July 31, 2014

Experience Chan!

Deep inside each of us lurks a presence that is our full human potential, but it remains hidden from us - an aspect of the unconscious. It hides because of our fear of it. Its aspect is wisdom, understanding  . . . compassion, yet it remains hidden. The question we must ask ourselves is, do we remain closed up in our shells, living in the ego-world where our actions are dictated by unconscious forces, or can we push those shell doors open and find out what awaits us beyond our safe, self-contained, persona? The unknown is always scary, to some degree, yet learning and growing happen by no other means than by moving toward the unknown. We can read an essay on Chan and remain passive, a safe distance from it - or we can move inward, to where the action is.

Poetry by Empty Cloud [Chan Master Hsu (Xu) Yun (1839-1959)]

Truth is a pathless land. Man cannot come to it through any organization, through any creed, through any dogma, priest or ritual, nor through any philosophic knowledge or psychological technique. He has to find it through the mirror of relationship, through the understanding of the contents of his own mind, through observation and not through intellectual analysis or introspective dissection..."
-- J. Krishnamurti

Arthur Young, that oft quoted philosopher, spiritualist, and inventor of the modern helicopter, expressed, in The Reflexive Universe, what many feel to be an improvable truth: "Man . . . is more than the beast . . . but . . . he is still not very far along. He is, in fact, at a stage corresponding to that of a clam in the animal kingdom. Like the clam, he is buried in the sand with only a dim consciousness of the worlds beyond. Yet potentially he can evolve far beyond his present state; his destiny is unlimited."

Within each of us lurks a presence that is our full human potential, but it remains hidden from us - an aspect of the unconscious. It hides because of our fear of it. Its aspect is wisdom, understanding  . . . compassion, yet it remains hidden. The question we must ask ourselves is, do we remain closed up in our shells, living in the ego-world where our actions are dictated by unconscious forces, or can we push those shell doors open and find out what awaits us beyond our safe, self-contained, persona? The unknown is always scary, to some degree, yet learning and growing happen by no other means than by moving toward the unknown. We can read an essay on Chan and remain passive, a safe distance from it - or we can move inward, to where the action is.
 

Experience Chan! It can't be described. hen you describe it you miss the point. hen you discover that your proofs are without substance You'll realize that words are nothing but dust.
-- Empty Cloud
We can be satisfied with who we are and our own levels of understanding and awareness, or we can seek beyond: we can play it safe, or we can risk our lives.

Chan practitioners are the ultimate thrill-seekers. We're willing to risk everything to open doors to the unknown.

Beginning Chan Practice: Meditation

No Chan practice is complete without a mediation regimen - in fact, some Zen schools emphasize meditation above all else. In our Lin Chi lineage, we consider mindful awareness in our daily activities, in the context of the Eightfold Path, also extremely important. While meditation is not regarded as an end unto itself, it's indispensable in helping us expand our relationship with ourselves and with the world around us.Without the ability to focus our attention in concentration, a prerequisite for meditation, we are like slaves to our programmed-selves. We are pushed and pulled this way and that, our own Self hidden from us to such an extent that we mindlessly follow the dictates of others, be they politicians, religious leaders, friends and family, celebrities or salesmen. Until we become autonomous, as we do during the first phase of Chan training, we are like puppets, slaves to unconscious commands, acting on instinct, reacting not from reason and compassion but from wily emotions that serve only the edicts of the ego.

It's all too easy to put the cart before the horse when we start out on Chan's journey - to elevate the methods of Chan training above the purpose they serve. Meditation is nourishment for the soul - without a strong meditation practice we loose touch with ourselves. We loose the ability to discern the real from the imaginary. We lose our sense of humor, our sense of interconnectedness with others, and most importantly, our connection with ourselves. Meditation is an elixir for helping us to live a fulfilling and happy life. Yet meditation is not something we jump into for the first time and expect to succeed at. The journey to meditation is a tough one for most of us.

As we begin that journey, we initiate a face-to-face encounter with ourselves. And for most of us, there are a lot of unpleasant things we'd rather not look at! Buried childhood traumas, repressed feelings of hate or despair, jealousy, rage, insecurity, fear … they all come lurching out at us as we progress on the first stages of the path. Our dream life becomes extraordinarily vivid; our emotional life may become fragile as our psyche struggles to grapple with the onslaught of newly released unconscious psychic content. This is why we say that it takes great courage to undertake Chan. The side of ourselves we don't want to see is that side we have repressed and when it all comes up we have to _want_ to see it - to integrate it into our conscious minds. But it's equally essential that we don't inadvertently identify ourselves with these repressed emotional images of ourselves, for they are not real - they are fabricated, imagined chimera that, despite their great power, are lifeless and dead the moment we render them so. Let them go.

What is Meditation?

Meditation is a specific state of mental awareness we induce through the willful effort of attention. Meditation can be characterized by its specific neurophysiologic, cognitive, emotional, and physical effects.

Over the last several decades scientific studies of the brains of meditators using fMRIs, EEGs, PET and SPECT scans, has revealed significant changes that occur in the brain during meditation.  These studies show that people who meditate regularly actually have enhanced brain function compared to non-meditating control groups [c.f., Long term meditators self-induce high-amplitude gamma synchrony during mental practice, Antoine Lutz, et.al., Princeton, NJ, 2004]. This is interesting in that it confirms a real physical change in the brain that correlates with real cognitive shifts in awareness. The one we can measure with instruments, the other with our lives themselves. The effects of meditation are all-encompassing: we are less susceptible to stress and anxiety and their deleterious effects on our body and mood; our thinking becomes clear and powerful; we become free of any addictions we may have previously claimed; we develop compassion for others; we develop an enhanced sense of humor … the list of benefits is endless. The effects of meditation are so profound that some health-care professionals have successfully isolated meditation from it's spiritual origins to create therapeutic regimens for people to help them with a myriad of disorders, from obesity to OCD, anxiety to depression, high blood pressure to post traumatic stress disorder. While these are wonderful applications of meditation for therapists and their patients, having helped millions of people, they tend to be self-limiting in their goal-oriented approach, failing to account for the deeper spiritual significance meditation brings to our lives.


EEG-MeditationOur first true meditation experience never needs validating by anyone, for it comes upon us so radically and unexpectedly that we are dazzled for hours, if not days, afterward. Some people describe a "turning-over" of their minds, others may describe themselves as disappearing - loosing connection with time and space. Whatever the description of the experience, it's always a profound one - unarguable in it's reality and conscious dimensions. Interestingly, the transition from a normal resting state to a meditating state has been caught on fMRI and EEG analysis and shows a sudden switch in the way the brain functions. A transition taking anywhere from 5 to 15 seconds, depending on the experience of the meditator, results in a sudden burst of high amplitude gamma wave activity as well as cross-hemisphere synchronicity. The implication is that the brain becomes coordinated - "in phase" -- across the hemispheres during meditation [PNAS, November 16, 2004, vol 101, no. 46.].

Upon coming out of our first meditation experience, some of the effects we may notice include: hyper-acute senses of sight, hearing, smelling, etc., an unusual feeling of calm-energy flowing within us, and an absence of mental-chatter.
Experience Chan! It's not a lot of questions.  Too many questions is the Chan disease.  The best way is just to observe the noise of the world.  The answer to your questions? Ask your own heart.
-- Empty Cloud

A sense of elation may render us giggling fools for a while too! Regardless of our own individual response, our first meditation experience is always a radically transforming one. And once we've had such an experience we truly begin to walk Chan's path up the mountain to the summit. Finding this path is 70% of the work (staying on it is the other 30%). As long as we're on the path, we're pulled forward and upward as if by a tireless bull. The challenge is to avoid distractions along the way.

Let's return to ground zero. As beginners, the question always arises "How do I do it?" Reading about Chan is 180 degrees out of phase with actually doing it, and unless we're actually doing it, we're not even close to it. The easy answer is "Let everything go and concentrate fiercely on some thing." But this neither addresses "how" we let things go, nor "what" we are to concentrate on. So we turn toward our dear Chan ancestors for advice and guidance (this is why Chan lineage is considered important to us - it helps provide some level of confidence that the advice we're getting is the right stuff. After all, we don't want to spend our lives trying to reinvent the wheel when we may as well just use it and be on our way!) There are straightforward, simple, methods we can use - all we need to bring to them are dedication, devotion, integrity, and hard effort!
 

The Methods

There are literally thousands of methods for beginners. In a traditional Chinese Chan monastery the method is tailored for the student, for his or her specific psychological constitution and mental framework. But all methods for beginners have a few important things in common: posture, breathing, diet, mental attitude, and focused concentration. If these five elements are brought together and addressed correctly, I personally guarantee success. Let's go . . .

One: Posture

Posture is important for two reasons: right posture strengthens the muscles around the spine allowing us to sit and walk without stooping, and it aids in proper circulation, keeping us alert and awake. In the traditional Chinese paradigm, what circulates is chi (translated as life force, energy, or breath).

There are many ways to sit for meditation - the most important aspect is to keep the spine straight and upright, the body relaxed. Illustrations by Rev. Fa Lian Shakya, OHY, Greece.

Having open channels for chi to circulate is essential. How chi correlates with modern scientific knowledge of the body is still a matter of discussion, but the chi/meridian/chakra paradigm, taken by itself, is quite adequate for the purposes at hand. (I will leave it to others more knowledgeable of the scientific underpinnings of neurophysiology and cardio-pulmonary sciences to establish the interconnections between the two systems. For a thorough discussion of this eastern paradigm, visit Sevanti Ayurveda and Acupuncture or check out from your local library, Theories of the Chakras, Bridge to Higher Consciousness by Hiroshi Motoyama.) For now, let's leave it that right posture helps us maintain a healthy, alert, awake, conscious state essential for sustained meditation.

An easy way to correct poor posture habits is to imagine a strong thin string or thread attached to the spine, coming out the top of the head, pulling upward. Imagine the spine falling in line with the taught string, pulling the vertebrae, including the neck and head, into a straight line. We have to use our muscles to make it happen - and we have to concentrate to hold this posture. At first it's difficult because we're using muscles we haven't used for a long time, but with practice the muscles strengthen and the effort we need to expend decreases until the right posture comes automatically. There are many ways to sit, some are illustrated above by Rev. Fa Lian - keeping an erect posture is more important than whether we sit in full or half-lotus, on a meditation bench, or on a chair. If you use a chair, be sure to sit on the front third of the seat and to not lean back against the backrest. If you are new to this type of formal sitting, progress slowly - sit for, say, two 10-minute intervals per day for the first week, then on the second week extend it to two 15-minute intervals twice a day. Keep your goals attainable.

Two: Breathing

There has been so much written about the importance of proper breathing that I hate to belabor this topic, yet as an essential component, it deserves some amount of belaboring. Becoming conscious of our breathing is one of the fastest ways to progress. Of the thousands of methods to gain that consciousness, they all entail developing awareness of every nuance of the breathing cycle. Try this: follow the instructions above for obtaining the correct posture, then begin breathing from the bottom up, inhaling slowly with the diaphragm, feeling the stomach expand outward as air rushes in through the nostrils and down the trachea. Pay attention to every nuance of breath - the feeling of muscles contracting, the feeling of air as it flows in through the nose, sinuses and the back of the throat. Once you've reached maximum air capacity from the bottom, your stomach fully expanded, begin filling the rest of your lungs by expanding the chest, making sure your shoulders stay relaxed. Feel the stretch, the pressure. Once the lungs are fully expanded, take one last inhale using all your muscle strength to grasp a last few bits of air - you'll be surprised how much air your lungs can actually hold … far more than they hold when we breath unconsciously. Now hold the breath for a few moments, then very slowly release the air - controlling it so that the outward flow is smooth and even. Once you're done, push out the rest of the air in the lungs using the diaphragm muscles. You'll be surprised how much air is still in there! Repeat this process five times, then take a break for a few minutes and do it again. Once you become commanding of the breath through this simple exercise you are ready for other breathing exercises such as the Healing Breath discussed in a preceding essay, and other pranayama exercises such as alternate nostril breathing, the fire breath, and others (visit Yoga Basics or other sites on the web for more information). A good indicator to let you know if you are ready to move on, is to return to normal breathing and count your breaths from one to ten and then repeat, continuing for ten to twenty minutes. If you can do this without loosing track of the counting during that period, you're ready for other preparatory techniques, such as sound meditation described below.

Three: Diet

Keep it simple. We want to eat foods that are easily digested and nourishing and we want to avoid gorging ourselves before sitting for meditation. Vegetables, noodles, rice, bread, fruit and small amounts of nuts are easily digested by most people and provide all the nutrients we need. If you have specific dietary restrictions, follow them, and if you have food-related health concerns a visit to a dietician/nutritionist may be helpful. If time has come around for your sitting period and you're hungry, it's okay to have a snack, but best to keep it light.
 

Four: Mental Attitude

Mental attitude is quite important for success with Chan practice - if it's off, we'll give up before we've begun. It's important to not be self-critical. It's easy to start a practice and develop a sense of futility - "Why am I doing this?" "This isn't going anywhere!" "Is this really a legitimate practice?" "What does this guy, Chuan Zhi, know about anything anyway!" One thing there's no deficit of is mental chatter! And there's nothing that our ego wants more than to see us give up.

Be like an arrow traveling through the sky, piercing every obstacle it comes to - let the mental chatter be okay, just watch it and acknowledge it as "only mental chatter" --  don't heed its directives.
Experience Chan! It's experiencing your own nature!  Going with the flow everywhere and always.   When you don't fake it and waste time trying to rub and polish it,
Your Original Self will always shine through brighter than bright.
-- Empty Cloud

Watch as your mind travels from one thought to another. Is it a little bit unnerving? Our minds do this all the time, day-in and day-out; the difference is, we've just now become aware of it! With practiced awareness the chaotic mental chatter dies down. Keep the faith! Keep the practice strong!

Five: Concentration

Think of Chan as a framework from which we're able to look out a window from our confining human form to a reality beyond. Imagine a universe in which every miniscule part is reflected in the whole, and in which the whole is, in turn, reflected in each miniscule part. The window allows us direct experience of the Real and, as quantum physicists recognize, it is experience, specifically experience of observation, (rather than of physical action), that connects us with reality. What we observe makes the difference between conscious experience and unconscious action.
Experience Chan! There's neither distance nor intimacy.  Observation is like a family treasure.  Whether with eyes, ears, body, nose, or tongue -  It's hard to say which is the most amazing to use.
-- Empty Cloud

How interesting that Chan Buddhists had this figured out millennia before modern quantum theory came along to explain it scientifically! [The interested reader may enjoy Mind, Matter and Quantum Mechanics by Henry P. Stapp for scientific insights into the nature of mind.]

What do we concentrate on? To begin, the breath is often the best place to start, but once our breathing becomes naturally relaxed and smooth we can focus on nearly anything . . .  the rules stay pretty much the same: keep the mind coming back to the subject of concentration (the "seed") whenever it wonders off; keep the body relaxed and alert; don't self-criticize.

Experience Chan! It's like harvesting treasures.  But donate them to others. You won't need them.  Suddenly everything will appear before you,  Altogether complete and altogether done.
-- Empty Cloud
Many people find sound to be the most direct means to enter meditation. Whether we listen to music or the sounds that are naturally in our environment, we simply let the sound enter and consume us - keeping our attention always on sound. If we listen to music, it's important not to listen to music that we've memorized to any degree - Indian music, Mahler, Shostakovich, Wagner, and some new age music (such as Philip Glass) work well for meditation because the mind doesn't condition to a repeated pattern.
 

The Value of Willful Action

Chan is not a passive activity but requires great effort of will. Without the will to affect change, change doesn't come.

Experience Chan! It's not a field of learning.  Learning adds things that can be researched and discussed.  The feel of impressions can't be communicated.  Enlightenment is the only medium of transmission.

Experience Chan! It's not mysterious.  As I see it, it boils down to cause and effect. Outside the mind there is no Dharma  So how can anybody speak of a heaven beyond?

Experience Chan! It's not the teachings of disciples. Such speakers are guests from outside the gate. The Chan which you are hankering to speak about only talks about turtles turning into fish.

Directed attention, moderated by willpower, breaks down the mental and emotional patterns that have become firmly implanted in our lives. Without willful effort to change these patterns, we continue to be slaves to them. As Jeffrey Schwartz MD, research professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine (and fellow Zen Buddhist!), suggests in _The Mind and the Brain, Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force_, the question is not whether or not we have "free will", but rather "free won't" - it's our ability to throw on the brakes, to arrest our pre-conditioned actions, that throws a wrench in the works of mindlessness. By arresting our conditioned responses to things consciousness itself grows. How do we say "no!"? Simply through an act of will … _free_ will. When we act on unconscious urges, there is no free will, but the moment we deny those urges, free will manifests. In Buddhism we call it detachment: detachment is the exercise of free will.  How do we strengthen our willpower? How do we go about detachment when our attachments are so strong and binding? Through focused concentration. How do we learn to focus our concentration? By saying "no!" to all those distracting thoughts, feelings and sensations that manifest when we try to focus the attention on something!

Enlightenment

So where does enlightenment come in? Advertising campaigns, historians, cults and new-age groups have adopted the term yet it's meaning in Chan is far from that implied by these mostly misappropriated versions. In Chan,_enlightenment is simply the event of our recognition of self as other than ego-self_. It's a cognitive realization of the divine within us - or better yet, a realization that _we and the divine are One_. Enlightenment is an experience that cannot be explained, interpreted, or analyzed; yet it comes straight out of Chan practice. In Chan we say that everyone is already enlightened - _because it's our fundamental nature_. It's just that most of us don't know we're enlightened. . . . Indeed, we can't know about something we don't know about! And since we're at a loss for words when it comes to explaining enlightenment, we'll never convince anyone that enlightenment is real. But once we experience our true nature ("Buddha Nature") through mystical disciplines such as Chan, we simply "get it". We can't say we are enlightened because that would mean that we are separate from reality - an oxymoron!  Enlightenment is, variously, a hoax - the word is merely a finger pointing to the moon. For the uninitiated, think of it simply as a marker for a transition state from awareness of self as a finite ego (illusion - maya) to awareness of self as infinite.

Experience Chan! There's no class distinction.  The one who bows and the one who is bowed to are a Buddha unit.  The yoke and its lash are tied to each other.  Isn't this our first principle... the one we should most observe?

Experience Chan! It'll require great skepticism;  Great skepticism blocks those detours on the road. Jump off the lofty peaks of mystery. Turn your heaven and earth inside out.
-- Empty Cloud

Enlightenment does not depend on meditation, but meditation can help prepare us for enlightenment. Enlightenment can not be forced to happen by our will, nor is there any method or formula we can apply to "achieve" enlightenment. Indeed, in the historical annals of Chan, stories of enlightenment involve the moment of hearing a bell ring, a voice yell, a stick snap, or the Diamond Sutra read . . . seemingly ordinary events. Meditation helps put the mind in the right "spot" to experience enlightenment, but it does not lead, in and of itself, to enlightenment. Enlightenment can't happen until our entire lives are turned inside-out.

Some Buddhist leaders have commented that the western mind is too wrapped up in itself -- too ego concerned - to attain knowledge of Self, to succeed with any mystical discipline. We are so tied up in our possessions, they say, in our friends, in our careers, so strongly identifying with the external world that our internal world has become opaque to us - totally unknown. Statements like these have been made, to the best of my knowledge, exclusively by non-western teachers - people who can clearly see the cover of a book but are unable to read what's inside because the language is different. In my experience working with western Chan students, the stronger their pull to the external world, the stronger their hidden or overt yearning for the inner one. We, as westerners, should not take our conditioned proclivities for interesting careers, cool cars, families, etc., as signs that we are not apt to succeed on Chan's mystical journey - but quite the opposite, that because of our passion for life we are likely to succeed. All we have to do is redirect our energies.

The western world clearly encourages our interest in worldly affairs - TV and Internet commercials tell us that having things is where it's at: the advertising and marketing industry is expert at exploiting our inner fears and desires to manipulate us into wanting the next generation car, iPod, or Fergie album.

Experience Chan! Ignore that superstitious nonsense that makes some claim that they've attained Chan. Foolish beliefs are those of the not-yet-awakened.  And  they're the ones who most need the experience of Chan!
-- Empty Cloud
The more we get involved in this consumer's world, the farther we get from ourselves - and it's because of our estrangement from Self, from our inside lives, that we find ourselves so fraught with neuroses of every type - depression, chronic insomnia, anger, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), agoraphobia … the list is endless. Yet this energy we channel toward these neuroses _can be rechanneled toward uncovering their source_. Whether we apply our energy in one direction or another is up to us, and without the force of willpower behind our effort, we can expect no rewards. But when will is applied -- motivated by a personal sense of suffering and desire to overcome that suffering - our advantage is a million-fold greater than those who have never come to recognize suffering, choosing instead to ignore, repress, or conceal it within a myriad of neurosis, drugs, sex, and escapist activities.

A side note: Chan Buddhism is, clearly, my favorite spiritual path, but it's only fair to mention that Chan does not hold a monopoly on disciplines that lead up to the same spiritual summit. In other religions, mystical teachings may be put out front-and-center for people to learn about, or they may be hidden or even buried within the depths of the institution, but we should be wary not to accuse the institutions themselves for the deficits of leaders unable to present and transmit these teachings to their congregations. Spiritual growth cannot be fostered through hollow subservience to leaders or mindless adherence to dogma. It requires a synaptic connection between ourselves and God - and to get there, we must transcend dogma and shed all artificial constraints imposed by religious institutions. The answers all lie not without, but within.

Prerequisites for Chan Training

Everyone seems to have their own list of prerequisites for Chan practice - the Buddha's was the simplest, yet the most profound: we must know suffering, and we must desire a solution to that suffering. That's it. In fact, nothing else will provide adequate motivation for us - for Chan is an exquisitely difficult path to follow, requiring fierce determination, unrelenting perseverance and courage. We can't just go through the motions and expect to get anywhere - it requires our heart and soul.

Experience Chan! Become a follower who when accepted
Learns how to give up his life and his death.  Grasping this carefully he comes to see clearly. And then he laughs till he topples the Cold Mountain ascetics.
-- Empty Cloud
Only once we recognize our own suffering and can scream "get me out of this!" will the fierce resolve needed to accomplish that goal come automatically. This is why we say that Chan practice is a matter of life and death - when our life is at stake we can change ourselves. We can change the world.

When you're ready, take a deep breath, look inside, and let the magical journey begin!
 


Responses From Readers

Dear Rev. Chaun Zhi Shakya:

In your essay "Experience Chan" you talk about how chan meditation causes the brain to change and that that change can be shown by various brain scanning technologies.

What do you think about binaural beat technologies espoused by the Monroe Institute in its product "Hemisync" and Centerpointe's product "Holosync"?. Both companies claim that listening to their CDs causes exactily the same changes to the brain that meditation or zazen facilitate.

Could they have found a way to make meditation easier?

Centerpointe claims that using their product "Holosync" will enable the user to "Meditate deeper than a Zen monk."

I know there are no shortcuts, but if they create the same brainwave patterns, are they creating the same results? Or perhaps brainwave patterns and imagery have nothing to do the Zen experience.

-- K

Reply to K:

You ask a great question. There are definitely synchronistic effects that happen between the brain and exterior sources of sound, but it requires the listener to listen -- to immerse himself in the sound. I'm not familiar with the Monroe Institute's products, or Centerpointe's products, however I'm of the mind to say that if there's a product out there that helps people, then great! Whether their claims are founded with scientific scrutiny or not I think is important. Double blind studies on a large enough population is needed for a careful and accurate assessment. An analogy you may want to keep in mind is of two piano players. Consider two people starting out learning to play the piano, student one practices for 5 hours a day, while student two sits in front of a machine and puts her hands/fingers in that machine. The machine then moves her fingers and hands over the keyboard so as to produce beautiful music. By the end of the first day of practice, student one still struggles to play a simple scale, while student two has enjoyed listening to her own hands play Chopin's piano concerto No. 1. After a few years of daily practice by each student in each of the two different ways, can we say there is a difference in the way the brain has changed between the two of them? Research has actually been done to find out (different methods though) - much of it is summarized in Jeffrey M. Schwartz's "The Mind and the Brain". It's willful effort that makes the changes in the brain happen. This research has led to new approaches to helping stroke patients recover the use of previously paralyzed limbs - something that had been previously nearly impossible.

The research I'm familiar with demonstrates that the brain wires itself differently depending on whether it's from volitional "action" or will, or action imposed from outside of the volitional circuits. Probably because of my background in science, I tend to be rather skeptical of claims made that are not well substantiated. People who run a business see dollars as the primary goal (otherwise they'll go out of business) and so marketing tends to be aimed at getting people to buy a product rather than aimed at purely helping people. If they claim you can "Meditate deeper than a Zen monk" I would ask, how deep can a Zen monk meditate? One, Ten, 100? What does this statement mean? (I also happen to know many Zen monks who have never learned to meditate ....)

But then this begs another question - why do people want short cuts? It's the same motivation that has driven people to use various mind-altering drugs. It gives them a short burst of excitement, ecstasy, whatever ... and then it's over and they are back to square one again. We Zen people tend to have a "no shortcuts" attitude. We like each and every step along the way, and wouldn't want to miss anything lest it be an opportunity to learn and discover. Once we get into meditation, there's nothing easier. Meditation consumes us in rapture ... the hard part is getting ourselves in the right frame of mind/body/spirit -- to be able to let go of everything. The biggest obstacle for people seems to be fear: fear of the unknown, fear of loosing their sense of personal identity.

A long winded answer for a simple question. But with all that said, if you gain any experience with these audio products I would be most interested in your observations.

All the best,

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  • malcolm backus

    Greetings
    Could you assist me to understand who is the "I" (me)who vows to liberate all beings in the Great Vows when,as I understand it, there is no self
    Two Palms Together
    Mal Backus

  • Chuan Zhi

    Hello Malcolm, there are two selves - the personal ego self (which is really just an illusion, it doesn't exist but we think it does) and the Real Self which is not limited but includes all that we are and all that is. The I who vows to liberate is the Eternal Self, not the ego-self. We Buddhists have chants in which we say things like "I vow to liberate all being..." Most people don't understand it for the very reason you point out - there is confusion between ego-I and Essential-I (selfless I). You have identified an excellent koan for people to work with.

  • Richard Green

    This is a wonderful article and so full of simple wisdom. I am a novice and just starting to build my meditation practice as I grapple with concepts and theories. It was such a pleasant relief to read this article and reassure myself that I am making progress.

    Thank you

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