Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Hard or Soft

For about 10 years we have been holding weekly zen writing sessions at the Austin Zen Center. We have it as a MeetUp group, with 850+ members, and also advertised on the Austin Zen Center web pages. We have each time a combination of people who have been coming for years, and newcomers. Last night I started by talking about the difference between consciousness and mindfulness in relation to photography. Ernest Haas (http://ernst-haas.com/), who came to St. Louis Community College to talk eons ago, spoke about the difference between looking and seeing. When looking, he said, you are merely orienting yourself. I don’t remember what he said about seeing, but he did suggest that is what the photographer tries to do. It seems much like mindfulness.

“With a bit of mindful observation, we can in fact easily notice how spacious and allowing the mind can be when we are open to differences and variety, and how narrow and cramped the mind can become when we are self-righteous and judgmental. Becoming aware of this difference can serve as a good signpost for noticing when the mind shifts from open-mindedness to closing down.” —Analayo. Satipatthana Meditation. Windhorse Publications. Kindle Edition.

In this wonderful book on one of the two basic sutras by Buddha that explain meditation, Analayo talks about the feminine quality of sati or mindfulness. I suspect that it is the difference between sprinting and long-distance running. I know nothing about either, but I suspect that when sprinting you are trying hard, and when long-distance running you are trying soft. Some of you runners might want to correct me.

Perhaps it is more like someone driving on a long trip and a race car driver racing in the Indianapolis 500.

“Once the crops have been harvested, however, the cowherd can relax and just observe the cows from a distance. All he has to do is to be aware that “there are the cows.” For this distant watching, the simile uses the term sati (Anālayo 2003: 53 and 2014a: 87). I picture the cowherd sitting relaxed at the root of a tree and watching the cows grazing in various places. All he has to do is just be aware of them from an uninvolved distance.”


Analayo is associating the cowherd with the meditator. Part of the reason for the “soft” approach is that the “hard” approach is unsustainable, even for a minute (try to stare intently at something for a minute).

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