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Tuesday, July 14, 2015
I remember last year a veteran volunteer of Care Service Group asked the Dharma teacher to shed light on a question: “How can we urge and advise devotees afflicted by troubles to ‘let go’?” The monastic replied, “We don’t advise others to ‘let go’ when we ourselves haven’t really experienced and realized ‘letting go’.” Not long ago, I heard a long-time devoted supporter of ours claim: “I’ve achieved letting go.” So, I deeply feel that many people have actually misunderstood and misapplied the Buddhist expression, “letting go” (放下), when they haven’t deeply delved into practice and attained thorough enlightenment. This is why ancient patriarchs and masters seldom used this expression in teaching the Dharma. After all, in our short life of cultivation, understanding our self is already as hard as looking for a needle in a haystack, not to mention entering the stage of letting go of what is “mine,” which is an even longer journey to go.
It’s difficult to put into words why exactly I was drawn to meditation. I grew up in a secular household with no particular religious inclination, and didn’t know many people with an interest in meditation, let alone a regular practice. Still, for many years I had an on-again, off-again interest in meditation, and had on more than one occasion given it a try. Without much guidance or structure though, I never developed a regular practice and my understanding of meditation remained quite simple. Fortunately, when I arrived in Taiwan for a six-month stay, I brought with me a newfound interest in meditation. After learning about Dharma Drum Mountain (DDM) and their International Meditation Group (IMG), I decided to attend one of their weekly meditation sessions run in English. After nearly six months of regular practice, I’m still trying to figure out what exactly meditation means to me and where it fits in my life. Having said that, developing a regular meditation practice has been an extremely engaging, thought-provoking, and introspective process that has served as a kind of mirror for my life and my place in the world. It is something that can be taught in a half hour but practiced for a lifetime, and is one of the simplest and yet most fascinating things a person can do.
The basic method of regulating the mind is to count one's breath in a repeating cycle of ten breaths. The basic idea is that by concentrating on the simple technique of counting, this leaves the mind with less opportunity for wandering thoughts. Starting with one, mentally (not vocally) count each exhalation until you reach ten, keeping the attention on the counting. After reaching ten, start the cycle over again, starting with one. Do not count during the inhalation, but just keep the mind on the intake of air through the nose. If wandering thoughts occur while counting, just ignore them and continue counting. If wandering thoughts cause you to lose count, or go beyond ten, as soon as you become aware of it, start all over again at one.
Regulating the body by walking consists of slow walking and fast walking. Walking meditation is especially useful for a change of pace when engaged in prolonged sitting, such as on personal or group retreats. Periods of walking can be taken between sittings.
On January 24, 2015, an event was held at Dharma Drum Mountain Vancouver Center on the theme of “Returning Home”.
To regulate the body by sitting, one should observe the Vairocana Seven-Points of Sitting(毘盧遮那七支坐法). This refers to the seven rules of correct sitting posture. Each of these criteria has been used unchanged since ancient days.
As we saw above, tso-ch'an was practiced in China long before the appearance of Ch'an. The earlier masters practiced according to methods in the Hinayana sutras, which emphasized the techniques collectively known as samatha-vipasyana. Generally speaking, these were methods for achieving samadhi through three aspects: regulating one's body, regulating one's breathing, and regulating one's mind.
When pre-Ch'an masters practiced, they mostly used the methods given in the translated Hinayana sutras. For them, tso-ch'an referred to methods of sitting to attain samadhi. But among the later masters of Ch'an, the term was reserved for methods of attaining enlightenment without samadhi as an intermediate or final stage.
In most spiritual traditions of India, the yogis practice dhyana to attain samadhi at its various levels. After years of austere practice as a yogi, the self-exiled Indian prince Siddhartha recognized that his realization was incomplete. He sat under the bodhi tree vowing not to rise until he had resolved the question of death and rebirth. Only when he became enlightened one evening, after seeing a bright star, did he rise. He had become the Buddha, the primal transmitter of Buddhism in our epoch. The Buddha's experience became the paradigm of tso-ch'an practice.
The references above show that several centuries before the coming of the Ch'an school, tso-ch'an already reached a high state of development in China, both as a practice and a scriptural topic. These references also show the close association between tso-ch'an and samadhi in Chinese Buddhist practice prior to Ch'an.
The Chinese term tso-ch'an 坐禪(zazen) was in use among Buddhist practitioners even before the appearance of the Ch'an (Zen) School. Embedded in the term is the word ch'an, a derivative of the Indian dhyana, which is the yogic practice of attaining samadhi in meditation. Literally translated, tso-ch'an means "sitting ch'an" and has a comprehensive and a specific meaning. The comprehensive meaning refers to any type of meditation practice based on taking the sitting posture. The specific meaning refers to the methods of practice that characterize Ch'an Buddhism.