This episode is a Dharma Talk about how practice can help us “brighten the mind” when we’re feeling trapped in negativity, hopelessness, despair, discouragement, depression, lack of confidence, etc. We practice four steps: 1) Acknowledging (noticing and admitting how we’re feeling); 2) Taking some time to fully experience whatever it is we’re feeling, without trying to change it; 3) Exploring what’s going on within us, gently and nonjudgmentally, and 4) Engaging in an activity, like zazen, you know is calming and restorative.
In his essay “Zazen Yojinki,” or “Points to Keep in Mind When Practicing Zazen,” 13th-century Zen master Keizan Jokin presents “clarify[ing] the mind-ground and dwell[ing] comfortably in [your] original nature”[i] as our fundamental job as Buddhists if we’re seeking liberation. I explore the meaning of this phrase in this Dharma Talk, reflecting on a nondual experience beyond words, and why Zen and Mahayana so often use terms like “mind” or “actual nature” when pointing to it.
We do not have retreat from appreciation of conditional or material things in order to live an enlightened life. However, we must diligently turn the lens of practice onto all of our relationships to things and to beings. Learning to see and accept the impermanence of all things and yet to “enjoy them incredibly” is a wonderful practice opportunity.
Like it or not, Buddhist practice has traditionally been more than something you do to make everyday life more pleasant; it’s a path of training and study aimed at becoming an awakened, liberated, wise, compassionate, and skillful person. The ideals of Buddha and bodhisattva are not something most of us have any hope of achieving in this lifetime, but the idea is to think beyond our limited ideas of self in terms of both space and time. We ennoble our lives, and benefit others, by committing wholeheartedly to walking the path – approaching embodiment of the Buddha Way as closely as we possibly can.
It’s natural and healthy to aspire to things like having more equanimity, being more generous, and overcoming negative habits – and, in fact, such aspiration is part of the Buddhist path. However, when we encounter aspects of ourselves that are difficult to change, we may be tempted to wage war on ourselves. This is not only counterproductive, it’s incompatible with our own aspirations. I’ll outline five steps to working on positive changes in your thoughts and behavior while ending the war with self.
You don’t need to improve one iota, change anything about yourself, or obtain anything you don’t already have, in order to fulfill the Buddha Way and directly experience the ultimate goal of Zen. This is because the nature of awakening is wonderfully ironic. It’s not about gaining or experiencing anything you don’t already have. It’s about realizing the indescribable preciousness of exactly the way things are – exactly the way you are – right here and now.
In this second episode of two on “How to Guide Your Own Meditation,” I illustrate the process by sharing four first-person narratives about meditation experiences. In each story, someone turns their attention toward their meditative experience itself, and finds a way to adjust their effort in order to improve it.
We sometimes get stuck in simplistic meditation instructions and therefore sell our meditation short. It’s valuable to learn how to guide your own meditation – being mindful of your experience, arousing determination to do your best, and then being creative and diligent in finding ways to stay alert and focused. In this episode I explain this approach to meditation, and in the next episode I’ll offer first-person stories about meditative experiences to illustrate the process.
The Buddhist concept of “upaya,” skillful or expedient means, arose around the dawn of the common era – about 2,000 years ago. It emphasizes that even if we possess wisdom, when we want to share it with other beings and help them, it’s not so easy to do so. We need to be patient, creative, and compassionate so they will be able to hear, accept, and act on what we have to share.
It’s tempting, particularly in Mahayana Buddhism, to get stuck in a kind of superficial satisfaction with your zazen and practice. Of course, it’s possible to get stuck in dissatisfaction as well. In this episode I walk you through four steps to deepen your zazen by using your dissatisfaction as guide for your efforts. I also compare zazen to walking on a tightrope – the instructions are simple, but actually doing it is challenging and requires experience, effort, and attention.