The goal of Buddhism, including Zen, is to awaken to what’s true, because the truth is liberating. And yet my tradition, Soto Zen, points us toward the “goal of goallessness,” telling us we’ll awaken if only we give up our desire for anything else (including achieving some “goal” called awakening). Our Soto Zen practice is just sitting, without making any effort to influence our meditative experience. In this episode I’ll [TK] explore how the “goal of goallessness” points to the fact that if we willfully try to awaken, we create duality and get in our own way. Fortunately, Zen offers us ways to awaken without trying.
I’ve been sitting zazen for over 20 years, but only recently have I had the guts to really do shikantaza, or “just sitting,” and it feels profoundly liberating. In this kind of zazen, you utterly let go of doing anything except just sitting there. Really. I discuss why beginners are usually taught to count or follow breaths instead of do shikantaza, and why I think this is unfortunate. I also discuss the surprising results of a practice in which you don’t try to control your experience in any way.
Zen master Dogen wrote Bendowa in 1231 to introduce his Japanese students to Soto Zen. In a sense, then, it’s “Soto Zen in a nutshell.” In this episode I introduce the text and the context in which it was written, and talk about how and why Dogen recommends zazen – seated meditation – above all other Buddhist practices. I also talk about how Soto Zen elevates zazen far above a mere method for achieving awakening to enactment of enlightenment itself.
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.
This week’s episode is a Q&A session, based on listener’s questions I’ve received by email. I’ll start out with a series of questions about the Buddhist teaching of rebirth, and end with a question about how to deal with a busy mind during zazen, or seated Zen meditation.
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.
Buddhists all over the world regularly gather for silent meditation retreats with a 24-7 schedule. In this episode I describe a Zen retreat, or sesshin, including what a typical day is like, and the challenges and rewards of maintaining silence and meditating for 6-10 hours a day.
If you’ve tried zazen (or any other kind of meditation), you’ll know that even if you really want to meditate, and you fully intend to be present without agenda for the whole period of meditation, you’re still liable to get caught up in thinking – usually many, many times over the course of a meditation period. What can you do about it? In this episode, I cover how to deal with stimulus-independent thinking during meditation, how to stay engaged and energetic while doing a practice that’s essentially doing nothing, and how to maintain a zazen practice over time.
Zazen, seated meditation, is the central practice of the Zen school of Buddhism. This episode is about what zazen is and why we do it. I also give you instructions for how to do zazen, including physical posture and what to “do” with your mind. After listening, you’ll have everything you need to give zazen a try.