Meditation Manuals

Clear Lake sunsetI would say the history of meditation manuals goes way back, in India, China, and Japan.  By meditation manual, I mean the attempt to provide practical instructions in meditation, as opposed to metaphysical instructions.  Here’s an excerpt from “Two Shores of Zen” by Jiryu Mark Rutschman-Byler, that illustrates the conflict between the two:

“Shikantaza not here,” he insisted in elementary English, pointing to his head. “Not here,” he continued, pointing to his heart. “Only point here!” He drove his fist into his lower belly, the energy center that the Japanese call hara.

I have spent the last several years in an American Zen temple that by our standards is strict and intense, but my training, I am finding, seems moot here. I have labored for years to open out my meditation—which is, after all “just sitting”—away from reliance on heavy-handed internal or external concentration objects, and toward a more subtle, broad, open awareness. Roshi-sama is said to be a master of this wide practice of shikantaza, the objectless meditation characteristic of the Soto school. But he insists, again and again, weeping at my deafness, shouting at my stubbornness, that hara focus is precisely shikantaza. That it makes no sense makes it no less inspiring; it is his presence, not his words, that I believe.

“No grasping—only point here.” He rested his fist on his belly. I had nothing to say.

… “Here,” he said, pointing to his chin and thrusting it out to show me that doing so made his back slump in bad Zen posture. He looked up at me with wide, soft brown eyes, and a kind smile that exposed his crooked teeth. In a warm, encouraging voice, like a boy addressing his puppy, he pointed to his back and said, “Like this no good. Keep try!”

My posture is quite good; I’ve been told so by peers and teachers alike in the U.S….

In my own practice,  I focus on the mind that moves (Waking Up and Falling Asleep), something like:

Let the mind be present without an abode.

(Diamond Sutra, translation Venerable Master Hsing Yun, from “The Rabbit’s Horn: A Commentary on the Platform Sutra”, Buddha’s Light Publishing pg. 60)

The location of that mind is often in the “hara”, but the aim is to allow for experience like that Gautama described for the fourth of the initial states of concentration:

Again, a (person), putting away ease… enters and abides in the fourth musing; seated, (one) suffuses (one’s) body with purity by the pureness of (one’s) mind so that there is not one particle of the body that is not pervaded with purity by the pureness of (one’s) mind. … just as a (person) might sit with (their) head swathed in a clean cloth; even so (one) sits suffusing (their) body with purity…

(AN III 25-28, Pali Text Society Vol. III pg 18-19)

Gautama emphasized “one-pointedness of mind” as a characteristic of concentration, and what I experience is a complete freedom of the singular location of self-awareness to move in space, with the coordination of the body following autonomically from the location of “mind”.  Gautama identified the fourth concentration with the cessation of action of the body based on “determinate thought”, and I believe the experience was a regular part of the mindfulness he described as his way of life.

Over the last fifty years, I have written a meditation manual for myself.*  The most frequent failing in the meditation manuals that are out there is a failure to address the cessation of action out of “determinate thought”, the cessation of willful or volitive action of speech, body, and mind (action of “perceiving and feeling”).  Cessation is the goal of meditation, according to Gautama, and the correct way to proceed, again according to Gautama, is through “lack of desire”.

That doesn’t say that it’s easy to experience a “pureness of (one’s) mind” such that “sometimes zazen gets up and walks around”, as Kobun Chino Otogawa described it.


*A Natural Mindfulness

One Reply to “Meditation Manuals”

  1. In my limited experience, I am finding more and more that sitting is just a kind combination of being in the state of ongoing humor which comes from not taking myself at all seriously, and finding the joy of being completely clueless. cheers

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