Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Thoughts while Meditating

A prisoner wrote yesterday asking me what went through my mind when I meditated. I'm glad I wrote a day or two ago about the precept “do not lie” because that makes this more of a challenge. My answer is somewhat different than what I've said doing meditation instruction, but I think it will encourage me to be more honest in the future.

I've heard some objections in the Zen community to the word meditation. What we do is very different than some other kinds of meditation where one leaves their consciousness, or repeats a mantra over and over again.

In Zen, we practice what is called Shikantaza (只管打坐?)

Dogen, our 13th century patriarch, said: “In this moment of sitting look into what sitting in itself is. Is it turning a somersault? Is it a state of vigorous activity? Is it thinking? Is it not thinking? Is it doing something? Is it not doing anything? Is there sitting inside of sitting? Is sitting inside of the bodymind? Is sitting free of 'sitting inside' and 'inside of the bodymind'? And so on. You should investigate thousands, tens of thousands, of points such as these.”

A contemporary translator of Dogen, Okamura, tells his students, “sit, don't move, don't think.” Are these men saying the same thing?

Here's what I do:
I drive to the zendo to sit. A car goes through a stop sign without stopping and I slam on the breaks. My heart is racing. I'm tired and frazzled. I walk to my cushion, only to realize that I forgot my cushion in my car. So I go back to the shoe rack, get my shoes, my keys, my red stocking cap and look for my cushion in my car. No, I remember, it is in the closet in the temple with the extra zabutons (mats). So I get my zafu (cushion) and two little cushions that I put under my knees that are gradually (after six years) making their way to the mat.

Remember, I'm borderline ADD, easily distracted. I make my way to my place. It might be a day when I'm the doan (time keeper/bell ringer). I make sure I can see the clock, position the chant so I can see it when the time comes, and arrange the chant cards all going the same direction (is that a little OCD, I don't know?).

I might read the chant as the fukudo (person who strikes the han to tell us when sitting will begin) does her job. I try to get comfortable, knowing that I will try not to move for 35 or 40 minutes. I look around the room to see if anything is not the way it should be. Then I place my hands together under my rakusu (small robe hanging from my neck), almost close my eyes, looking down at approximately 45°.

Sitting has begun. Now for the question ... “what goes on in my mind.” A tsunami has occurred in my head. I survived a near death experience, I rushed to get to sitting, I am lamenting that I should attend something after sitting that I really am not interested in attending (luckily my friend asked me to go to dinner). These thoughts are going through my head. Quickly they become fodder for observation. I'm on the shore, watching the waves. They are what they are. I notice that they don't hang around. They aren't getting anything to eat. It isn't that I'm ignoring them, but I'm not feeding them either. Gradually they get bored.

Then I realize I'm tired. I suspect that I drift off a little, but soon feel revived. Then I might start to count my breaths. I try to count to ten. This informs me whether the tsunami has quieted down. I check my posture. I think about by shoulders. I look at the time and wonder what happened to the last ten minutes.

A thought crosses my mind. And another thought. And another thought. Each time, I try to let them go. At first I thought that "my thoughts" were those pegs at a county fair that you'd hit with a mallet as they popped up to win a prize. But now they are much different. It isn't me against them. They aren't my enemies. They aren't my friends. They are just my mind doing what it does, breathing, so to speak. Just that!

Gradually I slow down. Gradually I am sitting, not just physically but mentally.

I remind myself that this is not an athletic event. I'm like the photographer who has taken 1000 pictures. I'm a 1000 picture photographer—no better, no worse. Some day I'll be a ten or twenty or thirty year sitter. I'll sit differently. Maybe I can quiet the tsunami faster. Maybe I won't come to the zendo with a racing mind. In any case, this is what I am now.
And that's what I do when I sit.

Kim Mosley

Monday, January 28, 2013

Do Not Lie

One of my prisoner BuddhaPals wrote me, complaining that some of his fellow prisoners lie to their penpals. Here is my response.


You started me thinking about “do not lie.” When we go through lay ordination, we think about each of the precepts. But later, we realize there are some (if not all) of the precepts we have not been considering whole-heartedly and that we need to revisit.

The first thing that comes to mind is “do not judge.” There is that great line from the Bible “And why behold you the speck that is in your brother's eye, but consider not the beam that is in your own eye.” I think that is humbling. And it reminds me of the considerable job it is to get that beam out of my own eye.

There are so many levels of telling the truth. It is not just our words, but our actions. Do we know ourselves? Are we pretending to be someone we are not?

The idea of karma is that we are the result of our actions. Creating good karma is a full-time job. One response to those that are generating bad karma is compassion. The Buddha, in a previous life, killed a pirate who was going to kill everyone on a boat. Did he do it to save all but the pirate? No. He did it, out of compassion, to save to pirate from accumulating bad karma.

It is easier to be compassionate toward those that we like. When they are having a hard time, it hurts us. But how about those that we detest? Can we have compassion for them too? That's a good challenge for all of us.

Mr. Kim

Here's Buddha's Metta Sutta on kindness:
This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness,
And who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech.
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied.
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.
Peaceful and calm, and wise and skillful,
Not proud and demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.
Wishing: In gladness and in saftey,
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born,
May all beings be at ease!
Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings:
Radiating kindness over the entire world
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down
Free from drowsiness,
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Conversation with a relative on Willpower, Zen, Jews, and Guilt

This is my workspace. It is the most organized that it has ever been.
Thanks for the very interesting article link on Susan Nolen-Hoeksema. I had missed the article and am interested in checking out the book. It does sound as if worry and rumination are two sides of the same coin, or maybe the same coin altogether. And yes, I "worry" that they are ways of avoiding the present. Clearly, willpower (i.e. telling myself to focus on the here and now) doesn't work. Have your zen practices been more helpful?

Regarding your Torah study and the notion of worry as a Jewish trait—I have many times thought that worry (and guilt) may be particularly prevalent among Jews of eastern European ancestry, a cultural trait developed over centuries of hard times. I, too, was in a Torah study group but never felt the connection so strongly there. Still, as Jews with eastern European ancestry (you through your mother's side and I through my mother's side), we may be wired ...
Willpower: I agree that willpower isn't the way. I've heard teachers say that they pull rather than push. I think when we push ourselves we burn out quickly. I couldn't sit at my desk unless a movie or music was playing. I had to check my email all the time. So I tried various willpower techniques, including using a pomodoro timer (neat project management system) but it still was an incredible effort. I think willpower is exhausting, though maybe (sometimes) useful in developing habits. My sister Gail (a psychoanalyst) urged me to try some ADD medicine (generic Ritalin) ... so I went through some testing and since I was “borderline,” they gave it to me. I've been taking it for about six weeks now and feel pretty much like a different person. Supposedly the pills stimulate the front part of the brain that controls willpower. In any case I felt like I was a car out of alignment, using “willpower” (over and over again) to go straight, where now I feel I'm in alignment. I have no interest in having video or audio on when I'm working, though if someone interrupts me, that's ok too. It has made me question the perception that many others just don't “try” hard enough. Perhaps they have some part of their brain that isn't functioning properly. I saw so many students struggle, and no matter how hard they tried, barely improve. I wondered why. In fact, I worked to try to get our campus disabilities office to consider learning disabilities as a disability (sounds so obvious). The disability folks were much more into the deaf and those using wheelchairs and never pursued it. On the other hand, I know that some people think that many kids are over-medicated. I'm sure that some ADD/ADHD drugs are used for the convenience of the teachers rather than for the growth of the student.

Zen: There are so many Buddhisms, and even more than one school of Zen, and they don't agree. Buddha's #1 goal is to relieve people of their suffering, which he feels is a result of their attachment to things. (I think of Buddha as ever present, and existing in all things.) Greed, hate, and delusion are the three poisons that come from attachment. Perhaps rumination is an attachment to the past, and worry is a fear that things won't be as they are. I realize now that I was fixated on certain things that had happened to me in the past. Now (with the meds) I remember the incidents and see that I was fixated (obsessed) about them, but realize that I'm not concerned about them any more.

In Soto Zen, (which is what I practice), we say the "Zen is good for nothing." People come to us because they want relief from this or that. And most say that they have benefited from their practice. But those who just do it for the end goal often don't stick with it. It is like wanting to be a famous artist. There is no better formula for failure.

The prisoners with whom I communicate want to meditate as a means of numbing their suffering and suppressing their anger. I try to shift their thinking a little so they'll observe their anger rather than trying to get rid of it. I believe that someone who says "I am so angry" really isn't so angry at the moment when they are observing their anger. They are a guy/gal observing themselves being an angry person. Did I send you the poem, The Guest House, by Rumi? It is the best description of Zen meditation.

So a question, are you worrying when you are aware that you are worrying? I suspect that both can't occur simultaneously.

Jews: My grandma Rebecca was certainly the modicum of worry, wasn't she? And my mother worried a lot. She wrote in her notes that she was depressed a lot. In the Torah study group it was mentioned the other day that Jews suffer from their persecution. This seems very non-productive to me because it is making the world the cause of our thoughts. I like better the Buddhist idea that pain is like a dart thrown at us, which hurts, but suffering comes from a second dart that we create in our mind. (But back to the brain ... how much emotion and how many thoughts are the result of too many or too few chemicals being released by the brain?)

Guilt: I haven't thought a lot about guilt. I do remember how bad I used to feel when I messed up in the Zen temple, doing something that was “wrong.” like moving a cushion with my foot. And now, when I see newcomers do such things I just think “they are a newcomer and they don't know any better.” Buddhists do have a concept of repentance, but it is simply acknowledging that they messed up and then move on. There is no sin, nor commandments that they should do this and not that (though precepts are taken to inform one's path).

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Negativity: Letter to a BuddhaPal

Nice to get your letter. I read how you felt you were surrounded by negativity all day long and that you were trying to clear your mind of it.

I think you should congratulate yourself that you are able to see what is surrounding you. At the same time, we talk in Zen about obstacles being “opportunities for practice.” The fact that you are able to see the negativity is a first step. Think about the reasons for the negativity. Think how many of the prisoners got a bad roll of the dice from the day that they are born. Realize that if you don't put wood in the fire you are taking a step at putting out the fire. Talk about positive things that are going on either with you or with the prison.

I'm sending you some of the Buddha's words on right speech. It is quite a practice to only say something that is affectionate. It is disarming to say the least.

Keep writing, and let me know how this goes.

Mr. Kim

P.S. I have the three monkeys on a little altar on my desk. Above them is Suzuki Roshi, who is our link to the Buddha. When someone complained about the people they were working with, he replied, “If you want to see virtue, you have to have a calm mind.”

We don't have a calm mind to numb our anguish, but rather to see the Buddha (or beauty) in everything (my words).

Here's some Buddhist text that I sent my BuddhaPal:

Anatomy Lesson and Love