and mind will spontaneously produce great joyfulness.

When you maintain an open, silent, radiant awareness whether you are active, stationary, sitting, or reclining, arouse intense determination. At this time, if you have the slightest conscious discrimination, any thought of peace, bliss, or seeing essence, you will never be able to get out of birth and death, even in a hundred eons and a thousand lifetimes.

If you have faith profoundly settled and galvanize the concentration to bring on the Great Death, suddenly you will find “the bottom fall out of the bucket” passing beyond myriad eons in a single instant, crushing the universe underfoot with a step.

Human beings are all imbued with wisdom and virtue, and fully endowed with the wish-fulfilling jewel, yet they degrade themselves and impoverish themselves. Many of them say they have minimal potential, or they are sickly, or they are obstructed by their past history, or they are entangled by circumstances, or there are no teachers, or the teaching is degenerate, or they have professional jobs, or they are householders. Creating their own laziness and boredom, lax and passive, they do not arouse the determination to practice Zen and study the Way.

Even if people like this meet teachers with clear eyes, they do not relinquish their own opinions to learn the Way. Even if they study the koans of the ancestral teachers of Zen, they do not bring them to mind with focused concentration. The sad fact is that both teachers and students are superficial in their attention to the Way. Those who abandon name and profit are really quite rare. Therefore the teaching centers make talks on Zen and lectures on the classics their style; considering large crowds and plenty of donations to be a flourishing condition; thinking learning and talent are wisdom, and call fame and power virtues.

On the borderline of life and death, on the very last day, of what use will any of this be? One day when you suffer illness, false thought will increase all the more, the fire in your heart will back up, and you will agonize in pain. When we observe the world closely, we find that more people are killed by false thoughts than by physical diseases.

Intensive Zen requires strength of spirit and intensity of concentration. Do not degrade yourself, do not let yourself be weak, and do not debase yourself. The Buddhas and Zen masters were thus, and we also are thus. Sages have horizontal eyes and vertical noses; we too have horizontal eyes and vertical noses. Breathing out and in, we do not borrow the nostrils of anyone else; stepping forward, stepping back, we do not use another's legs. Always keeping up this determination to transcend the Buddhas and Masters, searching into the root core of one's own mind, is called a robust will.

Here is it not a question of whether you are a monk or a layperson. It does not matter whether you are a man or a woman. It makes no difference whether you are keen or dull, more or less intelligent. It does not matter whether you have a lot of work to do or are at leisure. Those who make the great promise and undertake the great commitment, who are full of great faith and arouse the Great Wonder, do not fail to perceive essential nature, awaken to the Way, and attain the skin and flesh of the Buddhas and Zen masters.

Man-an (1591-1654)

Excerpted from Minding Mind – A Course in Basic Meditation Translated by Thomas Cleary (1995)

In this selection from Manan's “elementary” talk on Practice, brief mention is made of the motivation or dedication of practice – compassion. As the Bodhisattva Way is grounded in the spirit of compassion to the point of putting off one's own final enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, this point is worth looking at closely.

In the beginning of practice, most are concerned with their own “progress,” learning new skills of meditation and developing a life of practice. Wondering if they are “getting it” while struggling at times to understand views new to a western mind, it may take some time to return to the practice of compassion. But compassion is not some extra concept in Buddhism. It is a powerful doorway into Buddhism, and one that is not lost in mental abstractions. Compassion is not something we have to wait to experience. It is a something we have all felt, and with deep study can be a powerful experience in breaking through the skin barrier.

Compassion is the heart of enlightenment. With it the barriers that separate self and others dissolve. Our world becomes larger as our sense of individual selfness is diminished, and our sense of the whole floods in to take its place. We are left with “just enough” sense of self to maintain an individual form, but with a sense of participation that can be attained in no other way. Any enlightenment experience that doesn't include the depths of compassion can only be partial and too heady to be of any practical use.

Remembering to dedicate the fruits of our practice to all sentient beings is the beginning of Compassion; to take the actions of jumping over our own small point of view is the practical enactment of Compassion.

With Gratitude,
Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen

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