Monday, 13 March 2017


Poul Anderson's character, Adzel, is an alien convert to Mahayana Buddhism. On one occasion, Adzel's human colleague, David Falkayn, for his own nefarious purposes, pretends that he meditates. To perpetrate this deception, he briefly discusses Buddhist philosophy. I think that this makes it relevant for us to discuss Zen, which is part of the Mahayana. (The blog addresses anything as long as it is relevant and everything is relevant.)

Zazen ("Just Sitting" Meditation)
We sit with eyes open facing a wall in a quiet room and do not go into a trance. Thus, we see the wall, feel whatever we are sitting on and hear any background sounds. We certainly hear and respond if there is a fire alarm. We focus our attention on the present moment which contains not only what we see, feel or hear but also whatever thought has just arisen. Paradox: as soon as a thought arises, it distracts attention from the present moment. However, whenever we realize that we have been distracted, we gently return attention to the present moment. We do this as often as necessary during a meditation session. We let natural, spontaneous thoughts arise and pass without either deliberately thinking about them or trying to suppress them.

For a very long time, I thought that every distraction was a failure to meditate. I was not understanding the instruction that I had been given. The only failure would be to continue deliberately thinking, e.g., about a painful memory, after realizing that it was a distraction. We learn to "sit with" whatever comes up, however difficult it may be to do this. Because we "sit" regularly, it ceases to matter whether any particular session seems to have been serence or disturbed. Even if an entire session seems to have been distracted or disturbed, we simply sit again on the next occasion - and do not seek to recall whatever had been in our minds the previous time. Once, I spent half an hour with something that was bothering me at the time and was then elated when I stood up. But we do not seek elation. For me, that has happened once since 1985.

The thoughts that come up can be vague or abstract like a murmur of conversation in another room with maybe half a sentence suddenly becoming audible as if a door had opened. Something is continually happening in the unconscious mind. We attend to whatever becomes conscious, thoughts so fleeting that they would otherwise have been missed - and thus would not have become conscious. For the rest of the time, we face the world alert to what is needed, not preoccupied with our own mental states.

I received instruction from a monk who said:

"There will always be natural thought but don't add to it!"

- and:

"There is a swamp inside. Drain the swamp!"

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Very interesting! I assume this form of meditation had its origins in Buddha's teaching about being detached from merely worldly matters. And this again reminded me of how some treat Buddhism like a religion. Which puzzles me since Buddha had little interest in questions relating to a God or gods.

But this kind of meditation still seems rather "undirected." The goal in Christian meditation being to seek after greater communion with God. Which I believe to make sense.