Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Books of Interest: Stephen Hagen, "Meditation: Now or Never"

Steven Hagen is the author of "Buddhism, Plain and Simple", which I have on my suggested book list. He is a Zen lineage holder who received Dharma transmission from Katagiri Roshi. He teaches in Minnesota. This book is about meditation in the Soto tradition. It is as straightforward as his previous book. Hagen addresses the mechanics of meditation, such as posture and breath, directly. He also talks about what one is seeking, and will find, through meditation. I highly recommend the book.

I find most powerful his last chapters' implicit warning about methodologies that can make meditation practice--the practice of seeking awakening through directly experiencing reality--seem easier to enter by providing structures for meditation, but which prove in the long run to be a hindrance. Hagen received this teaching from his teacher, Katagiri Roshi. Hagen suggests that our inherent desire to reify experience, to make experiences into things, and then to cling to those things, makes meditative practice structures a potential hindrance to our fully awakening. He refers to the self's attraction to these reifications as "stickiness", and argues that once we adopt sticky practices, we have a very hard time letting them go. On this ground, he recommends adopting a meditation practice that relies only on minimally sticky structures. In the Soto tradition, he suggests nothing more than breath focus as the best balance between an attentional device and a hindering structure. Over time, this focus can be released as one moves toward a shikantaza practice of simple awareness.

My own recent experience finds resonance in this discussion. Over the course of my practice, I have tried various aids, various structures to assist in the movement toward awakening. But most recently, I have come to experience them as having been to a greater or lesser degree a hindrance. At times, I have seen koan practice, which I very much appreciate, as having a strong potential for inducing various kinds of "stuckness". Reading texts, which I also love, can produce lots of stuckness; so can the Big Mind Process. Over the years, I have used various structures in my meditation practice which while initially seemingly helpful, have proven to be productive of much ideation.  

My teacher, Genpo Roshi, says that his teacher, Maezumi Roshi, often said that in practice, it is not a question of whether we are stuck, but where. In that spirit, stuckness is an inevitable part of practice, something we all experience. That being said, I still find the warning Hagen conveys so clearly about hindering meditative practice structures to be a very important one. Cultivating meditative mind is the sina qua non of awakening.  Meditative practices create the container within which we engage in that cultivation. We should be cautious that we don't busily create a container that inhibits the growth of our realization.  Hagen's caution is clearly and memorably put.  That alone makes this book worth reading. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Thoughts, October 6th

On September 28th my post suggested a meditation on your being your own creator, your own Mahavairocana Buddha, and your self as the creation, the one who thirsts, who craves permanence and security, and therefore suffers, experiences dukka. I suggested that you meditate as the creator Buddha on your creation, that you hold it in your awareness, so that the self feels held and can relax into its insubstantiality, into its conditioned nature, and into its awakening.

Preparing for last night's group , I found a passage in Walpola Rahula's "What The Buddha Taught" that struck me as a third person statement of the same shift in perspective from the subjectively experienced self to the objectively seen self that I had suggested.  He puts it well and goes on to speak of the consequence of fully inhabiting at both levels the realization that this shift in perspective brings.  I quote from Rahula here at length. 

"Now, what is the Absolute Truth?  According to Buddhism, the Absolute Truth is that there is nothing absolute in the world, that everything is relative, conditioned and impermanent, and there is no unchanging, everlasting, absolute substance like Self, Soul or Atman within or without.  This is the Absolute Truth. . . .  The realization of this Truth, i.e., to see things as they are without illusion or ignorance, is the extinction of craving, 'thirst', and the cessation of dukka, which is Nirvana.  It is interesting and useful to remember here the Mahayana view of Nirvana [as] not being different from Samsara.  The same thing is Samsara or Nirvana according to the way you look at it--subjectively or objectively. . . ." 

"It is incorrect to think that Nirvana is the natural result of the extinction of craving.  Nirvana is not the result of anything.  If it would be a result, then it would be an effect produced by a cause. . . .  Nirvana is neither cause nor effect.  It is beyond cause and effect.  Truth is not a result nor an effect.  It is not produced like a mystic, spiritual, mental state, such as dhyana or  samadhi.  Truth is.  Nirvana is.  The only thing you can do is to see it, to realize it. There is a path leading to the realization of Nirvana.  But Nirvana is not the result of this path.  You may get to the mountain along a path, but the mountain is not the result, not an effect of the path.  You may see a light, but the light is not the result of your eyesight.

He continues, "When wisdom is developed and cultivated . . . it sees the secret of life, the reality of things as they are.  When the secret is discovered, when the Truth is seen, all the forces which feverishly produce the continuity of samsara in illusion become calm . . . because there is no more illusion, no more 'thirst' for continuity. . . .  He who has realized the Truth, Nirvana, . . . lives fully in the present. . . .  He gains nothing, accumulates nothing, not even anything spiritual, because he is free from the illusion of Self, and the 'thirst' for becoming."

(Id. at 39-40, 43; parenthetical material deleted.)

This is our practice, to see this Truth clearly and to embody that knowing.  


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

City Center--October 12 (and new reading)

The group had a good discussion based on "What the Buddha Taught".  It was decided that everyone would read another book, this time focusing on the confluence of the findings of neuroscience and Buddhist teachings.  The book is "Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom" by Rick Hansen and Richard Mendius.  I described this book on my blog a week or so ago.  The date for the book discussion is November 2d.  Bring your questions, and explore the practical meditative teachings in the book in the interim.

I also announced that we have entered into a lease for space for a permanent location in Artspace at 230 South 5th West.  Diane and I are working with a designer to get the space ready.  We are excited and will keep you up to speed as it progresses.  This is a big commitment for us, but we have a sense that there is a supportive sangha waiting to coalesce.

See you next week,



Sunday, October 3, 2010

City Center--October 5

This week's meeting will be devoted to questions that arose in your reading of "What the Buddha Taught". The discussion will be open, shaped only by your questions.  Come ready to engage with the material and the other members of the group.